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Old May 1, 17, 2:12 pm   #1
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[Memory Lane] 1989/90 Manchester to Japan on Sabena

My first trip report; please be gentle

Following a recent historical trip report by another forumista I thought I would share some memories from my first long haul 5 week adventure to Japan from December 1989/January 1990. The outbound was certainly an interesting experience...

Up to this point I had only flown a couple of times; a very nervous trip to Paris (my very first excursion out of the UK in 1983 - at 22 y.o. !!!) on BA and an even more nervous pair of flights to Majorca and back to Manchester in 1988 in some battered old crates. Why nervous? Claustrophobia I guess so I seriously had to defeat that for I was about to spend >34 hours trapped in noisy tubes.

I had shared a house with David and Anne (and Hannah who sadly passed away Christmas 1987) since 1986, it was a happy house and when they declared around the time of Hannah’s demise that they were flitting to Tokyo I was doubly devastated. I pre-emptively moved to a new apartment and missed them very much so, when they departed finally in March 89, I promised I’d visit them soon… and often. A promise I’ve kept ever since. I’ve lost count of the number of trips I’ve made but the first trip has stuck very clearly in my (diminishing) memory.

I booked the flights at a local STA, the lovely Zimbabwean lady who organised the trip was fastidious in getting the best deal and boy did she come up trumps. I was originally (tentatively) booked to fly with KLM (more on that later on) for just over 450 but I asked her to try again with a sharper pencil as my budget was 450 or less… and she came up trumps with Sabena for 390 rtn. Even better, the MAN-BRU/BRU-MAN segments were to be in club class! I wanted to marry this girl!

So it was the day before I was due to fly and I was walking through Manchester City Centre whereupon I spotted a newspaper headline: STRIKE AT RINGWAY. Oh no! I rushed home and rang Sabena; “don’t worry, we are departing from Liverpool instead, can you be there for 6 in the morning?”. Darn it… I had to rush my packing, swiftly get a train to Liverpool and find somewhere to stay as there was no way to get to Liverpool/Speke from Salford that early.

I ended up booking myself into the Adelphi (famous Liverpool landmark) at 10pm and asked for a 4am wake-up call. I drank the contents of the mini-bar and passed out but woke at 3:50am. Excited? Probably. Stressed? Definitely.

Got a cab to Speke and arrived at exactly 5am. it was shut. And it was freezing. As soon as the doors opened I rushed in and headed for check-in. There were only about 8 check-in desks but nobody was around so I looked for somewhere to get a brew. Everything was still shuttered but I spotted a cafe and headed for it. Nobody about… until a head poked through a door at the side. “You look starving kid, let me make you a cuppa”. The lady ushered me into the kitchen and explained that nothing opened until 6.30 as it was only a small airport (it was tiny then) but they had a couple of diverted flights from Manchester coming in early. She made me toast and tea and charged me…. nothing. Absolutely wonderful airport and people.

Eventually checked in, breezed through security (such as it was in 1989) and waited for the plane. There would be a delay - the stairs for a 737 were stuck in the hangar and wouldn’t be shifted. This is going great I thought. But eventually…

Friday December 15th 1989 Sabena SN616 MAN(LPL)-BRU

The flight was great; tiny cabin of just 8 seats in a 2-2 config. Details are a bit flaky but I think I got a Belgian breakfast of croissants and waffles. We arrived just 20 minutes late, plenty of time to catch my next flight…

SN207 BRU-ANC-NRT

I’m guessing it was this bird…


These legs would be economy and I’d be sat around 4 rows from the back next to a fellow nervous lad from Bristol on his way to see his girlfriend in Tottori. His flight from Bristol was also delayed and it was a bit of a short connection for him so we joked about luggage going to Bangkok. In the end it was no joke…

The flight was reasonably comfortable, the company was good and the food was OK I guess, I got what I wanted and had enough to drink. As a smoker I was pleased to be in a smoking seat though the fellow in front wasn’t overly keen. I think I’m quite considerate so kept my smoking to a minimum and even trotted off to an empty seat at the back a few times to minimise his discomfort. The FA service was exceptional and ultra-friendly.

About an hour out of Anchorage the captain came on and explained that we would have to take a circuitous route to the airport as Mount Redoubt had blown its top. Those of us on the left side of the craft could clearly see the plume. How exciting! We were however kept in the air for a further 2 hours because of unexpected incident involving the airport. What could it be?

