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General Philatelic/Gen. Discussion : A "pro-airline" paquetbot cover?

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Bobstamp
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07 Apr 2021
08:22:05pm
This is an image of a paquetbot cover that I'm planning to add to a new web page, about the crash of an Italian transatlantic airliner at Idlewild airport in 1954.

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The sender was the Armenian-American Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist, playwright, and short story writer, William Saroyan. At the time the cover was posted, Saroyan was apparently on board U.S.S. America, which routinely sailed between Marseilles and New York City, with stops at Southhampton and Cobh, Ireland. Saroyan's son confirmed that the longhand return address is in his father's handwriting.

It's interesting that a shipping company was "promoting" any aspect of commercial aviation at a time when airliners were clearly posing a serious threat to their business model, which was offering luxury while airlines were promising speedy travel even across oceans, along with good food and free booze and cigarettes, their version of luxury while riding in a cramped, nearly airless, noisy tube thousands of feet above the stormiest ocean in the world.

Bob

P.S. Roy Lingen sold this cover to me several years ago for only 69 cents. Because the image on Roy's web site was very small, I didn't realize who the sender was until I received the cover. I immediately wrote to Roy, offering to pay more than he had asked for the cover, but he assured me that it was my luck and his loss that brought the cover into my hands. It's always nice when "specialized knowledge" helps a collector to recognize unique items that other people wouldn't recognize. In my case, Saroyan is one of my favourite American authors.

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amsd
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Editor, Seal News; contributor, JuicyHeads
07 Apr 2021
09:57:09pm
re: A "pro-airline" paquetbot cover?

and he appeared on a US 29c stamp

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"Save the USPS, buy stamps; save the hobby, use commemoratives"

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pigdoc
08 Apr 2021
09:21:26am
re: A "pro-airline" paquetbot cover?

Interesting cover, Bob.

Can you distinguish what year the cover was cancelled? The stamp (issued 1948 through 1965) is not very helpful to pinpoint its use, in time.

There was definitely a period, when intercontinental air travel was still ascendant in comfort and accessibility, and when ocean liner travel was fully matured, still preferred, and much safer than air travel! Particularly when vessels like the United States were routinely making crossings in the range of only 5 days or so.

To wit, here is a souvenir cover from the record-setting maiden voyage of the SS United States, 3 days, 10 hours, 40 minutes (average speed 35.59kts):
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It has a Southampton receiver cancel on the reverse, dated 8 JY 52, 7:30PM.

(The "Connie pamphlet" I mailed to you last week effectively illustrates the efforts of airlines to dress up their product with all the frills of convenience and comfort. I cannot imagine the physical endurance required of an intercontinental trip in a prop airliner, which I have never experienced, relative to the comfort of jet travel for a trip of that duration. You can!)

Customers had a choice to make, as you point out, and in this period, I think companies like US Lines were confident that they could sufficiently differentiate their product to remain a viable business. These companies could probably not yet fully envision the era of intercontinental jet travel, and how convenient, comfortable, affordable...and safe that would eventually become, perhaps hallmarked by the introduction of the Boeing 707 in the early 1960s.

That kind of massive transition in how a basic commodity (intercontinental travel) is supplied, over a relatively short span of time (a decade or so) and the resulting turmoil, to me, makes a very interesting socio-economic study. Throw in the setbacks like the crash you cite, and the deHavilland Comet lore, and the dynamic is interesting, indeed!

Thanks for sharing!
-Paul

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Bobstamp
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08 Apr 2021
08:19:36pm
re: A "pro-airline" paquetbot cover?

@David — You are correct about Saroyan appearing on a U.S. stamp. It was a dual issue of the United States and Russia, although Saroyan wasn't exactly Russian! Some time ago I published a web page based on my S.S. *United States* cover and the Saroyan stamps. See William Saroyan posts a cover.

@Paul — The cover was postmarked September 28, 1962, just a few days before I joined the Navy. You are right that the airline-driven death knell of the great ocean liners was an interesting time. In the mid-1800s, many people believed that high-speed travel by train was dangerous to human health. In 1934, two airliners, a Douglas DC-2 and a Boeing 247, finalists in the MacRobertson International Air Race, showed the world that long-distance flight was commercially viable. Five years later, in 1939, a Pan American Lines Boeing 314 seaplane flew from Southampton to New York City, carrying the first-ever paying passengers to cross the North Atlantic and stopping for fuel in Ireland and Newfoundland.* The flight took almost a full day and cost each passenger US $375, an amount that today would purchase goods and services worth about $3,000. Not until the late 1950s and early 1960s would the middle class be able to afford flight on any airline.

The Second World War provided the main impetus for ocean-spanning flight. In 1939, when Great Britain declared war on Nazi Germany, there can't have been more than a few dozen pilots, navigators, and flight engineers who had ever flown from North America to the British Isles, but suddenly there was an urgent need to deliver warplanes, war matériel, and aircrew from Canada and the U.S. to Great Britain. There were no accurate charts, and navigation hadn't changed a great deal since the age of sail — large aircraft were being built with astrodomes through which navigators could use a sextant to estimate both latitude and longitude. That was a problem: between the time it took for a navigator to "shoot" a star and report the aircraft's position to the pilot, the aircraft could be dozens of miles beyond its previous location. It was up to Ferry Command volunteers who flew bombers, transports, and fighters from Newfoundland to the British Isles, stopping as necessary in Greenland and Iceland for fuel and no doubt praying for tailwinds and clear air. The very first Ferry Command flight consisted of several Hudson bombers that left Newfoundland on a wing and prayer and miraculously made it all the way to Scotland without a single loss although one aircraft was presumed lost until it showed up considerably later than the others.

