BETTER ON A CAMEL
BOAC and BEA reminiscences, memorabilia and history
 
 
Introduction
Review of background to airline experiences and recollections
 
 
Dedication
About the charity 'Practical Action'
 
 
Foreword
Foreword by Sir Ross Stainton, former Chairman of BOAC
 
 
CHAPTER ONE - THE FAR EAST AND INDIAN OCEAN
airport and airline memoirs about the far east - from India and the Seychelles to Japan
 
 
Burma - Lighting Up Time, by Gerry Catling (1954)
an airport story - cigars as insect repellent
 
 
Burma - The Day of the Dear Departed (1954), by Gerry Catling
memories of a delicate diplomatic exercise with BOAC in Burma
 
 
Burma, etc. - Britannias, by Alan Douglas
recollections of the Bristol Britannia in service with BOAC
 
 
Burma -The Sound Barrier, by Tony Russell (1972)
Dealings with the civil aviation authorities in Rangoon
 
 
Burma - The Fertiliser Factory, by David McCormack (1972)
memoirs of an airline manager - going the extra mile in customer service...
 
 
Burma - Cigars, Religion and Superstition, by Peter Jones (1975)
Meeting the Burmese People
 
 
Burma - Special Adviser to the Manager, by Peter Jones (1975)
attending a funeral in Rangoon
 
 
Burma - Burmese Days, by Peter Jones (1975)
a visit to Mandalay and the temples of Pagan
 
 
China - Learning Chinese by Ralph Glazer (1983)
Meeting CAAC
 
 
India - Holy Cow, by Ralph Glazer (1964)
Obstruction on the runway...
 
 
India - Delhi (Not) Singing in the Rain, by Ralph Glazer (1964)
Monsoon (and its Cargo) Close airport
 
 
India - The Morning Commuter, by Peter Fieldhouse (1970)
Getting to the office in Calcutta
 
 
Japan - The Mount Fuji Disaster, by James Wilson (1966)
a retrospective view of the management of the aftermath of a major air crash
 
 
Pakistan - Yaqoob and Musaleem, by Peter Liver (1987)
fond memories of two aged retainers
 
 
Philippines - Cutting it Fine, by David Hogg (1970)
memoir of the chaos to civil aviation caused by a typhoon in Manila
 
 
Philippines - Being British, by David Hogg (1969)
reactions to an earthquake
 
 
Sri Lanka (Ceylon) - The Day my Number (almost) Came up, by Gerry Catling (1960)
memories of a BOAC Comet 4 landing on a wet runway..
 
 
Seychelles Days, by Mike McDonald (1974-1977)
An island idyll..civil aviation (and British Airways) arrive in the Seychelles
 
 
CHAPTER TWO - THE MIDDLE EAST
airport and airline reminiscences and memorabilia in the Middle East
 
 
Abu Dhabi - Ice Cold in Abu Dhabi, by Graham Moss (1970)
keeping VC-10 passengers cool on the ground
 
 
Abu Dhabi - Sand Trap, by David Hogg (1972)
hazards of driving in the desert
 
 
Bahrain - The Traffic Manual Expert, by David Meyrick (1962)
an air cargo problem - loading a BOAC DC7F
 
 
Bahrain - The Thunderstorm, by Ron Colnbrook (1968)
a scary flying story
 
 
Iran - The Nosewheel Incident, by Alan Hillman (1965)
a problem on the runway in Tehran
 
 
Iran - Hold Five, by Brian Cannadine (1972)
Teheran Airport - animal alert!
 
 
Israel - Cultural Differences, Mike McDonald (1972)
airline tales from Tel Aviv
 
 
Kuwait - a 'Fifth Pod' Operation, by Jack Wesson (1965)
a BOAC flight planner's nightmare
 
 
Kuwait - the Oil Drillers, by John Cogger (1970)
a BOAC Sales Manager at work - life in the fast lane
 
 
Kuwait - Out of the Fog, by Peter Richards (1991)
Return to Kuwait after the Gulf War
 
 
Saudi Arabia - Abdul and the Bacon, by David Hogg (1973)
a treat goes missing
 
 
Yemen - Sana'a Memories, by David Hogg (1973)
a testimony of everyday life in the Yemen
 
 
CHAPTER THREE - AFRICA
recollections and tales of life with BOAC and British Airways in Africa
 
