Hot Flashback

by Martha Chapman

Wardair circa 1975

Wardair uniform circa 1982

Wardair uniform circa 1987

Uniform used on flights to Hawaii

Remembering “The Good Old Days” In The Canadian Travel Industry

Wardair

Wikipedia will inform you that in 1952 a Canadian bush pilot named Maxwell Ward formed an airline called Wardair which began operations with a single twin otter. It went on to expand to wide-bodied B747s and DC10s in the 1970s, with hugely popular flights to the sunny south and across the Atlantic, but ultimately experienced financial difficulties and was acquired by Canadian Airlines.

They forgot to mention the passion.

Wardair was an airline of such customer-pleasing service that even today folks speak of it fondly. What was so magical, to still be revered over 25 years after its essential demise?

Joanne Lundy, now the Director, Canada of Discover the World Marketing, worked in several sales management roles at WD between 1980 and 1988, and has fond memories. “Everybody had a tremendous pride in the company, the product was so superb.  People still talk about the Royal Doulton china [meals were served on Wardair-branded fine china] and the real attention to service which originated with Max Ward who was such a gentleman,”  she recalls. The Wardair offices were attached to the hangar – which was pristine, she says – so you never lost sight of what you were selling.

Another former WD employee is Lynda Falcone, today the Travel Trade Manager - Canada at VisitBritain. Prior to working with the carrier, Falcone had been a tour escort with Thomas Cook Holidays and was struck by how upbeat the incoming Wardair pax were when they deplaned at YYZ. “They were always so excited and happy,” she remembers. “We had only 7 aircraft in the late ‘80s, and being all-wide bodied, still something of a novelty, was a huge draw.” Falcone says that there are still annual reunions of former WD personnel  and it’s great fun, all these years later, to stay in touch and recall the good old days.

Who better to give a real glimpse into the success of Wardair than a former flight attendant? Andrea Thornton, today Regional Sales Manager with LOT Polish Airlines, flew for the carrier in the 1980s. Just getting to be a stewardess with them was a challenging adventure. Applicants had to have “blemish-free complexions and symmetrical features”. Thornton recalls the intensive 6 wk. training at the Pan Am Airlines academy  - where only 1/3 of the students graduated. “Each day you’d go to the classroom and there’d be 1 or 2 fewer students – they weren’t making the grade and had to leave.”

She also recalls the legendary inflight service. “Back then people were excited to fly – especially with us. We never served food off a trolley, it was always chateaubriand cooked to order in the galley which we brought out on individual trays to the passengers – no ‘Chicken or pasta?’ like you get today. People also loved the after-meal beverage service with Tia Maria and other liqueurs.”  All  included in the fare, of course.

Uniforms were a peacock blue (Thornton worked after the era of the required derby hat) – no trousers allowed. There were regulations against wearing “frilly bras” that might be seen through the blouse, and Thornton recalls a manicure check before each flight. And in what today seems like a high-altitude fashion crime, staff on the Hawaii flights had the option of wearing a muu muu, a loose floor-length dress.

“We never congregated in the galley the way you see flight attendants do today. We were always in the cabin, chatting with the passengers, walking around with a baby. The passengers loved us so much some would plan their holidays to ensure they’d be on a flight we were working.”

For pax travelling to Scotland, another inflight treat was the bagpiper who would board the aircraft on arrival and play a few tunes for the passengers who patiently waited to deplane.

Wardair existed of course in an era when smoking was permitted on board. The party cabin was definitely the rear cabin, which was the smoking area, and everyone would congregate there. The biggest party crowd? “Definitely Montreal to Acapulco: they’d drink the bar dry!”

Unfortunately, the airline became beset by problems: difficulties in attracting business travellers to its newly expanded domestic routes, an ambitious plan to greatly expand the fleet and problems with the booking system all contributed to the end of the carrier when it was sold to and folded into Canadian airlines in 1989.

