Would you consider a one- or two-stop flight from London to India? Or would you click the ‘direct flights only’ button every time? How about 21 stops, plus a rail transfer between Basle and Genoa?
I’d bet no one would consider such an option today, and yet that’s the trip Lord Beaverbrook stood Robert Byron in 1932, weeks after the first Air Mail route from London to British India opened. He recorded his experience in the wonderful odds and ends travel book, First Russia, Then Tibet.
It begins in self-deprecating travel journalist mode, moaning about the squalor of this new form of transport. But Byron ends up acknowledging that air travel has been a life-changing experience:
His trip is scarcely believable today. Byron stands in the cockpit behind the pilot, his head and shoulders clear of the windshield, the air sending goosebumps down his arms as he surveys the land below.
He gazes on the Amalfi coast, the Gulf of Corinth, the White Mountains of Crete, the endless dunes of North Africa, and the corpses of Turkish soldiers still lying in a deserted fort in the Jordanian desert, over a decade after the close of the First World War.
Time for a spot of lunch?
Byron enjoys scheduled stops for luncheon, and sleeps every night in an hotel. The carrier, Imperial Airways, lays on armchairs and morning papers in even the most remote desert locations. They land in time for tea, before a shave and perhaps a bathe in the ocean before supper.
One hint of the future of air travel occurs en route from Genoa to Naples, when they are forced to miss a lunch stop since the water is too shallow for their seaplane to land safely. In the event, the engineer produces a “typical Italian lunch of ham, salami, chicken, new rolls, cheese, Russian mushrooms, nectarines, and wine” to eat onboard.
In the age of pinched legroom, no frills and, finally, the moral yoke of ‘flight shame’, it’s breathtaking to read such a description of air travel.
London to Karachi itinerary
Day 1 – London to Basle (Luncheon: Le Bourget, Paris)
Day 2 – Basle to Genoa (by train)
Day 3 – Genoa to Naples (Luncheon: onboard the aircraft due to conditions on the ground)
Day 4 – Naples to Athens (Luncheon: Corfu)
Day 5 – Athens to Tobruk (Luncheon: Suda Bay, Crete)
Day 6 – Tobruk to Alexandria (Luncheon: unrecorded)
Day 7 – Alexandria to Gaza (Luncheon: unrecorded)
Day 8 – Gaza to Baghdad (Luncheon: Rutbah, Iraq)
Day 9 – Baghdad to Jask (Second Breakfast: Basra, Third Breakfast: Bushire)
Day 10 – Jask to Karachi (Luncheon: Gwadar)
Fast forward to the modern age, and find out How to Spend a Long Haul Flight