Sixty-two years ago today, Qantas began its around the world services. On 14 January 1958, a pair of Super Constellations took off from Melbourne’s Essendon Airport. One headed in a westerly direction, the other in an easterly direction, allowing passengers to choose which direction they preferred to travel in. Airlines just don’t look after their passengers like that anymore!
This little historical footnote nearly passed us by but for an article in Airways Museum. It’s not a long article but it’s packed full of interesting information. According to the article, Qantas (then known as Qantas Empire Airways, or QEA) was ‘determined’ to have around the world flights going in alternative directions.
At the time, the logistics and distances involved meant the around the world flights were at the cutting edge of what could be done. They even ran a test flight beforehand to prove the Super Constellation could make it.
So now I know where Qantas got its Project Sunrise and its “research” flights template from, proving everything old is new again at some point.
Flights went east and west
The route going west followed the well-trodden Kangaroo route (hops between stops – geddit) while the route east across the Pacific was tagged the Southern Cross route. Moving in an easterly direction from Melbourne, the stops were Nadi, Honolulu, San Francisco, New York, London, Rome, Athens, Bahrain, Karachi, New Delhi, Bangkok, Singapore, Jakarta, Perth and then back to Melbourne.
The westbound Kangaroo route reversed the order of stops. Midway through the flights, the two aircraft would pass each other. The Airways Museum article tells us Super Constellation VH-EAO operated the first eastbound flight 62 years ago today while Super Constellation VH-EAP headed west via the Kangaroo route.
Pan Am got rights to fly in Australia
These around the world flights only got up after protracted negotiations with the United States. QEA was the first non-US carrier to be given rights to fly across the United States. In return, Pan Am, got rights too, through and within Australia.
I’m old enough to remember watching the morning Pan Am 747 flight coming into Sydney while on holiday at my Grandma’s house. As far as I know, Pan Am never took up its right to operate within Australia. If that’s not right, I’d be happy to be corrected and read the details.
Expensive, but very comfortable
Disregarding the fact that the four engined Super Constellations were noisy and the around the world trip took about a week, it sounds like a hell of a jaunt. But flying back then was very expensive and the preserve of the wealthy. Still, if you were prepared to break the bank, those QEA Super Constellation flights were regarded as an epoch in passenger flying.
There was no economy class. There was only one class and it was front of the plane orientated. Aisles were wide and seats reclined. On night flights, if you weren’t overnighting at a city’s best hotel, beds could be made up for passengers. There was lobster and freshly carved beef inflight. Buffet tables would be set up and lunch would roll on for three or four hours. There was champagne and decent brandy and no-one had a fit if you lit up a cigar over the Indian Ocean.
And passengers dressed nicely. Forget about the bogan scuffs and the Bali singlets and all the exposed man-nips you see on flights today. Male passengers wore a suit and tie when helping themselves to the lobster. Women wore pearls and heels when climbing on board – you don’t see enough pearls on planes these days. People socialized over cocktails. Nobody put their feet up against the bulkhead.
I reckon it’s possible to fly around the world in about 48 hours now. That time frame is set to shorten in the next couple of years. We’ve got Q Suites, and inflight WiFi and some nice lounges to wait for flights in these days. But I’d swap a ride in any first-class cabin today for a week-long multi-stop cigar and champagne-fuelled jaunt around the world in a Super Constellation.