This Was What Flying Was Like Before 2001


Producer’s note: Someone on Quora asked: What was flying like pre-2001? Here isone of the best answers that’s been pulled from the thread. Thank you to the team at Quora for making this happen!

In 1981, just after my fourteenth birthday, I flew a Boeing 720 full of passengers back to England from Malta.

It was my first foreign holiday and I loved planes so it was very exciting for me. Our return flight was cancelled and, after spending nearly 24 hours in a very basic airport, another airline finally came to take us home. The crew were fairly casual to say the least, having presumably been dragged out of bed to fly out and rescue us.

In those days it wasn’t uncommon for people to visit the flight-deck for a look around, but it depended on the crew and it wasn’t a sure thing. I was a pretty frail looking kid though (and looking even worse for having spent the night sitting in an airport café) so the captain took pity on me and my obvious love of aircraft. As soon as the plane was in the air he swapped seats with me and spent the rest of the flight with my mum and dad while I flew the plane.

And when I say, I flew the plane, I did actually fly the plane. The co-pilot radioed through to air traffic control at each point along the way and told me which levers to pull and which knobs to turn. When we needed to change course he told me the bearing to aim for and how to do it. No-one but me touched any of the controls between southern Italy and the south coast of England. My dad has some scratchy old cine film of this which I must convert and upload.

When we got over southern England the captain came back onto the flight-deck and I was relegated back to the navigator’s seat behind the pilots. I was still sat there when we landed, so I got to see the whole landing through the front windshield and wave at the plane-spotters when we pulled up at the gate.

Some years later a 16-year old boy flew an airliner into the side of a mountain in Russia after his father handed him the controls, but even so the comparatively relaxed approach to commercial aviation prevailed for the next twenty years, right up until 2001.

This comment originally appeared at Quora.