Saturday, September 14, 2013

When Swissair flew to Monrovia

The prominence of Swissair in the opening scenes of the remarkable Wealth of Liberia, which I posted about last, reminded me that some photos of Swissair and its ticket office have been posted to the Liberia 77 website.
As seen in the film, the Swissair ticket office was located in the heart of the city, at the corner of Broad and Randall Streets, in what then, remarkably as now, was called the Palm Hotel. These two photos are dated by the anonymous uploader as 1983 and 1984, which show the later Swissair paint job and a strikingly modern, glazed-wall storefront:

An interesting aside is a black and white press photo, posted earlier on Liberia 77, showing the large-pane glazing of the ticket office smashed during the April 1979 rice riots, below.
As the later color photos show, despite the vandalism Swissair stuck with Liberia, fixing their glass windows, and landing at RIA several times a week. Swissair flew a Z├╝rich-Geneva-Monrovia weekly from April 4th 1965 to 1986, occasionally linking Abidjan or Dakar as well (see first day covers below). Swissair started with DC-8 jets, as the film shows, then employed DC-10 trijets beginning in 1977, until during the last years it used a widebody A310, as seen in this historic first-day service envelopes:

The year 1986 is the same fateful date during which Pan Am finally pulled out of Monrovia and ended its management of Robertsfield. Swissair itself met its demise suddenly in 2001, when its assets were seized by creditors. An interesting detail of this bankruptcy was that Swissair had taken over the Belgian carrier Sabena, which had never stopped flying to Liberia, and was quickly transformed into SN Brussels Airlines, now just Brussels Airlines, which still has more intercontinental seats out of RIA than any other single carrier, with 4 flights per week, and maintaining a large ticket office in the former Chase Manhattan Plaza, now formally known as the Episcopal Church Plaza at Randall and Ashmun, just a two-minute walk from the old Swissair office.

Although under administration, Swissair was similarly resurrected as Swiss International Air Lines, that new carrier does not serve West Africa at all.

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