It is January 1994. My chartered flight is already late taking off from Shannon Airport in Ireland. (Do they even offer chartered flights any more?) The destination is, allegedly, John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York. But a flight that should have taken approximately 6 hours instead takes over 17 hours.
I leave Shannon at about 4 am EST and arrive in JFK at 12:30 am EST the following morning. In between Shannon and JFK I spend twelve hours, involuntarily, at Gander International in Newfoundland.
In 1994 I see it as an old fashioned place, harkening back to the sixties with its decor. But now, almost 20 years later, I appreciate the opportunity I had to see this once-upon-a-time important place and its significance in early trans-Atlantic aviation.
Gander International was opened in 1959 by Prince Phillip. At that time all trans-Atlantic flights had to stop and refuel in Gander. Imagine how many famous people, royals, celebrities, and rock stars walked through the international lounge in Gander.
This was at a time when flying across the Atlantic was reserved for those who could afford it, air travel back in the early sixties wasn’t as accessible as it is today. The notion of foreign vacations, flying off to New York at a whim for a long weekend wasn’t even on the radar for most middle class families, unlike today. Gander International in Newfoundland was the last stop before America.
Instead of appreciating my surroundings and taking it all in, I sat on the Herman Miller couch in the international lounge and decided to buy a postcard of Gander International with my last 50 cents.
Then I tried to cash a personal check to buy myself some dinner while waiting for our chartered flight to resume its course, only to be told, “Sorry, but we don’t cash personal checks.” Bummer.
My dinner that long sleepless night was 10 packets of Tayto cheese and onion crisps washed down with gallons of cold water from the faucet in the ladies room. I remember how difficult it was to lean in to the faucet and drink. I should have thought long and hard about eating 10 packets of crisps.
Our flight finally did take off, amidst a blinding snow blizzard, and surrounded by 15 foot walls of snow either side of the runway. The plane physically lurched forward headlong into the blinding snow, and audibly groaned, I swear to it. The passengers stopped complaining about how long they had waited and that the chartered flight was not responsible for paying for our dinner…hence the 10 packets of Taytos. Instead, we resorted to holding onto our seats and contemplating whether or not we would have enough leg room to bend over and kiss our asses goodbye.
I have a funny feeling that Liz Taylor, Jackie Onassis, Frank Sinatra, and others who landed here in the sixties didn’t share my experience. However, 20 years later, I am glad I saw Gander International. I couldn’t appreciate it at the time I was there, but now I can.
Gander International is an historical place and well worth a visit. But don’t spend as many hours there as I did, don’t go there in winter, and bring extra cash for dinner, just in case.