 
Ghana - the Watchman, by Anthony Farnfield (1966)
a letter in the files
 
 
Kano, Nigeria - Willie on the Rampage, by Pat Noujaim (1959)
The randiest dachshund in Northern Nigeria nearly causes a delay
 
 
Nigeria - Bush Telegraph, by David Hogg (1965)
bad news travels fast in West Africa
 
 
Nigeria - Things Other than the World Cup, by Don Ford (1966)
BOAC involved in events in Lagos before the Biafran War
 
 
Nigeria - Boom Times, by Peter Jones (1975-1979)
the oil boom in Nigeria in the seventies
 
 
Nigeria - an Attempted Coup, by Peter Jones (1976)
violent regime change in Nigeria
 
 
Nigeria - Living and Working in Lagos, by Peter Jones (1975-1979)
stories of expatriate life in Nigeria
 
 
Nigeria - Never Knowingly Undersold, by Peter Jones (1981)
Travails with the Lagos Telephone Company
 
 
Nigeria - Student Travel, by Peter Jones (1981)
a student goes to the wrong destination
 
 
Nigeria - Lagos Airport Again! by Nick Robertson (1989-90)
Wild West (Africa)
 
 
Ethiopia - Petrol Rationing, by Doug Tester (1975)
Michael to the rescue
 
 
Uganda - The Road to Kampala, by Peter Liver (1972)
a moment in history - BOAC in Uganda in the days of Idi Amin
 
 
Uganda - Exodus of the Ugandan Asians, by Mike Wickings (1972)
Organising the departure of Asians from Uganda
 
 
Kenya - Nairobi 1956 etc., By Maurice Flanagan
early memories of BOAC in Nairobi
 
 
Kenya - The Frustrations of the Comet 4, by Don Ford (circa 1962)
recollections of ingenious improvisation to make best use of space in the BOAC Comet 4
 
 
Kenya - Nanyuki Wedding, by Steve Sturton-Davies (1992)
a wedding in the bush
 
 
Egypt - The Six Day War, By Ron Colnbrook (1967)
memories of a war zone
 
 
Libya, Sudan and Iraq - The Personal and Confidential File, by Roddy Wilson (1955-1960)
more camel stories...
 
 
Libya - The spirit of Christmas Past, by Gerry Catling (1958)
hijinks in the Tripoli transit lounge
 
 
Libya (and Ceylon) Unaccompanied Minors by Gerry Catling (1959)
The difficulties that younger passengers sometime cause...
 
 
CHAPTER FOUR - THE CARIBBEAN, AMERICAS AND ATLANTIC OCEAN
WESTERN HEMISPHERE
 
 
Jamaica - Dr No by Mike McDonald (1964/1974)
a James Bond memory
 
 
St. Lucia - Hurricane Allen, by Peter Jones (1980)
surviving a major hurricane
 
 
St.Lucia - The Wrong Taxiway, by Peter Jones (1983)
consequences of miscommunication
 
 
St. Lucia - The Red Lady, by Peter Jones (1983)
voodoo and the Boeing 747 - an unsolved mystery
 
 
Trinidad - Management Skills, by Bill Smith (1965)
learning the ropes, the hard way
 
 
St. Lucia - The Collector, by Peter Jones (1983)
An Illegal 'Collector' of Rare Species is seen off
 
 
Bahamas - Cabin bags and Elephants, by Tony Russell (1966)
squashed baggage
 
 
Canada - Gander, Crossroads of the World, by Gerry Catling (1956)
Transatlantic travel as it used to be
 
 
Mexico - A Day in Mexico City, by Ralph Glazer (1975)
Concorde, a Road Accident and the Mexican Police
 
 
Panama - Don't Stop! by David Hogg (1975-1980)
what about the snakes?
 
 
Panama - Flying Positive, by David Hogg (1975-1980)
BAC-111 pilots in Central America
 
 
Chile - Chile-Chile-Bang-Bang, by Howell Green (1994)
Frustrations in the queue for take-off
 
 
Uruguay - Jet Flight Arrives in South America, by Alan Douglas (1959)
introducing the Comet 4 in South America
 
 
USA - I Was There That Day, by Jonathan Martin (1963)
Dallas 1963, the day of President Kennedy's assassination
 
 
USA - The New World, by Don Ford (1967-1969)
An expatriate airport manager comes to Chicago
 
 
USA - The Cricket Team, by Peter Jones (1964)
cricket in New York with BOAC?
 