But… if Wardair was such a success that people still recall it fondly, why not try to replicate it today? For better or for worse, times have changed. Running an all-widebody airline for the Canadian market simply isn’t practical. WD could carry 456 pax in their B747s - but there were 19 cabin crew to serve them. “Also, I don’t think people today would have the attention span to wait for that meal service,” adds Thornton.

And I’m afraid that poor bagpiper might get trampled.

If you can’t get enough of those Wardair memories, check out the commemorative video.




Laura Kay - September 22, 2016 @ 17:09
I flew Wardair once only - I was 15 and travelling from YOW-LGW the summer of '79. I loved it! Once I entered the biz, I never had a chance to try them again but loved sending my clients on them as often as possible!

Anne Gibas - September 22, 2016 @ 14:09
I was lucky enough to fly Wardair long before I came involved in the travel industry.
They were and will forever be one of a kind. How I wish I could offer my clients an experience like that.

agnes hughson - September 22, 2016 @ 14:09
As a travel agent for many years.. I remember Wardair well..even flew them once or twice.. Nothing better.. As I took a look at the pictures, one took me by surprise.. Michael and Kathy Rogers, I had Kathy known for many years, she was responsible for me going to Humber College to be a travel agent. We had gone to high school together, a nicer lady you never met. Sadly, she and Mike were murdered at Blue Mountain a few years ago. Their funeral was heart breaking. I think of her often, and I wonder where I'd be today if not for her. But the memories carry on, it was so nice to read the story and see the pics of other Wardair staff.. hats off to all of you!! Cheers!

Tim Orlando - September 22, 2016 @ 12:09
Still believe there is a segment of the market that would willingly and happily pay the small premium for Wardair Type service. Does not exist in todays world where customer service and a touch of class is none existent.

Donna B - September 22, 2016 @ 11:09
My fondest memory was sitting upstairs in the 747 going to Prestwick and the piper playing as we walked across the tarmac to the terminal. I had just started working in reservations at Wardair when they were sold to Canadian Airlines. It was a great place to work.

Brian Simpson - September 22, 2016 @ 11:09
I started my career in the travel industry at Wardair back in 1986; starting out as a Reservations Sales Agent and then moving over to Head Office to work in a department called Automated Marketing, which managed Wardair's participating in the various GDS'.

I remember a great sense of comaradery there and the profound sadness everyone felt on the day the merger with Canadi>n was announced and when that day came when ultimately, many of us lost our jobs.

In Reservations, we got to know the Travel Agents who called us regularly and almost became like friends. But sometimes, as with any customer service role, sometimes you just couldn't take it and we had to deal with some grumpy agents and customers. The agent or customer would call and would be yelling up a storm and you would ultimately end up raising your voice back. Everyone in the small reservations office would hear you and all these heads would pop up like gophers. That's when we would jiggle the cord on our headset to create crackling on the line and tell them we were having trouble hearing and must have a bad connection and then *pop*, we'd pull out the cord and disconnect the call. Then, minutes later, another reservations agent would begin to raise their voice and would stand up and point at you and mouth "I'm going to get you for this", or something similar as they tried to deal with the caller. Sometimes it happened 4 or 5 times with the same caller. Ahhhhh, the things we got away with when we were young. Ha ha...

To this day I'm still bumping into or meeting former Wardair employees, and whenever we talk about Wardair, or I mention to someone that I worked at Wardair, we all have the same reaction. "Ahhhhh, Wardair. I loved Wardair. I wish they were still around." And I do.

They were a great airline with a great product that just might have bitten off more than it could chew.

If anyone is interested, there is a Facebook group called Remember Wardair, where former employees, customers, and airline enthusiasts share their stories about our great little airline.

https://www.facebook.com/groups/22590212656/

ex Wardair LGW - September 22, 2016 @ 11:09
Just wanted to let you know that I also worked at Wardair, 1980 – 1982.
Passenger Services at Gatwick. It was so much fun. There was never a dull moment between the pre-boards and the humour of the Wardair employees at Gatwick.


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