Landing was a fraught affair because of ice on the runway and we were soon surrounded by de-icer vehicles which escorted us to the airbridge. What became evident when entering the terminal (past the huge bear and the even bigger airport cop!) that there had been an incident involving the aircraft in front of us on the way in. The flight I was originally booked on! KLM flight 867. See here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/KLM_Flight_867

We were held in the airport for a couple of hours while arrangements were made for extra passengers from the KLM flight to be squeezed onto ours. The stories we heard from some passengers were very frightening indeed, one woman I spoke to had to buy new clothes because he soiled herself thinking she was about to die. Awful. A 14,000 foot nosedive is not something I’d ever want to experience.

The 2nd leg to Narita was uneventful and we landed safely only 4 hours late. My new friend then discovered that his luggage had indeed not come with us and that he’d also missed his flight from Haneda to Tottori. Poor kid. I left him to find my friends waiting in the arrivals hall but they weren’t happy as they hadn’t known about the delays.

I’ll try to dig out some pictures (somewhere in a box in the spare room) and add to this post if I can. The 5 weeks in Japan was just special and I believe I got the travelling bug thereafter.

Return flights…

Friday Jan 19th 1990 SN208 NRT-ANC-BRU, SN615 BRU-MAN

The first 2 legs of the return were probably the most uncomfortable flights I ever had, I was trapped in against the window by a giant of a man from Borneo, he smoked constantly while awake, had awful wind and snored like a regiment. I couldn't move as I couldn't climb over him. The FA took pity on me but the flight was full so she was powerless. Eventually she offered me some respite in the crew rest room but the purser decided she was out of order for offering me this. I spent most of the second leg stuck in a crew chair near the galley... until the purser shoo-ed me back to my seat.

Sabena were OK I think but I never flew them again. My next few trips were on KLM, Lufthansa and SAS until I settled on Air France as my preferred carrier. Thankfully, flights to Japan changed to the Siberian route from 1990, initially involving a brief stop in Moscow then, of course, direct.

Last edited by rosensfole; May 1, 17 at 3:13 pm Reason: Bit of a tidy up front
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Old May 3, 17, 7:17 pm   #2
  
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Loved the story! Looking forward to some pictures. Aloha, Matt
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Old May 4, 17, 12:39 pm   #3
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Loved the story! Looking forward to some pictures. Aloha, Matt
Thanks Matt! Glad you liked it...

I'm starting a project to jot down some memoirs and I have to say it's not easy. I'm allergic to old paper as well so researching through old memory boxes is pretty tough. The old photos need a lot of sorting and I hope to start scanning tomorrow.

The hard Paris splitting the first 3 trips as I traveled to Japan a lot in the early 90s. Counting back I think I've made upwards of 25 return trips!
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Old May 4, 17, 3:21 pm   #4
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Great trip report. I was only aware of BA9 ever having the Volcanic ash problem.

I would not have been a fan on that KLM flight. Amazing that KLM plane is still in service

As of April 2017, the aircraft is still in service with KLM, but no longer carries KLM Asia livery as it was repainted in KLM livery after a maintenance check in 2012
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Old May 5, 17, 12:50 pm   #5
  
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Originally Posted by rosensfole View Post
As a smoker I was pleased to be in a smoking seat though the fellow in front wasn’t overly keen. I think I’m quite considerate so kept my smoking to a minimum and even trotted off to an empty seat at the back a few times to minimise his discomfort.
That reminds me of my first time flying LO in the mid-80s. No sooner had we taken off than a gentleman directly across the aisle from me lit up a foul-smelling Eastern bloc cigarette. I checked my boarding pass, which confirmed I was in non-smoking. Once we'd reached cruising altitude, I asked a passing FA "Non-smoking?" She nodded, at which point I attempted to discreetly point out the offender. She looked puzzled and nodded again, and pointed to a placard at the front of the cabin with a smoking sign.

At that point it hit me: the right side of the cabin was smoking, and the left side was non-smoking. On Polish Airways. Let that sink in.

