Friday, 24 July 2015

The Ten-Minute Check-In!

Booking Hall Olley Airline Services, 1937 (c) Croydon Airport Society
Air travel today may be faster, smoother and more accessible than it was in the 1930s but it certainly lacks the elegance and convenience of that time. One of the worst experiences nowadays is the check-in experience with its need for arrival hours before departure, the long queues and the dreadful ‘cattle market’ feel of the security area. In the thirties, passengers could arrive in the booking hall at Croydon and be on board their plane in around ten minutes. 

For those passengers arriving from some distance away in the British Isles, many began their journey by booking in at Airways House by Victoria Station in London. Here the check-in procedure was the same as at Croydon and took just ten minutes. Passports were checked and the pre-ordered tickets (which consisted of several sheets of paper in a cover) were issued together with a blue embarkation slip. The seat number allocated was stated on a red label stuck to the front of the ticket. 

Weighing in, Air Union Brochure 1930s
One indignity that had to be suffered was a public weighing of each passenger to ensure that weight would be evenly spread over the aircraft. It was not till the end of the decade that it was realised that passengers would appreciate a certain amount of privacy about this. Our photo shows a man being weighed in a similar operation at the Air France offices in Paris. He seems to have tried to adopt the same nonchalant air that we all attempt when being patted down in public after the security gate has bleeped at us! Weight was carefully considered by the airlines. Passengers on Imperial Airways Silver Wing flight to Paris were allowed 33lbs. of luggage though excess baggage could be carried for an extra 6d. per kilo (what a very foreign measurement that must have seemed.) 

Advert in Air Union brochure
Many passengers seem to have been undeterred by cost. In 1937, Lady Prescott carried seven pieces of luggage including a hat-box. Luggage makers soon responded to the need for light, convenient cases for frequent fliers and the attached advertisement from Debenhams shows the ‘Innovation wardrobe trunk’ on sale for five guineas. Let us not forget that the average skilled working man earned around £4 per week.


Ten minutes after entering Airways House, an announcement was made for passengers to board the coach outside which then took forty-five minutes to reach Croydon via Clapham and Thornton Heath. On arrival at Croydon, they were greeted and saluted by a Station Superintendent dressed in a dark blue uniform, peaked cap with a gold badge and gloves tucked into his belt. He checked his passenger list while a flock of porters dressed in blue with the Imperial Airways name on their jerseys assisted people with their hand luggage and then followed the empty coach round to the rear of the terminal in order to unload all the cases for the hold. The Superintendent directed passengers to the booking-hall where there were desks for the various airlines flying out of Croydon. 

There was also a kiosk-type shop where sweets, papers, magazines, postcards and even shrimping nets, buckets and spades, fans, maps, eau de cologne, pins and aspirin could be purchased. When the tannoy announced the flight about ten minutes later, the Superintendent led a procession of passengers accompanied by porters carrying bags, parcels, sticks, cameras, binoculars and coats through the Customs and Passport Section, down a short corridor and out onto the tarmac where their plane awaited them. Not only had they been treated with care and consideration, but there was the added frisson that spectators who had paid to watch from the roof of the control tower could watch their glamorous departure with envy and admiration. Those were the days!

Cheryl Bailey

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