Ogden’s Passenger Air history a stomach-churning adventure

Oct 27 2012 - 10:40pm

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Claims that Allegiant Air's passenger flights out of Ogden are a "first" are wrong, but claimants may be forgiven.

It's been more than 50 years and, frankly, the last flights were highly forgettable.

Two-engine, occasionally unpressurized planes bunny hopping amid podunk airports nestled in the very updrafty Rocky Mountains must have left passengers woozy, at best.

Still, Ogden passenger air travel, which started in the late 1940s and petered out, unlamented, in 1960, has a fun history.

Bruce Haslam, of Washington Terrace, called up after we ran stories about Allegiant's new flights from Ogden to Mesa. Bruce collects railroad stuff and remembered that railroad timetable books from the early 50s included the then-new airline timetables.

Sure enough, in 1950 Ogden was served by Western Air Service and United Airlines, two flights a day each.

What was flying like back then?

Say you wanted to go to Salt Lake City. You drove to Ogden's airport, plunked down a whopping $2.50, got into a two-engined Convair, a plane not much different than the WWII bomber it was based on, and flew right down.

No security, no gate passes. You just climbed onto the plane.

Financial note: That $2.50 is about the same as $25 now. To compare, Allegiant wants $125 to take you one-way to Mesa.

But the flights didn't just go between Salt Lake and Ogden.

Western's flight was one leg of a trip that started in Cleveland at

8:30 a.m. and hopped to Toledo, South Bend, Chicago, Omaha, Lincoln, Grand Island, North Platte, Scotts Bluff, Denver and Cheyenne before arriving in Ogden at 8:05 p.m.

It continued to Salt Lake, Elko, Reno and Sacramento. With the time changes, there were 15 take-offs and landings in 18 hours. The survivors staggered off in San Francisco at

1:10 a.m. the next day.

"My guess is not many would go the whole way," said Bruce.

United's flight left Salt Lake at 6:40 a.m., arrived in Ogden at 7:05, then bounced to Twin Falls, Boise, Pendleton, Portland, Seattle, Bellingham and finally Vancouver, Canada, at 2:30 p.m.

Even a short trip was hard work. "I lived in Denver for a while. One time my mom had to come to Utah to see relatives, and she said 'Get me on the next flight,' and it was a Convair, but it was not pressurized.

"They took off anyway and flew low enough so people could breathe. By the time they got to Ogden they about had to carry her off. They flew so low it bucked her around."

United and Western both sought permission to pull out of Ogden in 1956, citing low demand. The Chamber of Commerce and Utah's congressional delegation complained, but failed.

The companies left in August 1959, replaced in September by West Coast Airline with four flights a day connecting Salt Lake and Ogden to Boise and points northwest.

It didn't last. In November 1960, West Coast asked the Civil Aeronautics Board for permission to drop Ogden.

The Chamber harrumped but decided not to fight. Private use of the airport was rising and then-airport manager Art Mortensen said he felt West Coast had just used Ogden as an excuse to get approval to start flying into Salt Lake.

Mortensen also noted that West Coast's flights to the northwest were slow because they stopped in a lot of small towns along the way. An Ogdenite who wanted to go to Seattle or Portland would get there quicker driving to Salt Lake and flying another airline direct.

Which, until Allegiant came along 52 years later, is the way it has been.

The Wasatch Rambler is the opinion of Charles Trentelman. He can be reached at 801-625-4232, or ctrentelman@standard.net. He also blogs at www.standard.net.

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