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QueensLine: City subway fare increases, but JFK opens for business in ‘48

New York celebrated the 50th anniversary of consolidation in 1948 with two important milestones in transportation. Halfway through the jubilee year, the authorities struck a sour note when they announced the end of the best bargain in New York City.

On June 30, 1948, newspaper headlines informed readers that “Higher Fares on Subway Take Effect At Midnight.” From the opening day of the IRT on Oct. 27, 1904, it had cost a nickel to ride the city subway. Now the cost of a ride was about to double to ... a dime.

Tokens were used from 1953 until 1999, when they were replaced with the current MetroCards.

The Long Island Star-Journal noted, “[This was] the most significant event in metropolitan transit history, the scrapping of the historic nickel fare.” Outraged Queens residents found some consolation in the free transfers which were now being offered between subway lines at certain points — for instance, “at Jackson Heights where the 6th and 8th Avenue lines intersect, the Flushing IRT and the BMT,” today the F, E, No. 7, M and R lines.

But suppose you could afford your own plane and decided to bypass the daily commute? During June 1948, Queens residents watched with interest preparations for the official opening of the New York International Airport at Idlewild, now John F. Kennedy International Airport. On June 28, practice flights and landings began. Capt. Douglas Larsen piloted the first commercial plane to land at the new airport, a Peruvian International Airways DC-4.

Eager to make the news as well as simply record it, the Long Island Star-Journal chartered its own plane in order to set a record — landing the first private plane at Idlewild. On June 20, aviation editor Roy Carlton gave a full report: “This is seven-nine-king, Stinson 150, out of Rockaway Airport. Landing instructions, please.” “Hello, Long Island Star-Journal plane, you are cleared to land at runway two-five left. Wind south south-west, 15 mph.” “Roger … coming in.”

Joseph Alta, the Rockaway Airport manager and co-pilot, chuckled as the Jamaica Bay Sahara they called an airport loomed closer. “You’d never recognize the place,” he said. “In 1941, it was called Queens County Airport. I used to operate a flying service right there out where those two hangers are. And boats used to sail there, where that 9,500-foot runway is.”

“Guess you could still land a Cub on that spot — right inside that 300-foot tower.” The control tower operator flashed the green light at us. “Cleared to land,” snapped Alta, getting down to business.

The newspaper reporter continued his narrative: “The airport seemed to stretch all over Queens. We turned into the runway, a small one 6,000 feet long. The concrete stretched like a ribbon toward the horizon, and the Stinson looked like a green pea on a billiard table. The plane settled. Wheels screeched as rubber rubbed runway — and stuck. Riding out to meet us were a jeep, a sedan, a crash truck and an ambulance. The drivers waved and shouted, ‘Follow us.’ The procession rolled down three miles of runway, taxi-strips, and apron.”

“What a reception,” Alta remarked. “First seagulls, now a parade. Either we rate — or these crash truck men like to practice.” A flight attendant on the ramp waved his arms as the plane taxied up and parked in front of the tower. The pilot and reporter stepped out. A tall, slender man stuck out his hand and said, “I’m George McSharry, the superintendent. Welcome to New York International Airport.”

For more information, call the Greater Astoria Historical Society at 718-278-0700 or visit astorialic.org.

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