By: Michael S. Hatfield
October 27, 2015
When one hears the name of America’s very first airline, it becomes apparent this company has faded into the distant memory of even those senior enough to remember. One jog to reconnect memory may come from the airline’s very popular television commercials displaying “Wally Bird.”
Wally Bird’s job was to perch on the tail of a Boeing 707 jet with a comfy pillow and cigar and casually state, “Western Airlines, the Only Way to Fly!!” Western Airlines perpetuated the mystique of the first “champagne airline to Hawaii,” fading into history when it became part of one of the world’s most prestigious airlines, Delta Air Lines.
Hawaii, the land of mystical aloha and home of many brave, has held fascination for me since even before those early days of flying. Western Airlines, the Wally Bird, on the tail, you know, “the Onnnnllllly Way to Fly”, carried many happy visitors to these beautiful islands in the Pacific.
Upon arrival in Honolulu, new arrivals even today receive a lei draped over their shoulders and a pleasant smile that virtually says that after crossing 2300 hundred miles of ocean, “enjoy, you are now in paradise.” You are somewhere. That very same somewhere where you’ve heard people say, “the worst day in paradise is better than the best day anywhere else.” Paradise–the most wonderful place to re-connect with your life the way you wish it to be. And “aloha,” what is that?
With personal history here and a fond memory there, my Hawaiian friends graciously say to me, “Mikey, you have come home.” Maybe so, as these wonderful people seemingly have not forgotten how to leave their phones put away, how to display that great big smile, then talk with you in strange and lovely words. Frankly, I enjoy just talking with these wonderful people, connecting, while maybe enjoying a mai-tai and a view of the most spectacular blue ocean one could ever wish for.
Western Airlines took me there for the first time long ago as a passenger, and when I became an employee way-back-when, I was gifted with the wonderful opportunity to take many other guests to these enchanting islands on Wally’s jet.
In Hawaii, back in the day and often, airline employees would gather at some local place, a home, on a sailboat, to enjoy each others’ company. Ticket Agents, Baggage Handlers, Mechanics, Pilots, everyone found time to drop in–it didn’t matter if you worked for another airline, either!
All enjoyed pupu’s while getting out thoughts and ideas in pleasing chats about the goings-on in the Company, the Islands, and on the Mainland. Everyone was a part of it, enjoyed a personal connection with the airline, found lasting friendship and shared experiences. I was a very young Co-Pilot, they affectionately called me Mikey back in those days, but I was good with it.
The first landing Mikey ever made on the then short runway on Maui, ground crew pals somehow discovered ahead of time it was to be my landing. As we taxied into the arrival gate, three crewmen stood on the ramp at perfect attention holding up large paper signs with “3” painted on them signifying grades for my performance with the landing. Mikey was a little red in the face as deplaning passengers had all seen the grades on the signs, heard the story on the PA from the Captain, all became a part of this aloha.
Becoming “a part of it all” is one just one meaning of “aloha.” Like they did to me with my landing, aloha also means “the joyful sharing by all of life energy in the present.” This is just one reason Hawaii is so special, and lifes’ memories are made good from aloha.
In those days, layovers were longer, enabling time enough to go surfing, bike to Hanauma Bay or just layout on the beach. They were the days of Thomas Magnum and Jonathan Higgins and life was grand. It still is, in paradise!
I fondly remember those days of friendship, camaraderie, and aloha. Maybe one should be thinking of making a home in Hawaii to periodically get back to one’s inner-self, and decompress from today’s intense “goings-on.”
The next time I greet someone using the special greeting of aloha, I will think of painting a beautiful picture in my mind that this is “truly a beautiful world and we are all incredibly blessed to be a part of it.”
As the oldest airline transported many lucky guests to the wonderful Hawaiian Islands and shared the spirit of aloha, Wally Bird’s Western Airlines truly was the “only way to fly.” Carefully considering this, it was joyfully so.