Bob

*A few weeks earlier, Pan Am carried the first airmail across the North Atlantic between North American and the U.K. The French had "conquered" the South Atlantic for email in the late 1920s.

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Charlie2009
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09 Apr 2021
03:33:30am
re: A "pro-airline" paquetbot cover?

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Pan Am's "Clippers" were built for "one-class" luxury air travel, a necessity given the long duration of transoceanic flights. The seats could be converted into 36 bunks for overnight accommodation; with a cruising speed of 188 miles per hour (303 km/h) (typical flights at maximum gross weight were flown at 155 miles per hour (249 km/h)) in 1940, Pan Am's schedule San Francisco to Honolulu was 19 hours. The 314s had a lounge and dining area, and the galleys were crewed by chefs from four-star hotels. Men and women were provided with separate dressing rooms, and white-coated stewards served five and six-course meals with gleaming silver service. The standard of luxury on Pan American's Boeing 314s has rarely been matched on heavier-than-air transport since then; they were a form of travel for the super-rich, priced at $675 (equivalent to $12,000 in 2019) round trip from New York to Southampton. Most of the flights were transpacific, with a one-way ticket from San Francisco to Hong Kong via the "stepping-stone" islands posted at $760 (equivalent to $14,000 in 2019). The Pan Am Boeing 314 Clippers brought exotic destinations like the Far East within reach of air travelers and came to represent the romance of flight. Transatlantic flights to neutral Lisbon and Ireland continued after war broke out in Europe in September 1939 (and until 1945), but military passengers and cargoes necessarily got priority, and the service was more spartan.

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Bobstamp
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09 Apr 2021
11:51:43pm
re: A "pro-airline" paquetbot cover?

In his comments on my original post in this thread, Paul said, “I cannot imagine the physical endurance required of an intercontinental trip in a prop airliner, which I have never experienced, relative to the comfort of jet travel for a trip of that duration. You can!

Paul was referring, I assume, to my 1963 flight from Travis Air Force Base, near San Francisco, to Yokota AFB, near Tokyo, in a Military Air Transport Service (MATS) C-121 Lockheed Constellation (a “Connie”). It was a memorable flight. We were in the air for 26 hours, stopping Hickham Field in Hawaii and at Wake Island for fuel and food. The “Connie’s” seats were all facing the tail, based on the unproved theory that the seat backs would protect you in case of a crash. Not bloody likely, with emphasis on “bloody”! It wasn’t crowded — there were perhaps a dozen people on board, including the crew.

Several hours into the initial leg of the flight, between Travis and Hickham, I asked the steward if I could see the cockpit. “Sure,” he said. “Just go knock on the door.” I went and knocked on the door, which was nothing more substantial than a thin sheet of plywood with hinges. The co-pilot responded to my knock, and when I told him I just wanted to see the cockpit he said, “No problem, have a seat, I’m going to get a cup of coffee.” The seat was his seat! And I sat in it for at least the next 45 minutes, until Oahu came into view.

We flew at an altitude of 5,000 feet (1,524 metres), so low that we could easily see whitecaps on the ocean. We arrived at Hickham just as the sun was going down — I had never experienced the sudden fall of night that occurs in the tropics. After a quick, light supper in the canteen (a beer, my first!) and some fresh pineapple (my first), we got back on the plane for our flight to Wake Island. All night long, from my seat on the port side of the aircraft near the trailing edge of the wing, I could see the long jet of incandescent exhaust from the #2 engine.

My web page, Low & Slow in a Connie contains more detail about the flight, as well as photographs.

There was little comparison with flying today, or in fact with my return flight to the United States in June, 1965, when I flew on a chartered Continental Airlines Boeing 707, my first jet flight. Nine hours from Tokyo to San Francisco, as I recall. We crossed the California coastline at an altitude of 37,000 feet (11278 metres), near Mt. Shasta, which looked like a miniature version of itself. The flight home from Japan had one undesirable outcome, in addition to sending me into the arms of the Marine Corps: I suffered major jet fatigue. The “propliner fatigue” that I felt after my Connie flight to Japan was scarcely noticeable.

•••

For some interesting details (and opinions) about passenger flight in the 1950s, see this web site, The Golden Age of plane travel: what flying was like in the 1950s and 1960s compared to now.

Bob

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pigdoc
10 Apr 2021
12:20:53pm
re: A "pro-airline" paquetbot cover?

Thanks for the nice description, Bob!

I have to wonder if you experienced any turbulence during the westbound flight. This was one of the chief comfort advantages of jet airliners over propliners - the capability to fly at high enough altitudes to completely avoid atmospheric turbulence.

Since you didn't speak of significant turbulence, I presume it was minimal on your Connie flight. And, I would expect if you had experienced it, it would have increased the fatigue you felt.

But, ya, the ability to get up, move about, and explore the aircraft would serve to distract the mind and have you perceive the journey's duration as shorter than it was. Something unavailable to today's jet traveler...

When the aircraft is full, as it usually is these days, that contributes to the fatigue I feel on long flights. Not to mention the cramped accommodations. (I have flown to southern California from the East Coast, and back, three times in the last few years. I dreaded it.)

We're talking about a trip to Germany sometime in the near future. I guess it would be a false hope to wait for the SS United States to be recommissioned for that trip...But, that would be my first choice!

-Paul

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