Monday, August 3, 2009

A Fistful of Firsts in France

It was the Summer of 1976 and time to fly home from Germany for a family reunion. We were booked on TWA’s Paris to Washington/Dulles service in both directions with connections at the shining new airport north of the city, Charles de Gaulle. Oh, how this was going to be a fun day for this young aviation enthusiast!

In the first of many firsts our originating flights were on Air France and included flying on easily the strangest thing with wings I had ever seen in my life. The unimpressed, seen-‘em-all gate agent informed us it was a French “Caravelle,” a short-to-medium range bird seating 80 passengers with Rolls Royce engines, perfect for a typical intra-European service.

The pioneering Caravelle featured a host of cutting edge designs, including the first “clean wing” concept by having the engines located in the back. Not seeing the engines wasn’t nearly as jaw-dropping, though, as the triangle shaped windows that distorted images around the edges like a magnifying glass! This strange magic may not have looked like a typical airplane but it sounded and flew like one, landing us safely at Charles de Gaulle, the mother lode of all firsts.

Aeroports de Paris set the bar early for cutting edge designs that deviated from mere bunkers with bridges. The terminal was a living test bed for the future with its bundt cake design, glass-encased escalators suspended in mid-air and tunnels dipping under live taxiways only to rise again to seven attending satellites. This new gateway to Paris was indeed striking although the arresting form did not translate in to efficient function and, as we know, was not repeated.

Once Mom was settled at the TWA gate with time to spare before boarding, we took off back down the tunnel to savor actually being under an active taxiway. The tunnel itself offered new things for us as well, such as the longest moving sidewalk we had ever seen, the smooth walls with indirect lighting from underneath the tiled flooring and those hypnotic advertising “eggs” with images flashing on either side.

When we got to the other end and made to go thru security back to our gate the agents asked us for our passports. Oops. Seems we’d re-entered the country on our sight-seeing dash thru the tunnel. Neither spoke the other’s language but wayward international passengers have been in the airport worker’s job since Lindbergh. “Mom,” is a universal word and us frantically pointing up the tunnel was all they needed to fetch our more than miffed mother with the documents needed to process us back “out” of France in time to catch our flight to Washington.

TWA offered “Strange Magic” by E.L.O. on its popular hits channel but the strangest and most wonderful magic of all was the Caravelle and that mesmerizing bundt cake terminal at Charles de Gaulle.

We couldn’t wait to do it again!

Gotta go!

No comments:

Post a Comment