My childhood trip to Ireland was one of those events. My mom decided to take her boys overseas to reconnect with relatives and learn more about our heritage.
Of course all I could think about was the possibility that I might get to fly on a British Airways 747. It truly would've been a dream come true.
So you can imagine my dismay when I learned my mom purchased tickets for us on ATA. You remember ATA, the discount carrier with the catchy theme song. They probably flew you to Disneyland or Vegas or some other sunny destination.
Well ATA in the summer of 1999 offered charter flights direct from Chicago O'Hare to Shannon, Ireland. It wouldn't be as nice as British Airways, but it would certainly be better than the last flight my family took to Ireland six years earlier on a Soviet-built IL-62 operated by Aeroflot (that's another blog post I plan to write later). And the tickets were a bargain.
I tossed aside my British Airways timetables, seating charts, and any other BA publications I had been studying for months, and started packing.
In hindsight, I'm glad we flew ATA, because I got to fly on an aircraft that's now extinct -- the L-1011, a wide-body tri-jet which was designed to compete against the DC-10.
So we stopped in Gander, Newfoundland in the middle of the night to refuel. We stepped off the stuffy plane onto the air stairs, looked up at the brilliant stars, and breathed deep in the clear, cold Canadian air.
Inside the warm terminal a choir from one of the local schools sang for us. Mind you it was like 2 am. We bought ice cream cones and browsed the duty-free shop. Someone at the Gander Chamber of Commerce gave me a commemorative coin and a souvenir stamp in my passport.
After an hour or so we climbed back into the L-1011 and continued on to Ireland, at one point during meal service the cabin chanting "Jerry! Jerry! Jerry!" to one of the flight attendants who looked EXACTLY like Jerry Springer. I don't think any of that happens on United or Delta these days.
I sometimes wonder what the Gander International Airport is like now, as newer, more fuel-efficient aircraft pass 35,000 feet above, hardly acknowledging Gander beyond a few words to air traffic control. It must be lonely down there.
I'll be flying to Dublin this summer on an Aer Lingus A330. I'm expecting a pleasant non-stop flight, but I think I'll peer out the window as we leave the North American continent, try to point out tiny Gander, and think about how badly I wish I could go back.