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“The fascination and comfort of Silver Wing travel”

Interior of Scylla (a postcard in the collection of Croydon Aiport Society)
This slogan is how Imperial Airways chose to advertise their Silver Wing service from Croydon to Paris in the 1930s. The fascination was in the thrill of flying itself. As the planes flew at a lower level in those days, the whole flight was viewed as a unique sight-seeing experience and the thrill of being airborne was very exciting and sometimes a little daunting to first-time flyers. (Neville Chamberlain, on returning from his visit to Hitler in 1938, commented that his first experience of flying had been ‘not as bad as he had been led to believe’ and that he had travelled very comfortably.) 

 As far as comfort was concerned, everything was done to give the customer a truly ‘first class’ experience and the interior fittings of the HP 42 planes used in the early thirties and succeeded by the Scylla models of the mid-thirties equalled the opulence of a quality hotel or pullman train. It was on the Silver Wing service that the concept of fine dining in the air was born. On early journeys, simple sandwiches and soup from a thermos flask had been provided, but once the HP42s came into use, a varied and lavish menu was offered to passengers together with the services of a bar. The crockery and cutlery used were of fine quality, though the composition of the china was made especially light to save weight on the plane. 

In 1931, the five-course lunch cost four shillings, the six-course dinner five shillings and afternoon tea was two shillings. This last was often very fine and included pastries purchased in Paris. Hot dishes and a cold buffet were on offer at lunch and dinner and the airline did its best to fulfil customer expectations. To their great surprise, oysters proved unpopular and had to be dropped from the menu.

Interior of a HP42 aircraft
A great favourite from the bar was the famed Silver Wing cocktail priced at two shillings and there was plenty of other choice. The weight of drinks stocked was more than that of four passengers. Four brands of champagne were available, plus ten cocktails, many wines and beers and a selection of spirits and liqueurs. Of course, mineral water was carried too. There was no duty to pay on drinks in the air but they cost the passenger about as much as they would have done at home as the airline had to make up the cost of carrying such a weight.

Two smart stewards served meals and drinks and also offered postcards, writing paper and envelopes and useful literature to the passengers. Their aim was to anticipate and supply a customer’s needs before they had even been expressed. Nothing was too much trouble and they coped discreetly with those who succumbed to travel sickness. 

The flight took two and a half hours and during this time, passengers experienced non-stop luxury and service. Unlike air-travel today, the journey was often the best and most exciting part of the holiday.
Cheryl Bailey (U3A Shared Learning Project Team Member)

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