Consternation on a Constellation — Flying from Curaçao to Amsterdam in 1948 (Part 2)

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Day of departure

One day in March, 1948 we were scheduled to depart around noon from Curaçao’s Airport, officially known then as Dr. Albert Plesman Luchthaven.

Albert Plesman was the founder of KLM, which had the honor of being the world’s first globe-girdling airline. We called the airport Hato Airport, after the area in which it was located, and that is its official name today.)

A faux Dutch postal card distributed by KLM advertises its many international air routes, including Trans-Atlantic routes to the Caribbean and Curaçao, shown in the inset map.

Since October of 1947, KLM had been operating deluxe, long-range Constellation L-749s on its Curacao-Amsterdam route, but our aircraft was probably a slower, medium-range L-049, originally designed as a bare-bones C-69 military transport, but converted to civilian use after the war. Or it might have been an L-649, the first of the Constellations produced after the war as civilian airliners. All three aircraft were outwardly identical in appearance.

Route taken by Ben Guilliamse and his family from Curaçao to Amsterdam. The map shows the Atlantic Ocean and the Constellation’s route from Curaçao to New York; to Gander, Newfoundland; to Prestwick, Scotland, and to Amsterdam.

Curaçao to New York City to Gander to Amsterdam

The long flight would require two stops for refuelling. The first leg of the flight would take us to LaGuardia Field in New York City. Then we would fly on to Gander, Newfoundland. (Newfoundland at that time was still independent of the Dominion of Canada and still a part of the British Empire.)

After the stop at Gander, the aircraft would fly across the North Atlantic to Amsterdam. All told the whole trip was scheduled to take about 18 hours.

The aftereffects of such a long flight, such as jet lag and possible blood clotting in one’s legs, were unknown concerns in those times. Movies or video programs to entertain passengers were also unheard of. The families had to devise their own entertainment for themselves and their offspring.

Departing Curaçao

A postwar KLM baggage label featuring the mythical “Flying Dutchman” sailing ship and a Lockheed Constellation airliner.

On the day of departure we arrived at the airport in the mid-morning hours with our suitcases and small travel satchels. After we had been checked in we were told about a short delay as some technical problems had been diagnosed in one of the aircraft engines. That supposedly “short” delay turned into a delay of approximately three hours.

The waiting period was made amenable with some free drinks for the adults at the airport’s bar and soft drinks for children. In due course we were also provided with meals and any other necessities that our little hearts desired to make the waiting tolerable. This was the first flight for most of us passengers. Needless to say, we were all very apprehensive about the technical difficulties and occasionally one could sense that in their conversations. However, the prospect of going on a four-month holiday and at long last meeting the surviving relatives was foremost the subject of conversation.

Once the engine problems were fixed the aircraft took a short local flight around the island to verify that everything was in working order. Once the test flight had been completed we could see that the luggage was being loaded onto the aircraft. Shortly after, the customary announcements were being made over the public address system. We were encouraged to use the airport’s washroom facilities to freshen up and get in the lineup according to our seat assignments. At long last embarkation became a reality.

Next, in Part 3: Ben writes about the first leg of his family’s holiday flight from Curaçao to LaGuardia Field in New York City for refuelling and a meal, and the about second leg, to Gander, Newfoundland, where their plane will be refuelled and passengers will enjoy a late-night snack before taking off across the North Atlantic.

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