 
Ascension and Falkland Islands - Encounters of the Third Kind, by Bruce Fry (1985-1987)
a BOAC station engineer goes on secondment to the RAF in the Falklands
 
 
CHAPTER FIVE - EUROPE
EUROPE
 
 
Bulgaria - Fog in London, by Mike Lewin (19xx)
BEA schedules affected by fog in London
 
 
Cyprus - Suez and the Rocky path of True Love, by Gerry Catling (1956-57)
effect of Suez on BA schedules and social life..
 
 
Cyprus - the Hijack, by Bruce Fry (1970)
when a hijacked BOAC VC-10 diverted all flights to Nicosia
 
 
Cyprus - The Turkish Invasion, by Taff Lark (1974)
Evacuation of tourists when Cyprus invaded by Turkish forces
 
 
Germany - from BSAA to the Berlin Airlift, by Charlie Item Smith (1948-49)
Following the BSAA disasters, the Avro Tudor fleet is assigned to the Berlin Airlift as fuel tankers
 
 
Germany - Learning German, by Larry Gorton (1966)
recollections of a BEA manager having problems learning German
 
 
Italy - The Secret of Fiumicino, by Bill Smith (1967)
airport customer service staff get a morale boost and valuable lessons for motivation are learned
 
 
Poland - The Stand-off, by Roy Burnham (1978)
an encounter with American presidential security guards
 
 
Romania - Heidi's Haggis, by Mike Lewin (1971)
a bit of BEA memorabilia - ingenuity in the kitchen saves Burns Night in Bucharest
 
 
Russia (USSR) Trans Siberian Start-up, by Brian Burgess (1969-1972)
planning for an historic moment - BOAC's trans Siberian route to Japan
 
 
Russia (USSR) - Red Faces in Red Square, By Bernard Garvie (1970)
Diplomatic Incident with Chandelier
 
 
Russia(USSR) - The Omelette Factory, by Peter Richards (1970s)
Navigating over Siberia
 
 
Russia(USSR) the Golf Lesson, by Peter Richards (1976)
In a Moscow Hotel Room..
 
 
Russia (USSR) The Security Guard, by Peter Richards (1976)
How to scare a Russian Security Officer
 
 
Russia (USSR) -The Stewardess, by Taff Lark (1980)
shades of 007
 
 
Russia (USSR) - Domodedovo Airport, 'the House of my Grandfather' by Mike McDonald (1989)
a memoir of early days at Moscow's Domodedovo Airport
 
 
Spain - Dictatorship and Honour, by Gerry Catling (1960)
a recollection of Franco's Spain - negotiating the 'personal honour' code at Madrid Airport
 
 
Spain - A Soft Touch, by Ralph Glazer
A Meeting with Franco
 
 
Switzerland - The Precision of the Swiss, by Gerry Catling (1968)
recollections of how we proved to the airport authority that the Super VC-10 was not a noisy aircraft
 
 
BIBLIOGRAPHY
Further reading and watching for addicts....
 
 

Trinidad - Management Skills, by Bill Smith (1965)

It was late afternoon. The temperature was competing with the humidity at about 95 degrees when I went out to see my very first flight in Trinidad, West Indies. I was resplendent in my new uniform, my crisp white shirt, neatly pleated navy blue trousers and stiff blue cap. The sun sparkled on the gold of the three brand new stripes on my epaulettes.

The Boeing 707 was majestic as the hot air from her whining engines made the rich green hills surrounding Piarco Airport shimmer. With an almost satisfied sigh the engines wound down and her gleaming frame came to rest. I strode out to meet her at an appropriately brisk military pace and reached the end of her wing before I noticed - I was alone.

The cavalcade of steps, baggage trolleys, air-conditioners, catering vans and fuel trucks that were supposed to greet the arriving plane had not moved. I turned and signalled to the steps to approach - they did not move. By the time I located the local duty officer and had him order the steps and air-conditioners in place we had a very hot, sweaty and angry horde of passengers and crew to deal with.

Our flights were handled by BWIA (British West Indian Airlines) and they had never before had a BOAC representative at the airport. The local duty officer had assumed I would take over control of BOAC flights, the porters and drivers had no idea who I was, they probably thought I was a flight crew member - it was my first day at the airport - and so they did not heed my signals. In addition they never took responsibility themselves for moving to the aircraft - they always waited for a signal from the duty officer.

Such was my introduction to a host of similar problems of misunderstandings, differences in expectations, problems of personality, politics, and cultural differences - all the problems of getting things done through others, amplified by working in a different culture.

