It has been 54 years since my parents and I were passengers on that KLM Constellation as it limped across the North Atlantic toward a safe haven at Prestwick. At the time, I had little interest in aviation, other than as a means of transportation. As an adult, I became personally involved in private and commercial aviation.
KLM gets a pat on the shoulder
In my own flying, I have encountered technical problems both on the ground and in the air. Looking back from this perspective, I have to give the Royal Dutch Airlines a pat on the shoulder for the way their crew and ground personnel handled my family’s 1948 trip from Curacao to Netherlands:
There was no extra Constellation sitting on the tarmac at the Hato Airport in Curacao, nor was there a spare engine readily available. We were told that the technical problems were being fixed according to their maintenance practices, and the aircraft was taken on a test flight after repairs were completed.
Passengers who were apprehensive were given an option to book a flight that would take place about a week later.
The flights from Hato Airport to LaGuardia and Gander airports were uneventful, and there was no logical reason to discontinue the flight.
Whether the technical problems encountered over the Atlantic Ocean were a repetition of our original technical problems was never revealed to us passengers. The landing at Prestwick should be considered as precautionary: the moment we were close to terra firma a landing was made rather than risk continuing the flight on the final short leg over the North Sea to Schiphol. That the Constellation was able to continue near-normal flight following the loss of one engine is a tribute to its engineers.
Commercial aviation in 1948 was just coming out of its pioneer stages in comparison to modern-day jet aircraft travel, with all the improvements that have come about both in technology and creature comfort over the last 54 years.
Today, if an airliner on a transoceanic flight encountered similar technical problems and unscheduled stops, an outcry from the passengers and news media would follow. Radio transmissions between the aircraft and the flight service stations would be monitored on scanners. When the airliner landed, reporters would be crawling all over the passengers to get the most sensational perspective. Details of the jinxed flight would be blasted over television channels and in newspapers throughout the world. The airline would be blasphemed for poor maintenance practices and risk taking. Lawsuits would be initiated by some of the passengers for the suffering and mental anguish they had endured from start to finish.