Growing up Icelandic

I was born in what was then West Germany. My father was an American expat. My mother is a born and raised German citizen. We moved to the States when I was very young. It was to be a temporary move with the plan of moving back to Germany after two years. My father needed to reestablish US residency as he wanted to be a civil servant for the US government back in Germany.

Those plans didn’t pan out and we ended up staying here. I was so young the fact that we stayed didn’t directly affect me. It was a bit harder for my mother and particularly difficult for my sister. She literally was counting the days until we moved back to our beloved Aschbach in the spectacularly beautiful Odenwald. At her age (11) I would have done the same. Here in Chicago I consider myself a German American but when I’m back in Germany I feel more like an American German.

We went back to Germany every summer to stay with my grandmother. At the end of the summer, my grandmother would fly back with us and stay through to the New Year. I’m grateful for the cross-cultural experience that my youth afforded me. In retrospect, I am also particularly grateful to my parents. Back in those days before deregulation, tickets to Europe were particularly expensive. Lufthansa, Pan Am and TWA had a three-way monopoly on flights. My parents with their working class income must have sacrificed a lot to afford the tickets every year.

Hidden among my childhood photo albums I have a receipt from a flight I took to Germany in 1982. It was for $699.00. I have flown on tickets less expensive as an adult even before figuring in 30 years of inflation!

This transatlantic upbringing is probably the biggest factor in my becoming a total aviation geek.

CL-44 Yukon, Rolls Royce Prop Jet

Back then, the cheapest ticket was with Loftleiðir Icelandic, more commonly known around the world as Icelandair. Loftleiðir was often referred to by the somewhat pejorative nicknames “Backpack Air” or “Hippie Air.” If it was good enough for Bill Clinton, it was more than good enough for us! Loftleiðir managed to work around the IATA tariff regulations by selling two tickets. One from the United States to Keflavik and then another on to Luxembourg. Luxembourg was the only European destination, as the country was not part of the IATA tariff regulations. Loftleiðir also threw in a Greyhound style bus connection on to Germany.

The tagline of the airline’s advertising was “We may be slower but our fares are lower!” Icelandair can be thought of as the first Low Cost Carrier (LCC) long before Southwest came onto the scene. To this day, it is the only LCC with scheduled transatlantic flights. Unfortunately, they also followed the LCC trend of having meals only available for purchase.

Loftleiðir also flew the previous generation of aircraft across the North Atlantic. Up until the 70’s, they flew the CL-44 Yukon marketed as the Rolls Royce Prop Jet. The use of previous generation hardware kept the airline under the radar of the much bigger legacy airlines. My earliest memories of flying were of the DC-8-60 Series narrow body jets. For sentimental reasons it is one of my favorite airlines to this day.

Loftleidir – Icelandic Airlines Douglas DC-8-63CF Haafke

As I grew up, so did Icelandair. They bought new state of the art Boeing 757’s. Business Class was introduced. Modern amenities such as seat-back video were eventually added as well. They also dropped the Luxembourg hub and now fly to many destinations in the United States and Europe. The modern Leifur Eiríksson terminal in Keflavik has replaced the original terminal, which was not much more than a shack in the middle of an American NATO base. I’m very sad to have seen that change. The one constant, beyond the rock-bottom fares is the promise of top-notch duty-free shopping and layovers in Iceland. I still own Icelandic woolens and pottery made with Icelandic lava rock.

Icelandair Douglas DC-8 Luxembourg – 7 August 1983

I’ve never flown Icelandair as an adult. They haven’t served Chicago since I was a teenager. The low fares they pioneered before deregulation are now, for the most part, matched by the legacy airlines. Nonstop flights almost always trump connections if the cost is the same. The biggest bargain on Icelandair now is flying business class. The “hard product” isn’t as luxurious as offered by the major airlines but it is also less than half the cost of the nonstop routes.

I have so many wonderful and some less-than-wonderful memories of Icelandair. Maybe I’m a little bit Icelandic as well!

Contemporary 757-200 of Icelandair

Sometime in the 1970s, The Icelandic Tourist Bureau, in conjunction with Loftleiðir and Icelandair Airlines  (Then two separate companies) produced this marvelous film about all things Icelandic.

