Transport Airlines

A Mini-History of Modern International Aviation as Told in Stolen Spoons

@denschaal

Sep 12, 2013 6:15 am

Skift Take

Now that there’s been all this consolidation in the airline industry, maybe they’ll be profitable enough to afford some meals and silverware in coach. Otherwise, these vintage airline spoons will signal the unappetizing end of an era.

— Dennis Schaal

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Iconic TWA (Trans World Airlines) was an American airline founded in 1925 and absorbed by American Airlines in 2001.

Northwest Airlines took off in 1926 and merged with Delta Air Lines in 2008. Interestingly, in the 1950s, having established flights in Asia, it began marketing itself as Northwest Orient Airlines, a name that was dropped in the mid-1980s.

Continental Airlines was the lead partner in the Continental-United Airlines merger of 2010, but the Continental brand was dropped in favor of the more-global sounding United. Headquartered in Houston, Continental began operations in 1934.

BOAC (British Overseas Airways Corp.) was born in 1940 out of the merger of Imperial Airways and British Airways Ltd. BOAC merged with BEA in 1974, and the duo became British Airways.

BEA (British European Airways) traces its roots to 1946 and ceased to exist as a standalone airline in 1974 when it merged with BOAC to form British Airways. BEA was a strong UK domestic carrier in addition to international service to Europe, Africa and the Middle East.

British Airways, the Heathrow-based UK flag carrier, was created through a 1974 merger of British Overseas Airways Corp., British European Airways, Cambrian Airways and Northeast Airlines. Unlike many U.S. carriers, BA still serves complimentary snacks or meals in Economy.

Sir Richard Branson probably has better cutlery than this at home, but these spoons are from his UK-based Virgin Atlantic Airways. Virgin America wasn’t flying yet when these vintage spoons got their last workout.

El Al is the national flag carrier of Israel, and the Hebrew name means “to the skies.” El Al’s first flight took place a few months after the creation of Israel. The airline dishes out kosher, vegetarian vegan, vegetarian lacto-ovo, vegetarian Asian, Hindu, vegetarian Jain, and diabetic meals among its menu choices.

Founded by Iberia and Lufthansa in 1988, Spain-based Viva Air had a roughly 10-year run, sometimes flying within Europe, then just domestically, and eventually as a charter service before Iberia dissolved it.

Peachtree City, Georgia-based World Airways has run charter and cargo services since 1948.

VIA began operations as Varna International Airways in 1990, and did charters for European tour operators. Based in Sofia, Bulgaria, it now operates charters as Air VIA Bulgarian Airways.

When flying United Airlines in Economy for 3.5 hours or more within the continental U.S., to Hawaii, the Caribbean and certain Latin America destinations, there are no complimentary meals. Chicago-based United was founded as Varney Air Lines in 1926, and its most recent transformation involved United’s merger with Continental Airlines in 2011.

TAP, the flag carrier of Portugal, was founded in 1945, and flies to some 36 countries.

Bangkok-based Thai Airways traces its origins to 1960 and has developed from its original Asia-only route network into an airline that flies so some 25 countries in Asia, Oceania, North America and Africa. Thai still uses the logo you can see on the spoon.

Swissair was founded in 1931, and served as Switzerland’s international symbol and ambassador until it ceased operations in 2001. Not to be confused with Swiss International Air Lines.

Founded in 1920, Qantas is Australia’s largest domestic and international airline, and has allied itself with Emirates in a new sort of extra-alliance alliance.

Karachi-based PIA (Pakistan International Airlines) is a state-owned national flag carrier, and it traces its heritage to 1946, prior to independence. The airline’s tagline is “Great People to Fly With,” and it still uses the logo found on the spoon.

Spain-based Iberia began operations in 1927, and in 2011 joined British Airways in creating IAG (International Airlines Group).

Air India was created in 1946, and traces its roots to the earlier Tata Airlines. In Economy, Air India service Indian food, both vegetarian and non vegetarian, with complimentary liquor or wine.

Air Jamaica, the flag carrier of the country, still uses the same logo visible on the spoon. The airline grew out of Jamaica Air Service and flew its first flight in 1968.

For a journalist covering the travel industry, this was the ultimate scoop: I recently inherited my Dad’s vintage collection of airline spoons.

And forks.

More than 80 stainless steel beauties, in all.

My Dad, Frank Schaal, a retired electrician, refugee from Nazi Germany, poet/philosopher, social activist and traveler, died at age 91 in Sarasota, Florida, in early June.

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The spoons hung proudly in a glass case on display in my parents’ Sarasota condo, a monument to a German-Jewish family dispersed to Israel, the UK and the U.S., and the flights to catch up with all the parents, brothers, cousins, in-laws, and friends scattered around the globe.

We’d agreed years ago that I would be the family member to inherit the collection.

To see a sample of this vintage airline spoon collection, take a look at the gallery (above.) Photos by Dan Nguyen.

Like my father, who very sadly isn’t with us anymore, many of the airlines represented in the collection have departed, too. Witness TWA, BOAC, BEA, Northwest Airlines, Continental Airlines, Viva Air, and Swissair, for example.

Other functioning airlines, including World Airways, Virgin Atlantic, VIA, United, TAP, Thai, Qantas, PIA, Iberia, El Al, British Airways, Air India, and Air Jamaica, are featured, as well.

Let’s remember that in the so-called glory days of air travel, complimentary onboard meals in Economy and real silverware were a given when you flew, although in the U.S. much of this began disappearing after September 11, 2001.

My Dad nabbed his first spoon for the collection in 1965 on a 20th wedding-anniversary package-tour to Scandinavia, my mom Eva Schaal, 90, recalls.

On the flight, my Dad asked a steward whether he could buy one of the spoons brought out for an onboard meal, and the steward said he would look away so my father could take one.

My father never asked again — and the rest is history.

Over the years, friends who’d learned of my Dad’s airline-silverware swiping and collecting began bringing back more spoons to add to his collection from their trips, as well.

But, all things, including decent cutlery in Economy, must pass, as do parents eventually and other loved ones, too.

“As airlines saw demand and revenues fall after 9/11, they took steps to cut costs,” says Henry Harteveldt, travel analyst for Hudson Crossing, and a past employee of Continental Airlines. “AmericaWest [which merged with US Airways] was the first airline to go to buy-onboard meals in coach. Along with reducing the amount of money they spent on economy class meal service, other airlines began using plastic cutlery in coach as a way to further reduce their expenses.”

We’ve spared no expense in the vintage airline-spoons gallery (above), which is an ode to a bygone era in air travel, and a Dad who traveled for fun and family, and lived a very good life.

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