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Originally Posted by rosensfole View Post
The first 2 legs of the return were probably the most uncomfortable flights I ever had, I was trapped in against the window by a giant of a man from Borneo, he smoked constantly while awake, had awful wind and snored like a regiment. I couldn't move as I couldn't climb over him. The FA took pity on me but the flight was full so she was powerless.
This scene will now haunt my nightmares until I die.
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Old May 7, 17, 7:55 am   #6
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Great trip report. I was only aware of BA9 ever having the Volcanic ash problem.

I would not have been a fan on that KLM flight. Amazing that KLM plane is still in service

As of April 2017, the aircraft is still in service with KLM, but no longer carries KLM Asia livery as it was repainted in KLM livery after a maintenance check in 2012
Thanks When I Travel The World, I expect the engines have had a good clean out since

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This scene will now haunt my nightmares until I die.
Imagine how I feel RandomBaritone, it never left me

Sorry no photos yet, I had a monster hangover on Friday and now I'm having problems with my scanner.
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Old May 15, 17, 6:08 am   #7
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Love it, very nice to read. Please do get the photos out the spare room!
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Old May 15, 17, 6:46 am   #8
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Love it, very nice to read. Please do get the photos out the spare room!
Thanks Calchas! Well, I've got some photos but some of the important ones are still missing... and my scanner is still poorly. I've just now dredged the contents of my desk and cupboard to no avail. irritating because I know I've looked at the pictures in question in the last 3 months.
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Old May 15, 17, 9:04 am   #9
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Sabena's ANC station people in the '80s were a wild bunch. The crews loved ANC layovers; nonstop party time.
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Old May 15, 17, 9:24 am   #10
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Sabena's ANC station people in the '80s were a wild bunch. The crews loved ANC layovers; nonstop party time.
I bet. The FA in my cabin on the way from Tokyo asked me if I was staying in Anchorage, when I said no she said "pity". She was a buxom lass and clearly the partying type - would have been fun to "lay over" with her

Promised myself a proper trip to ANC one day but so far...
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Old May 19, 17, 1:02 am   #11
  
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My father at Sabena

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Originally Posted by rosensfole View Post
My first trip report; please be gentle

Following a recent historical trip report by another forumista I thought I would share some memories from my first long haul 5 week adventure to Japan from December 1989/January 1990. The outbound was certainly an interesting experience...


Sabena were OK I think but I never flew them again. My next few trips were on KLM, Lufthansa and SAS until I settled on Air France as my preferred carrier. Thankfully, flights to Japan changed to the Siberian route from 1990, initially involving a brief stop in Moscow then, of course, direct.
Thanks for the picture. This OO-SLB were the first one mentionned into his Captain log book in 1974 (training in Yuma, Arizona)
More, this plane is the last one handled by my father in 1977 (the time he was retired) and it's easy for me to remember .. I was there!

Gilbert Van De velde (Cpt B707 1960-1974) and DC10 (1974-1977)
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Old May 19, 17, 1:41 am   #12
  
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Great story and write-up, rosensfole!
Most people boarding a plane nowadays expect to arrive at their final destination direct and hassle-free and therefore fail to appreciate that it wasn't always like that.
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Old May 19, 17, 2:47 am   #13
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Thanks for the picture. This OO-SLB were the first one mentionned into his Captain log book in 1974 (training in Yuma, Arizona)
More, this plane is the last one handled by my father in 1977 (the time he was retired) and it's easy for me to remember .. I was there!

Gilbert Van De velde (Cpt B707 1960-1974) and DC10 (1974-1977)
That's brilliant mvdv, thanks for sharing!

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Great story and write-up, rosensfole!
Most people boarding a plane nowadays expect to arrive at their final destination direct and hassle-free and therefore fail to appreciate that it wasn't always like that.
Thank you JohnRain. I've flown long distance regularly since that trip and no other journey sticks in my memory as much as that one, except my La Premiere experiences - but for totally opposite reasons
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Old May 19, 17, 2:50 am   #14
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Originally Posted by mvdv View Post
Thanks for the picture. This OO-SLB were the first one mentionned into his Captain log book in 1974 (training in Yuma, Arizona)
More, this plane is the last one handled by my father in 1977 (the time he was retired) and it's easy for me to remember .. I was there!

Gilbert Van De velde (Cpt B707 1960-1974) and DC10 (1974-1977)
Welcome to FlyerTalk mvdv and to the Trip Reports forum in particular. It's good to have you on board and please do feel free to share some more of your anecdotes.
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