When the `outside seat' was outside the plane
IN June 1921, Mr. Chandler, travel agent for the American Express in Minneapolis, folded the flaps on long business-sized envelopes addressed to Miss Isabel Shoemaker and Miss Rebecca Burt, saying, ``Here are all of your reservations. I was delighted to get excellent seats, outside seats, on the Handley Page plane, for your flight from Paris to London.'' ``Thank you,'' we replied, and left the office, ecstatic over the prospect of a three months' summer vacation abroad. The flight, at that moment, was somewhat incidental. However, Isabel said, as we walked up Nicollet Avenue, ``What do you suppose he meant by outside seats?''Skip to next paragraph
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``I've no idea,'' I answered, ``but perhaps they are window seats; I don't know anything really about planes, outside seats, or whatever.''
We dropped the subject and in our enthusiasm over being in Venice, Rome, and Paris, we gave little thought to our transportation to London until the day of our flight.
That day dawned, rainy and tumultuous. We went by car to LeBourget Field, hoping the flight would not be canceled. For some time we sat in the small shed-like terminal waiting eagerly for decisions about weather and the flight. Finally a favorable report came - the takeoff would really happen.
Presently two young men, Americans, approached Isabel and me, saying, ``Are you the two girls who have the outside seats? Because of the inclement weather, would you like to trade with us?''
A uniformed official was standing near and we asked him, ``What are outside seats?''
``Seats in the nose of the plane, in front of the pilot and mechanics.''
``Would we have any protection from the weather?''
He said simply, ``I'll be with you in a minute.'' Returning, he had in his arms two sheepskin-lined coverall suits, two helmets, earmuffs, goggles. We gave one look at the equipment and told the inquiring Americans that we would keep our reservations. Then Mr. Chandler's words rang in our ears - ``excellent seats, outside seats on the plane from Paris to London.''
I began unbuttoning my full-length leather coat, which I was wearing over a blue tweed suit. The official said, ``Keep your coat on. These coveralls go over your garments.'' He literally stuffed us into those airplane coveralls. All was well until we tried to walk. We simply could not lift our legs. We shuffled, two lumbering bears, dragging our feet through the mud, often slipping back two steps for every forward move. By the time we reached the metal ladder into the plane, locomotion was almost nil. Hanging onto the railing on each side of the ladder, we lifted ourselves, step by step, into the plane.
We steadied our shuffling gait up the inclined narrow aisle by holding onto the backs of the inside seats provided for the eight or 10 less fortunate passengers. Finally we reached the door to the open cockpit, and there saw the greatest problem of all. We would have to roll over the backs of the seats belonging to the pilot and the mechanic, then over the backs of the seats in the nose of the plane. Neither Isabel nor I had ever been cited for athletic prowess, but enthusiasm and desire accomplished for us this almost insurmountable hazard. When after an awkward struggle we gained upright positions in our seats, we looked at each other triumphantly. I don't recall being strapped in. I do remember that we fitted into the nose of that plane without an inch to spare.