“Dreams are often most profound when they seem the most crazy.” ― Sigmund Freud


“Dreams are often most profound when they seem the most crazy.”
― Sigmund Freudb

Everybody must dream. It is vital for our mental health. The psychoanalytic school of psychological thought believes that dreams provide insight to our deepest desires and neuroses that we would never acknowledge in our conscious wakeful state. Freud’s book on the interpretation of dreams is considered a seminal work that is still relevant today over 100 years since its publication.

So what does that mean for an aviation geek? The content of one’s dreams can provide proof of just how much aviation geekdom is part of one’s conscious and subconscious being.

In general, like most people, I don’t remember the content of most of my dreams. That is unless they are abnormally bizarre or are terrifying nightmares.

Last week I woke up remembering, as Freud would call it, a particularly crazy dream. It was long and convoluted. It placed people I know well in the wrong parts of the country. There were many other truly surreal images and plot details. I vividly remember two very good friends driving me to the airport for a flight to San Francisco where they actually live. The geekiest detail was that I remember telling them they would have to drop me at O’Hare’s terminal two so I could catch my flight on America West that was routed via Phoenix. Instead of dropping me off at O’Hare they dropped me off at a high school. I went in to my locker and opened it. I realized that I couldn’t find my French text book. I thought that was okay as I never did my French homework anyway. I tried to get into the main part of the building which was locked off. I realized the school was closed for a holiday. I ran outside but my friends had already left. I panicked as I was so far away from home. Luckily a minivan full of sassy high-school-aged girls came to my rescue. They advised me they could get me part of the way home but they were actually driving in the wrong direction. I was so grateful for their, uh, help!

I woke up thinking what the hell was that all about? The most obvious interpretation was that I will be flying from San Francisco to Chicago via what was America West’s primary hub of Phoenix in a couple of weeks on its successor USAirways.

I have fond memories of America West. The first time I flew it I was headed to Las Vegas for my parents’ 25th wedding anniversary celebration. At the time, America West comped alcoholic beverages on every single flight. For a 21-year-old impoverished college student that was a huge plus! I also flew America West to Las Vegas for my sister’s wedding. Good times.

I got upgraded to first class several times. America West was also particularly generous to the travel-agent community by providing deeply discounted industry passes.

America West was founded shortly after the deregulation of the US airline industry. It became a major national carrier that avoided imploding, unlike most other upstarts of that era. The America West DNA still survives. USAirways uses the radio call sign “Cactus” which was originally assigned to America West. Phoenix is still a vital hub of the USAirways route network.

I’ll probably never analyze the dream fully, but I don’t need to spend the coin on a shrink to get its gist: My aviation geekdom is deep-seated and “particularly crazy.”

When is Southwest not Southwest?

Most airlines have a two-letter code that identifies them. These codes are assigned by IATA, the International Air Transport Association. IATA regulates how member airlines work with each other. Passengers usually notice the airline and airport codes on boarding passes or bag-check tags. These were established so that airlines around the world have a way to do business and to communicate with each other across language and political barriers.

The IATA code for Southwest is WN. Most people would assume Southwest’s code to be SW. But when Southwest joined IATA, SW was already in use by South West Air Transport, now called Air Namibia (SW may also refer to the country’s former name of Southwest Africa.)
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The story/urban legend about how Southwest became WN is kind of funny. That is to aviation geeks anyway. Northwest used NW. And since Southwest could be considered the mirror image of Northwest geographically, IATA flipped NW to WN (think REDRUM / MURDER from The Shining.)  Somebody at IATA may have had a sense of humor. Or maybe at Southwest. Airlines do have input on what codes they get. Then again, it may have been a simple luck of the draw. I prefer the story. It’s much more fun.

IATA does allow airline codes to be recycled six months after the previous owner goes out of business. Some codes are so iconic I doubt they will ever be used again. PA must always stay Pan American. Let’s have some respect for the dearly departed.

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Today, with all the new airlines, IATA has run out of unique two-letter codes. Numerals have been added to the mix. That’s why is B6 is jetBlue.
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Sibir Siberian Airlines has the code S7. Sibir has now rebranded and does business as “S7 Airlines.”

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If you happen to enter airline geek websites such as airliners.net and use SW for Southwest you will be quickly and firmly corrected.