published in Air NORTH Vol.50 No.10 October 2010

One of the the more satisfying of my passenger flying experiences - at least prior to 2001 - was flying internally within the USA. At least once a year during the 1990s and early 'noughties', my travelling companion and I, never content with just visiting a single part of the vast country, would concoct tremendously detailed itineraries literally cris-crossing the USA, in order to visit all those vital 'hub' airports, NBAA conventions, aircraft production facilities etc. etc. Being a huge lover of 'Americana' - more so in those days - I was gripped by the simplicity of flying in the US and everything else that went with it, particularly from our standpoint of working in the airline industry in the UK.

My flying log book reveals that between 1987 and 2004 I flew sixty-six times wholly within the US (total time 128 hours 42 minutes), on thirteen different carriers. American Airlines - for so long our carrier of choice owing to the multitude of routing possibilities provided by the massive hubs at Dallas-Fort Worth and Chicago - were the most flown, their huge Douglas MD.80 fleet (the 'Super 80' in their parlance) being the most common type, with a total of sixteen sectors.

One feature of flying in the US is the complete 'non-stuffiness' of the whole experience, with all participants from passengers to flight crew, treating it really only as what it actually is, a way of getting from A to B, rather than as some sort of throwback to 'imperial' days. I will never forget my first US domestic sector, primarily as it was my first exposure to this 'terrible frivolity', which came after my second Trans-Atlantic crossing, from London-Gatwick to Los Angeles on a British Caledonian DC-10 on Tuesday 28th April 1987. It's never a good idea adding on another flight after a ten-hour-ish 'west coast', but of course we were young and un-knowing, so after a couple of hours waiting in a LAX terminal we set off for Seattle on a Pacific Southwest Airlines Douglas MD.81 N924PS, departing what must have been a dark LA at that time of year (19:34 local time) for a flight of exactly two hours flight time. PSA had a slogan of "The World's Friendliest Airline' and its advertising campaigns tempted would-be passengers to "Catch Our Smile", referring to the 'smile' painted under the nose of each of the carrier's aeroplanes. The airline's flight attendants were encouraged to 'have fun', and hence were possibly the first to carry on (no pun intended!) the practise of the 'funny PA', something that has become common now amongst lo-cost airlines in the US (and sometimes very poorly attempted by similar carriers outside of the US!). Being 'rookie' US domestic passengers we were certainly caught unawares by this frivolity as soon as the #1 F/A picked up his/her microphone for the first time - I can't remember too many of the 'jokes' but do remember something about "how to fasten your seat belt" aimed at "those who haven't been in a motor car since the 1940s"! The American passengers on board seemed genuinely amused by it all too, and it made for a superb atmosphere in the passenger cabin, immediately breaking the ice amongst those previous strangers unwittingly stuck together for the next couple of hours. We may well have been 'wrecked' (having been up for almost 24 hours in order to make the early morning '101' from Newcastle), but we made our way up the coast with big smiles on our own faces!

The PSA 'smile' had been seen at Newcastle Airport a few years earlier, during the second lease period to Dan Air of BAe146-100 MSN E1004 in May/June/July 1987, a machine which at one point was destined for delivery to the US carrier, who dubbed it the 'Smiliner' (it had also flown with Dan Air in a basic RAF livery in 1985 after a lease as ZD695). It is seen here on pushback at Newcastle Airport during July 1987 proudly wearing the 'smile' and a registration with a 'last three' the same as one of the based Dan Air 146 captains at the time (and an Air NORTH member to this day!). After a long career with numerous carriers all around the world, 'RJS ended its days as VH-NJA of National Jet Systems, being broken up at Adelaide in May 2009. PSA was merged into USAir almost exactly a year after our flights with the carrier, in April 1988, however the 'smile' lives on to this day on US Airways' 'PSA retro-jet' Airbus A.319 N742PS.

Copyright on all text and images within this web site remains with AH (2011).