Comet 4c

Boarding the Comet 4 at Gatwick

Much joy is often derived from the totally unexpected. Such was my experience when I learned that I would be flying in a Comet 4 jet plane when I flew back to Laos via Thailand in 1971.
The previous day had been quite hectic. I was getting anxious because I had not received any word about my air ticket. Weeks earlier I had answered an ad in a national newspaper offering cheap flights to Bangkok. Now it was Monday and the date for my departure was Wednesday – but where was the ticket? In all my phone calls I had been told to call back later.

Then finally at 4 o’clock I was told “Your ticket is here! Please come and pick it up.” It meant catching a train to London and getting there before the office closed!  Could I make it? I would try… Happily it was one of those days when things fell into place. I took a fast train which covered the 40 miles in record time and soon I was seated in the office of Expo International. Someone came over to me and gave me my ticket then proceeded with careful instructions. My membership card showed that I was now a member of The Jet Set (!). I was told that I needed to present this tomorrow when I arrived at the counter in Gatwick..  “Tomorrow? Are you sure? I thought I was leaving Wednesday…” An apology followed, saying they must have forgotten to tell me that I was now leaving a day earlier than planned.  Ooops!  My plans for some last-minute shopping tomorrow had to be shelved. I phoned my Dad from the station to ask for a lift home and advise him of the change of plans…

Tomorrow came and we set off for Gatwick early. I said goodbyes not knowing how long before I would return home (it proved to be nearly two years once again…). And then came the all-important check-in which had to be done right. I was a bit nervous about it as it was the time when we were hearing about police swoops on phoney “groups” who were getting cheap travel… (What, me?!).

I approached the counter and presented my papers together with my Jet Set card. It seemed to be working! In return the girl gave me my Dan-Air boarding pass and yet another membership card. This one certified me as a member of the Commonwealth and North Atlantic Teachers Association. No problem pretending – if challenged…I thought.

And then came the surprise: we would be flying on a Comet 4 jet plane. I couldn’t believe it! One of the world’s most iconic planes at that time – famous for the catastrophic crashes of earlier versions (which did not bother me at all). The passenger sitting next to me was carrying another membership card which I found mildly amusing.

The photo above is one that I did not know I had. I just found it this week while scanning old negatives of that period. Further investigation reveals that this particular plane – with registration G-APDB – was in fact the first jet passenger plane to cross the Atlantic. It is now to be found on display at the Imperial War Museum at Duxford – but now re-painted in BOAC livery. I shall have to go and visit it some day…