Ashtrays conveniently placed in the armrests, open racks for storing your hand baggage, and definitely nothing as safety conscious as an escape chute at the emergency exits should you have the misfortune to have a crash landing – that was flying in the Fifties and early Sixties. But what fun it was!
I flew as an air hostess for Central African Airways in the early Sixties on Viscounts and Dakotas. Our Viscount flights took us north to Dar es Salaam and Nairobi, and south to Lourenço Marques, Johannesburg and Durban, but my favourite flights were the four- and five-day Daks. The crew were based in Lusaka for the few days then headed off to outstations such as Mongu in Barotseland and Kasama and Abercorn in the northeast of Zambia where the ‘airport’ was little more than a thatched rondavel and a dirt airstrip, from where animals frequently had to be chased off before landing and take-off.
Mongu was slightly more upmarket as it had a brick runway, apparently built should a diversion ever have been needed for the BOAC Comet on its way south from London to Johannesburg.
There were frequently very few passengers on those flights and if we had the good luck to have none at all, the crew would indulge in some low flying for a spot of game viewing.
One of the more mundane duties of cabin crew in the Dakota was for the ground engineer to hand the hostess the gear pins which he had removed from the undercarriage – to make sure the pilots could retract the wheels after take-off!
It was all so much more relaxed than flying today. There was no such thing as security checks for passengers. Terrorists hadn’t appeared on the scene at that stage. The main concern was rather how we could outwit the ever-diligent customs officers who took great delight in targeting aircrew when they arrived back at base. The Nairobi service was a particular favourite as it had a very well-priced bonded store. We used to take a few bottles of Canada Dry from the aircraft bar, carefully prise off the crown corks and replace the ginger ale with our duty-free gin or whisky then buy the bottles from catering to take home.
My love affair with Africa and flying started in 1957 when my parents moved from Edinburgh to Ndola. In July of that year I took off on my first flight, from London to Ndola, on my annual visit to see my parents on my school holidays. The 30-hour flight on a BOAC Argonaut was the most exciting thing I had ever done, stopping at places that sounded incredibly exotic to someone who had barely been out of Edinburgh, places like Wadi Halfa, Benghazi, Khartoum, Entebbe and Nairobi. I vividly remember the pathway to the terminal building in Wadi Halfa having a decorative edging of highly polished shell cases from the Second World War.
After drab post-war Britain everything took on an air of glamour and adventure. On the flight we were given a colourful fan to cool our fevered brows, and a glorious-looking certificate, signed by the captain, to say that we had crossed the Equator. Some pilots made the aircraft do a slight bump just so you knew you’d crossed over the line!
The flight the following year was definitely much more fun. Again on BOAC but this time in the ultra-modern Britannia, and after landing at Khartoum there was a problem with the undercarriage. We were taken to the Grand Hotel where we remained for a couple of days while a spare part was flown out from London. My parents struggled to find out where I was, as communications were not as simple as they are today, meantime I was having lots of fun being taken to Omdurman and enjoying a cruise on the Nile, courtesy of BOAC!
Today we have forfeited the fun and camaraderie for speed and elegance but I look back with great affection to those days and am so glad that I had the pleasure and privilege of experiencing them. A true flying dinosaur!