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Wednesday,  June 12, 2024 11:15 PM 

#ThrowbackThursday with Martha Chapman

  • Air
  •   04-24-2015  9:09 am

#ThrowbackThursday with Martha Chapman

One of my most memorable summers was in the 1970s when I scored what was to me a dream job: I was hired as a passenger agent for Air Canada at London’s Heathrow Airport.

I was actually one of the few Canadians on staff:  the majority were British, plus we had a cosmopolitan sprinkling of other nationalities.  (It was always great fun to watch a Canadian approach the counter to be greeted by a beaming girl with a hearty New Zealand accent.)

We worked awful shifts, of course, the most common being 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. but many starting much earlier, just in case the overnight flights from Canada came in early.  Nothing worse than getting up at 4 a.m. to show up at a deserted airport where the only thing to do was go into the staff lounge and catch a few Zs!

We did a variety of duties, from checking in passengers to working the gate, thumping out flight confirmations on the telex and assisting passenger with wheelchairs.  Air Canada at the time handled some other carriers such as Thai and Ceylonair, so it was often quite an international day.

While some services were automated on our clunky, early computers (I bet if I racked my brain I could still request a smoking seat for you in the bubble of a 747), much was hand written including boarding passes and luggage tags.

Being summertime, flights were sometimes oversold in economy and we were trained to look out for well-dressed, presentable people who would not look out of place if we were to upgrade them, at no surcharge, to First Class.  We would write a discreet SUG (suitable upgrade) on the boarding pass so that our colleagues wouldn’t have to walk around the departure lounge clearly sizing people up if some upgrades were needed. For men, a suit worked.  For women? Jewelry helped, but fur clinched the deal.

I lost 10 pounds that summer, striding along the corridors and departure gates of Heathrow in my ugly brown uniform. It was a great experience, and I was so very, very proud. 

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