Flying Big Metal

Back in the old days, like maybe six or seven years ago, the husband and I always went out of our way to book flights on big planes: a 767 or, even better, an L-1011. These are the aircraft equivalent of what my friend Bill calls "big metal," the Cadillac, Buick or Pontiac that your old uncle would drive around for 20 years in all its great, gas-guzzling luxury.

I was reminded of those days recently, by stories about the  showcase flight of the new Airbus A380, the newest and biggest passenger aircraft in the world. I don’t know that I’ll ever get to fly on one, though, because most airlines are shifting toward smaller aircraft. The A380 is not a big seller so far.

That’s too bad. It used be that you could count on flying big metal on transcontinental and transatlantic flights. But now it’s 737s from coast to coast and I even see some airlines flying 757s on transatlantic routes. This is just horrifying. Because a 757, I hope I don’t have to remind you, has only one aisle.

Some people might not see the horror in that, but I beg you to consider that it takes only one beverage cart to block a single-aisle plane. Two, strategically placed, can make it impossible to reach a bathroom.  If that doesn’t worry you on a five-hour flight, you don’t drink as much coffee as I do.

All is not lost, though. I just booked a KLM flight on a 747, the aircraft previously known as the biggest passenger jet in the world. Four engines, two aisles, two decks, from JFK to Amsterdam. Delightful.

Still, my heart will always belong to the almost extinct Lockheed L-1011 Tristar. Now, that was a plane. Three engines and two wide aisles, with multiple bulkheads and exit rows. And, because they weren’t manufactured after 1984, most L-1011’s were configured with the fairly generous seat pitch of the pre-passenger-compaction era.

I’ve read that flight attendants didn’t like the L-1011 because it flew at an angle, nose up, that made it hard to wrangle the food and beverage carts. I can understand that. But I think it maybe made the passengers more comfortable, angled back into their seats a little bit. Kind of like settling back into the plush seat of my old 1994 Buick LeSabre for a nice, long ride.


4 thoughts on “Flying Big Metal

  1. Ed Hart

    Just had to add my vote to your comments on the L-1011. It was a dream ride. I frequently flew to Europe on it. It will never be matched, I fear, and the current trend is certainly in a different direction. I have not retired yet, so I am watching my business travel experience continue to decline. And now 737’s are plying the oceans! Gawd…what ever happend to “fun” in travel?!?!
    Nice story, Jeanne

  2. Kate

    Most definitely- the seat pitch on planes are way too tight these days. Not only that, but a lot of airlines have almost entirely done away with free meals. On my last flight on US Air they gave us a tiny pack of pretzels, and then SOLD snack packs for $3 each. This for a three hour flight! I understand that airlines are in trouble, but that doesn’t stop me from lamenting the decline of comfort levels on planes.

  3. don

    True … and 4-hour CRJ flights look even worse.
    Northwest just parked the last of its DC-10 widebody fleet this winter. Sad.

  4. John

    The big old comfortable airplanes went the same way as the big old comfortable cars, for the same reason.
    But they are fun to look back on.


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