Basel, Switzerland, 1989. At the 10th WAEA conference.

Somebody had the good sense to record what was happening at the conferences. How rare was it to have competing airlines and vendors in one room working out the kinks of poor audio quality? When best to serve a meal during a movie? And what are the merits of boarding music? The airline entertainment community was on the verge of something new, and it was about to make history!    

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It was always planned as a three-part entity: conference, association and newsletter. If you read the article on how the Airline Passenger Experience Association came to be on page 68, you would know that the newsletter was imperative to members for exchanging information, keeping abreast of conference discussions and establishing the association as a professional organization. In 1979, before the newsletter began, a report was released offering only “a thumbnail sketch” of what happened in Palm Springs. But looking back today at the paraphernalia of past conferences and old pictures that were used (or intended for use) in WAEA newsletters and issues of Avion opens a window into what it was like to be in the hotel lobbies, conference rooms and networking parties at various times over the years.

Flipping through the archives, one gets a sense of what it was like to sit in on sessions about state-of-the-art programming and how different a time it was, with panelists dangling cigarettes between fingers while engaged in constructive discussions. With regard to fashion, some of the men wore widespread collars without ties, revealing chest hair (a sign of disco’s influence or of having chosen a hot, desert conference destination), while some of the women teased their hair far from their heads and wore sparkly jewel-tone dresses and suits.

Events in the 1990s and early 2000s were quite glamorous. There are photos of conference gophers dressed in airline flight attendant uniforms and entertainers who illuminated the evening ceremonies! In one photo, Spanish opera singer Plácido Domingo is holding a United Airlines model jet. (Alas, we couldn’t find anyone to situate the photo.)

Some of the photos were submitted to late editorial director John N. White with press releases, typewritten captions, instructions and handwritten thank-yous attached. These messages carry a sense of familiarity. And you can tell by the way White allowed profile articles about his peers to wander far into the personal or included offbeat anecdotes about them in the “Turntable” section, that he knew them all, too.

Do you have a good story about one of these photos? E-mail editor@apex.aero.

“On the Record” was originally published in the 9.4 September/October issue of APEX Experience magazine.