Friday, April 16, 2010

Icelandic Airlines

There is a major volcanic eruption in Iceland sending a huge plume of ash into the upper atmosphere and disrupting TransAtlantic air travel.
This reminds me of some memories of my childhood, where we often got to see active volcanic lava flows on the coast of Iceland from the windows of an airplane.
In many ways, my childhood was a great adventure. My family moved from Alabama to West Germany for most or the 1960's. My 1st organized school experience was as one of the only foreigners (along with my brother) in a German kindergarten. It sucked, and only got worse when he moved on to 1st grade where he attended a school with American children of US Soldiers. After he left, my lifelong pattern of truancy officially began.
We traveled first via Ocean Liner, "The Hanseatic", a German Vessel, and returned on The Queen Mary. Unfortunately, I remember almost nothing about these harrowing voyages, but my Mom remembers them all too well. I'll try to relate that adventure another time.
Throughout the '50s and 60's International air travel was tightly regulated and prohibitively expensive. Icelandic Airlines exploited a loophole by offering flights to Reykjavik with continuing service to Luxembourg -or Idlewild Airport in New York (now JFK).

We made this trip several times, as we would travel to my grandparents home in Falkville, Alabama to spend our summers while my Dad remained in Germany to work.

Icelandic operated prop planes (like the old DC-54A shown above) well into the Jet Age, when TWA and PanAm were flying big Boeing and Lockheed jets.

These trips seemed to last forever, often stopping for fuel in Shannon Ireland, and always a stop in Reykjavik for fuel and a visit to a bleak little gift shop.
My mother says my little sister took her first steps in Ireland during a fuel stop. Very appropriate.

Loftleiðir, or Icelandic Airlines Loftleiðir, was founded on March 10, 1944, by three young Icelandic pilots after returning from training in Canada. During the first years of operation, they only operated on domestic routes from Reykjavík Airport.

On June 17, 1947, (Iceland's Independence Day), Loftleiðir inaugurated the first international service, linking Reykjavík and Copenhagen with a Douglas DC-4/C-54 Skymaster. This was the first aircraft fitted for international operations. In 1948 Loftleiðir was granted permission to operate in the USA, and in August 1948, a Loftleiðir Skymaster landed at Idlewild Airport (now JFK) with 46 passengers. In 1952 Loftleiðir opened regular services between New York and Europe via Iceland.

During the 1950s, restrictions on international air traffic were more rigid than today. The freedoms of the air restricted airliners to carry passenger and cargo to and from the country of the aircraft's registration only. Loftleiðir benefited from this by selling air-tickets from USA to European cities by breaking the ticket into two, one to Iceland and one from Iceland. It was not necessary to break the journey, only issue the passengers with two tickets.

During the 1960s and 1970s, Loftleiðir introduced low-cost fares on the North Atlantic starting from Luxembourg via the Nordic Countries and Iceland. The low-cost tickets became very popular and attracted many passengers. WIKI


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