Tuesday, March 01, 2016

Taking to the Air in the Heart of the Commonwealth

I grew up not far from Worcester Airport. The woods next to our house, where we played war and pioneer, where we picked trillium, jack-in-the-pulpit, and mountain laurel (illegally, I suspect), eventually – probably at or near the point where we went blueberrying -  turned into “The Airport Woods.”

The airport was a good destination for a long walk, which my friends and I often took on Sunday afternoons. (Back in the day, stores were closed on Sundays, so you couldn’t go shopping. Even if the stores were open on Sunday, and even if we’d had any money, Worcester didn’t have any malls – other than crappy little strip malls like the Webster Square Plaza. With Zayre’s and Woolworth’s as the anchor tenants, we’d all pretty much outgrown that spot by junior high, anyway – so on Sunday afternoons, we took walks. Sounds more 1920’s than 1960’s, but thus it was.)

There wasn’t much to do when you go to the airport, just pee and maybe get a candy bar from a vending machine.

There weren’t things like flights to watch for. Which made it no big deal, noise-wise to live under the flight path.

Another exciting thing to do in Worcester, when not going for long walks, picking mountain laurel, and blueberrying, was to go on family rides.

On these “spins” – one of my father’s favorite pastimes – we often swung by the airport, on the off chance that we’d see a Piper Cub land or take off.

Not that I knew many folks who actually flew anywhere, but I can’t think of anyone I knew growing up who’d ever flown out Worcester, although I suppose that my father may have taken Mohawk Airline on an exciting business trip to Elmira, NY, or some other glam destination. (My father, having been promoted from working on the shop floor as a “wire drawer”, and, later, a foreman, and was a salesman for a company that made fine wire for industrial uses. He wasn’t on the road a lot, but he did travel throughout the Northeast and Midwest, when those regions were industrial powerhouses.)

All this said, I may, in fact, have flown into Worcester on my mother’s return-trip-from-hell from an unplanned trip to Chicago for my grandfather’s funeral. My father had to get back to work, but my mother stayed on for a while. She flew back with a 4-year-old and not-quite-2-year-old in tow, and a bun in the oven. She had to change planes and airports in NYC to make it back to Worcester. It was the only time I flew until I was a young adult doing the Euro thing.

Given the size of Worcester – 180,000+ – you’d think they would have an airport with flights to at least a few places, but Worcester’s airport has long been an off and on proposition.

For one thing, Worcester is an hour’s drive from a lot of “real” airports – Logan, Providence, Hartford, Manchester. So there are plenty of other choices. And it never helped Worcester’s situation that the airport was on a hill that’s regularly fogged in. Not to mention that Worcester’s call letters are ORH. Huh? ORC would have made sense, as that was the nickname of Worcester radio station WORC. Or WOO, for the Miss Woo (Miss Worcester) diner. But ORH?

My mother flew out of Worcester a couple of times, but her airports were mainly Logan and Green (Providence).

Over the years, Worcester’s airport was often commercial passenger flightless. Not much happening other than cargo flights and those Piper Cubs (or whatever the 21st century equivalent is). But then some airline would come along and want to try their luck.

Most recently, JetBlue came to town. They got to play with some house money: the state had offered incentives worth nearly $500K over two years to wheels-down in the Heart of the Commonwealth.

The Massachusetts Port Authority (Massport) is the organization that was dispensing the state’s largesse.

Massport wanted JetBlue (or someone) to come to Worcester. I suspect that our then Lieutenant Governor, Tim Murray, leaned on them a bit to do something for his home town. (Whether they hale from Worcester or not, every once in a while, our pols come to the realization that everyone in the state doesn’t live in Greater Boston or on the Cape.)

Anyway, JetBlue came to play, and have been running a couple of flights a day to Florida.

The subsidies have recently run dry, but officials are hopeful that JetBlue is in it for the long-haul.

I’ll keep that in mind if I ever need to get to Orlando or Fort Lauderdale, and decide that it makes more sense to fly out of Worcester. Maybe I’ll even get to fly over the house in grew up in, or my grandmother’s, just around the corner, where I spent my first 7 years. As long as Worcester Regional Airport isn’t fogged in…


Source for JetBlue/Massport info: Boston Globe 

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