How Anisa Saadoun Got to Europe

TWA Stewardesses, 1949

In December 1979 I was preparing to return from Paris to Potomac for a Christmas visit when a Portuguese classmate from the Institut Catholique de Paris asked, “How are you getting home?”  His friend said, “She’s flying, stupid–what do you think, she’s going to take a boat, so she can arrive there then have to turn immediately back around?”  Unfazed, our temporarily disoriented Portuguese friend replied, “She could drive!”  At which point he was immediately put down and corrected by five of his closest friends.

Yes, there are only two ways to get to Europe.  Carmen, Maria, and Joan took the leisurely route; Anisa got there the fast way.

Here is how Anisa remembers the preparations for heading to Europe, as she came in on one of what must have been fifty conversations between Carmen, Maria, and Joan about the upcoming trip; at this rate of excitement, they must have been interrupting each other every three words:

They said, “Oh, Anisa, why don’t you come with us?”

I thought that it didn’t sound very practical, because I was supposed to go to Columbia in the autumn to do my M.A., and I would be going to Europe–halfway to home–and returning to America.  It was not very logical; it was too difficult.

Anyway, I wrote to my parents.  They were so nice; they said, “Well, this is a very good idea, why don’t you go with them?” Really, my parents were wonderful.

I just want to pause here to note how excellent Anisa’s memory is–she has my grandmother’s speech patterns down perfectly.  Just hearing her say “Oh, Anisa” the first time conjured up an image of my grandmother’s wavy hair, lively expression, and slightly forwarded tilting posture that came with expressions of enthusiasm.

This is also, by the way, what I’m enjoying most about this project–the way that everyone shares the same memories of events, yet each one highlights different elements.  Anisa, of the group, has the best memory for specific names of places, companies, and people–as we have already seen–because she likes to highlight facts, events, important moments.  Maria is interested in character and slice of life, so she gives me the colorful details.

Anyway, I wrote to my parents ; they were so nice, they said, “Well, this is a very good idea, why don’t you go with them?” Really, my parents were wonderful.

Immediately I called the agent and asked him to please try to find a place for me with them on the InterFrance.

He said: “It is all booked up.  I cannot find any place for you.”

And of course the idea was that if I went to Europe, my father would try to pay the trip through Thomas Cook’s or he would take a ticket from Baghdad.  It was easier for me because we were in the sterling area.  Bristead Manning advised me that it would book me in an airplane, in case there is no opening for me in InterFrance, I would take an airplane, and actually they managed it; and the day I arrived in London Maria, Carmen, and Joan had just arrived that afternoon at the hotel.

My father did not like the idea of the plane; he preferred me to go by boat, but he said, “if you are forced to go by plane, go, but do try in the last minute to get a boat.”  But I couldn’t get a boat. 

I remain awed by the pluckiness of Anisa–traveling alone from the States to England during a period when such travel was not only difficult but quite rare for a young woman to undertake.  But then the difficulties of this trip were nothing like the odyssey of traveling, in 1946, from Iraq, through England, to the States, during a period when military men, diplomats, and other related workers had first crack at any transportation from England to the States.

I don’t know what specific flight Anisa took to London, but it was a TWA airplane–at that time called “Transcontinental and Western Air.”  The airline had exotic connotations, given that its majority owner was the dashing pilot,  film director, and infamous womanizer, Howard Hughes. In fact, according to (an online aviation magazine), much of the popularity of TWA came from its associations with Howard Hughes.  Up until 1946, Pan Am had dominated flights to Europe, but TWA, at this point, moved into competition with Pan Am. As Endy notes, the Roosevelt government pushed its policy of “open skies” by allowing TWA and American Airlines to share international flight space with Pan Am.  According to the source of all basic knowledge, Wikipedia, its main airplanes were the DC-4 and the Lockheed Constellation, the latter, launched in 1946, soon    became “synonymous with the TWA style of elegance and cutting-edge technology” (Wikipedia).

TWA 1949 ad


I’m going to digress a moment to note that just saying the words “Lockheed Constellation” conjures up images of Daddy, who could have written at least 5,000 words about the Lockheed Constellation.  If he had been writing this blog, you would have found out a lot about the pistons in the airplane, the dominant oil used to lubricate the planes, and the names of all the designers of the plane. If you had any interest in the mechanics of airplanes you would have been riveted. If you have anything like my personality, about halfway through the blog you would have started thinking about which friends you need to call and whether or not your room needs cleaning.   In those days, hearing such disquisitions from Daddy were a form of emotional torture; now it brings a pang to my heart and conjures up that handsome face, earnest expression, and eyes that never quite met yours as he moved into technical details.

Daddy–Robert B. Meyer Jr.–in fact is one of the absent-presences of this trip.  He and my mother had been dating seriously, but were not engaged.  What was he doing or thinking while she was gone?  Did Maria miss him, or was she just too exhilirated at the trip to Europe to miss anyone? To what extent was Carmen already plotting to ensure that Robbie married Maria Teresa?

Digression ended; back to TWA

Flights were generally lovely in those days–few delays because there was usually a backup plane at the airport; flights were rarely full; and stewardesses had time to chat with travelers.  Anisa did have one little bump in her trip, which otherwise went smoothly:

As a matter of fact, as I was sitting in the plane, they said, “we are delayed” because there was a problem with the plane.

Both Charles Endy and the Public Broadcasting Service page on its special about the history of air travel–“Chasing the Sun,” note that Pan Am took the entrance of TWA into the international carrier scene very badly, so that the 1940s was a period of intense competition and hostility between Pan Am, which had previously had a virtual monopoly on international flights from the States, and the upstart TWA.  This competition was itself a product of the encouragement of tourism in Europe shaped by the Marshall Plan.  Marshall Plan organizers, at the time, were promoting middle-class travel, a concept that Pan Am took up enthusiastically, while TWA did not.  The opening up of middle class travel by lowering air fares was not as easy as it sounds.  The IATA (International Air Transport Association)–“a self-enforcing organization of international airlines formed in 1944” had to ok changes in airline fares (Endy 50).  Pan Am began lobbying for this change in 1948, but was immediately blocked by smaller airlines like TWA, who feared that Pan Am would reduce their business.  They were blocked as well by the Civil Aeronautics Board “for fear of upsetting foreign airlines” (50).

1949 TWA ad


I remember once, in 1963–so I must have been seven years old–being taken to see my parents off at the new Dulles International airport as they went off to Europe for several weeks, flying TWA.  If I had any thoughts of missing my parents, they were immediately erased by wonder at the gleaming marble building, shaped like it was ready to take flight.  But even more entrancing was seeing my parents enter the Dulles transport system, watch the automatic doors close, and the transportation move off to the airplane, as if powered by magic.  Alas Dulles has lost that aura; it’s just too crowded now-a-days. I wonder if that’s how most people felt, in the 1940s, arriving in the international terminal of an airport.

By then, however, Anisa was a seasoned traveler, probably less awed than a seven-year-old would be.  And somehow I don’t think that Anisa gave one thought to hostilities between Pan Am and TWA, as her flight was probably selected for her by the Bristead-Manning Travel Agency. Fares and service did not go down until 1952, so I assume that Anisa still experienced somewhat of the wonderful luxurious service that one only gets in first-class this day, and–with plenty of leg room–arrived jet-lagged but in a pretty good mood in London.

At least it appears that the actual air trip, however, was without incident, because the next thing I heard from Anisa was that she was soon in the Rembrandt Hotel, hugging her friends.



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