Nothing in my two years of management training had prepared me for this. I had been sent to Trinidad because, at that time, it was the worst performing airport out of some 80 agency handled stations. Trinidad had just become independent from Britain and the national airline BWIA was similarly asserting its independence from its maternal creator BOAC. The multi-racial management and staff of BWIA were not about to pay too much attention to this 24-year old fresh-faced graduate from England.

I still find myself re-living some of those early experiences in the light of more recent learning. One of my major successes was also a sign of a major failure. As you read this you might ask yourself whether you have had a similar experience early in your career and how have your explanations changed over time.

It was not long before I discovered that at least 75% of our delays came from the passenger handling system - checking in passengers, assigning seats, boarding passengers and completing customs and immigration documents. There was a huge bottleneck in the system.

The basic document for recording passenger information was called the passenger manifest. The manifest was typed up at the check-in desk as each passenger reported in. Until the last passenger arrived, the seat plan, flight documentation, fuel calculation, load and balance calculations, customs and immigration clearances could not be processed. Once the last passenger checked in, there was always a chaotic hustle to complete the procedures. The haste, as much as anything, caused problems that led to delays - miscalculations and errors in documentation, missed signatures and erroneous passenger counts.

As I had received some industrial engineering as part of my training I was able to analyse the flow of the system and come up with several designs for eliminating 95% of our delays. The revised system we adopted worked by pre-manifesting passengers and circulating the pre-manifest with an estimated number of passengers to all departments. When the last passenger checked in, it was only the adjustments that had to be communicated. Similarly, once passengers started to board, control of the flight and its documentation was moved from the check-in counter to the boarding gate at a ramp close to the aircraft. The shift of control-point saved an average of ten minutes scurrying time on each flight. The system was hugely successful and virtually eliminated passenger handling delays.

However, one day, after the system had been in use for several weeks, a woman who was one of the senior traffic assistants came on duty. Under the old system, the most senior women were given the task of manifesting passengers, because of their typing skills and because of the critical nature of the manifest to the passenger handling system.

When she arrived at her position and saw the pre-manifest with passengers’ names already on it she exclaimed, “What is this? This is no good - the old way is much more accurate”. She proceeded to tear it up and returned to the old way. Naturally, I was furious and let her know in no uncertain terms how the whole new system depended on the pre-manifest.

She seemed unduly calm, and other local staff who had been very positive about the results of the new system seemed reluctant to intervene. A week or so later, I was asked to the office of my own area manager and he presented me with a complaint about my handling of the incident from the local station manager.

Although I was able to explain the incident I had a sense that something more than this single event was operating. It took several months before I fully understood what had happened. I had spent so much time focusing on the task of improving passenger service that I had been totally unaware about my effect on people.

In particular, I had been unaware of my effect on the local station manager. I had been training his staff and the staff had come to regard me a source of knowledge; they would come to me when they had technical problems. I had been changing his systems. Every time he would come to the duty office and see something different he would ask, “What is happening here?" The staff would reply – “Oh, Mr. Smith says we should do this now”. Wherever he turned his head “Mr. Smith says... Mr. Smith won't allow us to.... Mr. Smith believes that...”

He had begun to feel a stranger in his own station. It wasn't long before he found a way to remind this youngster that Piarco Airport was his world and I had better start realising that. He had no need to tell the senior check-in agent what to do. She knew how he felt and she delivered the lesson I have never forgotten.

At various stages in my learning about organisation and management I have attached different interpretations to this story, from informal and formal human relations, to socio-technical systems design, to power politics, personality and culture. For me it was one of those critical incidents that shape the future in profound and subtle ways.

I continued for some three years in Trinidad, making just about every mistake it is possible for a neophyte to make. Perhaps, with hindsight, the major error I made was to take too much personal responsibility for performance. Even though my major intervention was to train staff in aircraft handling, I still took responsibility for improving the systems and procedure. I would work for several months to improve passenger handling systems and our delays due to passenger handling would fall considerably, I would then move on to cargo handling and again delays and complaints would decrease.

But, as you might guess, delays and complaints in passenger handling began to creep back again. For some three years I continued this merry-go-round from department to department watching performance improve and then fall back. It is only recently, since I have seen how often this error is repeated by many of my colleagues in management, that I have begun to realise the cultural roots of the problem. I only really came to grips with it some time later in Rome.*

* see Bill's description of his time in Rome in the chapter on Europe

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