12 DEC 2017: Back in the 1950's I grew up in Windhoek - WDH - in what is now Namibia. The local airport was served by a couple of daily flights to Johannesburg and Cape Town (sometimes via Oranjemund), on South African Airways' DC3 Dakotas and DC4 Skymasters. South West Airways (Namibia was called South West Africa at the time) operated Cessna 172's for local flights, based out of a corrugated iron hangar with a payphone.  

And there was a weekly flight to London on a Lockheed Constellation on now defunct Trek Airlines. The route commenced in Cape Town with overnight stops in Windhoek, Elizabethville, somewhere in West Africa and Luxembourg. At least that's how I remember it, but I was 5 years old at the time, and my memory could be playing tricks.

Windhoek at the time was the sort of town where you could phone up the traffic control tower, and say "Hey, I'm running a bit late, can you hold the flight to Johannesburg?" and the control tower would hold the flight.

That's how it was in small towns in Africa.

One year my grandmother flew to Cape Town. It was Christmas Day. Everyone arrived for the flight, formally dressed (that's how one travelled back then), walked out onto the tarmac (no line-ups for security), and boarded. The Skymaster took off and looped back over the airport, passed low over the runway, dipped a wing, and then soared up and headed south to Johannesburg. I asked my father why the pilot had done that. I had never seen that before.

"It's his way of wishing us all a happy Christmas" said my Dad.

I was reminded of that incident by a report recently that the pilots of the final flight of Air Berlin had carried out a similar salute at Berlin airport.

Air Berlin had just ceased operating, and most of its planes, routes and slots were due to be taken over by Lufthansa.

The pilots were suspended for their sentimental gesture by the now defunct airline.

It's a pity about Air Berlin - I am told they offered great service and comfort, but if you have never really operated at a profit, you shouldn't be operating at all.

I'm not concerned about the future for those two pilots. They'll get jobs. Good ones. No problem.

I learned that from a Delta pilot last winter.

I was flying home from Jacksonville to Toronto via Atlanta. Weather conditions in Toronto were bad, and our flight from Atlanta was delayed by one then two then three hours, and eventually six and seven hours. Delta rolled out a hospitality wagon with drinks and snacks, and generally the atmosphere was not hostile toward the airline.

There was a Delta pilot sitting next to me in the waiting lounge. He was deadheading to Toronto, to pilot a CR7 back to Atlanta the next morning (though by the time we eventually took off he doubted that be allowed to fly - regulations require a minimum in-room rest time before flying, and there was no way he was going to be able to comply).

He did impart one really interesting bit of information, though: there is going to be a serious shortage of airline pilots in the very near future.

He told me that certain well-funded middle-eastern and oriental airlines are scooping up kids right out of high school here in North America, offering big signing bonuses and free training in return for long-term, well-paid contracts. "If I wasn't married and didn't have young kids I would be signing up faster than you could blink", he added, "and so would lots of my buddies"

The incentives must be huge!

So, I'm not too worried by our two sentimentalist former Air Berlin pilots. They will land on their feet just fine. In fact, they could probably do better than "just fine" if they negotiate well. Let's face it, they are already trained to fly on Europe's demanding routes, they're probably multilingual, they have more than a few hours in their logbooks. There'll be a dozen airlines just waiting to snap them up and ignore that little sentimental-fly-past incident.

But there's another moral to this tale: tell your kids what the Delta pilot told me, and tell them to train to be pilots. It's simple economics - when there's a shortage, prices go up. And there's going to be a shortage of pilots. They'll earn well, see the world.

And then there's the "family-flies-free" benefit - they'd be looking out for Mom and Dad too!




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Derrick Bloch

A regular contributer to Travel Industry Today, Derrick has been recognized by National Geographic Traveler as one of the top 80 travel agents in North America. 

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