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Posted by portugalpress on December 07, 2017

As Christmas approaches, many people will be booking their flights back to their home countries, but not my family as inexplicably some of us have developed a fear of flying despite having flown regularly back and forth from the UK and Portugal since we were born.

Christmas holidays and the three-month-long Portuguese school summer holidays were spent in the UK, with our English grandparents. We lived near Lisbon airport and my Mum would put my sisters and I on a TAP flight, and I still have vivid memories of the fun we had with the air stewardesses.

We were given a tag which we wore around our necks which indicated to airline staff that we were unaccompanied minors and we were therefore treated like VIPs! When I was six years old, unbelievably, we were allowed to help sell the cigarettes and perfumes on board, handing over to other passengers their purchases and collecting the money as we walked along the aisle wearing the stewardesses’ hats.

Flying in the early 1970s was a different experience to that of today. Transportes Aéreos Portugueses, as they were known before changing to TAP, was founded in March 1945 by Humberto Delgado, Director of Civil Aviation and a General of the Portuguese Air Force.

The original fleet consisted of three Douglas C-53s surplus war planes obtained from America six days after V-day, which were converted to transport 21 passengers.

Did you know that Humberto Delgado ran for president in the 1958 elections? He lost to Américo Tomás in what was believed to be a rigged election and was nicknamed “the General Without Fear” for his outspoken defiance of Salazar.
Humberto was murdered by the PIDE (International and State Defence Police) in 1965 but was honoured in May 2016 when Lisbon airport was renamed after him.

I remember TAP airlines were particularly luxurious, even in tourist class. The three courses’ full dining service reflected the Portuguese love of food and was served with stainless steel cutlery and porcelain china. I confess we still have a spoon and fork procured from one of the flights! Unlike other airlines, TAP always served wine with all its meals and first-class passengers were given caviar and lobster and the men offered an after-dinner cigar!

TAP’s first commercial flight was to Madrid in September 1946. In 1949, the route opened to London. From 1967, TAP was the first airline to exclusively use Jet airplanes in their routes. The original pilots were trained by British Overseas Airways (who became British Airways) and these pilots became renowned for their skills and good reputation.

TAP had the highest percentage of successful landings and take-offs in bad weather and were often granted permission to operate when airports were closed due to poor conditions.

Today TAP continues to have one of the safest flying records in the world with only one accident, in November 1977, when a pilot crashed on his third attempt at landing at Madeira’s very short runway during intense rain. Following on from this disaster, the runway was extended using pillars out to sea.

The original TAP uniforms were military in appearance and the African flight personnel had tropical khaki-coloured suits and protection against mosquitos. Christian Dior influenced a change in the uniforms at the end of the 1950s and Louis Féraud, who used to dress Brigitte Bardot and Grace Kelly, designed the uniforms in the 1970s.

In 1974, TAP had 32 planes flying to over 40 destinations on four continents and was starting up the computerised reservation service Tapmatic. By April 1975, successive strikes and a military regime led to the company being nationalised.

In 1977, the airline was involved in one of the biggest air rescue operations when crews worked 26-hour shifts to airlift people out of Angola and Mozambique during the colony wars for independence. It was a terrible time as airports were attacked so the airline crews constantly risked their lives and flew with their planes at maximum load. Between July and August, over 700 people a day were flown to Lisbon and on September 11 alone 1,500 landed.

TAP were the first airline to establish land-air connections via satellite in 1988 and in the early 1990s they renewed all their fleet to Airbuses.

This year TAP was 72 years old and, to celebrate, a special Airbus 330 was commissioned, painted with the Transportes Aéreos Portugueses red logo of the 1960s and 1970s, and fitted out in the style of the era.

In July, the first retro flight flew from Lisbon to Toronto and everything about the flight was recreated so that passengers could believe they were in the 1970s. Welcoming staff, dressed in red, yellow or navy suits, greeted passengers and everyone received a time traveller’s certificate stating “We hereby certify that you travelled in time back to the 70s aboard a TAP aircraft in the year 2017”.

Inside the plane no expense had been spared. Executive class passengers found a duvet and pillow on their reclining seats and received a travel bag, a game, a special edition newspaper and the traditional ‘sardine style’ tin containing socks, ear plugs, toothbrush, toothpaste and an eye mask, just like was provided back in the day! There was a choice of traditional menus and the on-board entertainment offered 1970s films including Star Wars and Rocky!

Today’s flying experience is somewhat different, especially with the low-cost airlines which charge for every little extra, and TAP’s retro flights are a lovely reminder of how glamourous flying used to be.

In 1984, I decided that flying was dangerous and developed a fear of flying, although I still came to Portugal every year. In 1999, I flew to the Algarve with my family and I have not been on a plane since. I actually love the excitement of flying; I am just scared of crashing!

In 1987, I went on a fear-of-flying course at Heathrow airport which involved a lecture followed by a flight. It was great, but even though I was told that statistically you are more likely to get kicked to death by a donkey than die in a plane crash, I was not convinced.

Oddly, other members of my family have also developed a fear of flying, and so we are all pretty much grounded. We have such happy memories of flying in the 70s that maybe my New Year’s resolution should be to take one of the TAP retro flights!

So now you know!

By Isobel Costa
|| features@algarveresident.com

Isobel Costa works full time and lives on a farm with a variety of pet animals! In her spare time, she enjoys photography, researching and writing.

Photos: SÉRGIO GUIMARÃES/ALMEIDA D'EÇA

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