An unrelated note: Yesterday I posted the results of a long-simmering personal project to my other blog, Neck Pickup. It’s sorta cool, in a goofy way, and if anyone has time to check it out, I appreciate it. Thanks.
Now for this week’s regularly scheduled programming …
In past blog posts, both recent and distant, we’ve explored the routes my family took to get between Stamford, Conn., where my grandparents lived, and Rochester, N.Y., where my parents settled.
It’s not a short trip, even in the best of weathers. Nor is it a particularly direct route. There are a number of road changes to navigate, and some small towns to pass through late at night when things aren’t as well-lit as they might be.
It looks like my aunt took a different way to get to Rochester, 45 years ago this month. It wasn’t the cheapest way, but she might have gotten a bag of peanuts and a Coke out of the deal.
It just so happens that I have a scanned-in picture of my grandfather’s, dated 1968, that I’m guessing shows this exact flight on the tarmac. (It was scanned in under the title of “Elaine Flight.”)
As I’ve mentioned before, I don’t believe my grandfather was ever on a plane. So when someone in his family was, it was a big deal, and worth taking pictures of:
“Mad Men” fans, history buffs, and readers over 50 will recognize Mohawk Airlines.
Utica, N.Y.’s second-greatest gift to the world and the first American airline to employ a black stewardess, Mohawk was a successful and well-known regional carrier throughout the 1950s and ’60s. If you were going to places like Glens Falls or Keene or Hartford or Worcester, Mohawk was going your way.
Below, a mid-1960s promotional film for Mohawk. Ah, for those golden days when lengthy meetings with middle-aged men in suits were considered guarantees of quality, rather than the very epitome of stodgy, bullheaded business as usual:
Unfortunately, the little airline that could was already starting to stagger by the time Aunt Elaine bought her ticket.
Only about two weeks after her flight, the national air traffic controllers’ union launched a protest job action that significantly slowed flights nationwide, costing airlines money.
A general economic slowdown in 1969, which blossomed into full recession the following year, hurt all airlines. And a pilots’ strike against Mohawk that began in November 1970 cost the company further money it could not afford to lose.
Undone by this series of body blows, Mohawk agreed to a buyout by Allegheny Airlines in 1971.
For those keeping score at home, Allegheny later changed its name to USAir, then again to US Airways, and is now getting swallowed up by American Airlines — a final victory for the national mega-carriers Mohawk used to insult in its TV advertising.
Sic transit gloria mundi.
I don’t know anything about my aunt’s particular flight. I didn’t ask her, and I’m not sure she’d remember it. But clearly she got to Rochester and back.
When we look back at companies that aren’t around any more, there’s a tendency to think of them as failures, losers or relics. If they were any good, the thinking goes, they’d still be here.
There’s some truth to that. But at the same time, some of those companies — like Mohawk Airlines — were pretty good at what they did before the challenges and pressures of doing business brought them down. (It doesn’t take many missteps or much adversity to put a company in the doghouse.)
A successful plane flight isn’t long-lasting currency. The experience recedes quickly in the mind, and we forget how much trust it took us to get on the plane and how much skill it took the airline to get us where we wanted to go, intact and on time.
Somewhere there is a reservoir of karma for these sorts of defunct enterprises … a place where Mohawk Airlines still gets credit for the difficult task of moving a plane full of people from the New York City area to Rochester one long-ago morning in 1968.