Note: The “We Remember Blog” is published on a regular basis by Pat & Frank Fleming. In it they remember growing up in small town America during the 1940s and 1950s.
This is the second in a series of posts in which Pat & Frank recall air travel in the 1940s and 1950s.
US Airports in the 1940s and 1950s
- Unlike the great train stations of the golden age of railroads or the mini-city sized airports of today, the airports in the 1940s and the 1950s airports were small, utilitarian facilities.
- It is interesting to note that while every airport in the country has undergone numerous expansions and renovations since the 1950s, only two totally new airports have been built in the US in the last 40 years.
- To accommodate anticipated jet aircraft and vastly increased passenger traffic, airports all across the country underwent massive expansions and modernization in the 1950s Several airports including those in Los Angeles and Atlanta rather than modernizing and expanding their existing World War II era terminal facilities, instead actually built completely new terminal facilities on totally different parts of their original airports.
- The runways, hangers, control towers etc. at many of the municipal airports of the 40s and 50s were originally built as military facilities prior to and during World War II. Some commercial airports at that time operated adjacent to military air bases and shared runways, control towers, etc. with the military. To this day, several major airports are still located adjacent to and share services with the military. One that comes to mind is Honolulu International which adjoins and utilizes Hickam AFB’s runways and control tower.
- Air National Guard units continue until today utilizing what had been the military portions of many former joint use airports. Both the Guard and commercial aviation continue to share runways and control towers at these facilities. One such is Orlando International Airport which still continues to share runways and other facilities with the adjacent, huge Air National Guard facility that occupies what was formerly McCoy AFB.
- Although in the 40s and 50s most (but not quite all) of the commercial airports used by the airlines had concrete runways, some still did not have runway lighting. The lack of proper lighting limited flight operations in and out of them to daylight hours only. Since the “daytime only” airports usually were in smaller cities, they were served by the regional carriers that flew “puddle jumper” routes. Not infrequently, late afternoon or early evening flights into these airports would run late and impending darkness made it unsafe for them to land. When that happened, the “puddle jumper’ would simply bypass that stop on its route and continue on to its next lighted stop. Obviously, this left departing passengers stranded for the night in the city that was by-passed while passengers who planned to disembark at the by-passed airport were stranded in a strange city further down the line.
- To this day almost every airport in the world is assigned a three-letter “baggage identity code” which is used to sort and identify the destination of checked baggage. While some of the three-letter combinations in these codes were very logical like “PHL for Philadelphia, “BAL” for Baltimore and “PAR” for Paris, others like “YYZ” for Toronto, “ORD” for Chicago’s O’Hare Airport or “OGG” for Maui’s Kahului Airport defy rhyme or reason. In the 1950s, the airlines affixed color coded paper baggage tags with the destination airport’s three letter baggage code prominently displayed to each checked baggage. It was common at that time for frequent flyers to collect these tags and have them mounted as a collage and framed for the “ego wall” in their homes or offices.
Pat & Frank Fleming