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