Friday, September 18, 2009

Around the World in Record Time

by Tom Emch

On May 11, at San Francisco International, shortly before the scheduled departure time of 6 p.m., a man will board British Airways Flight 286, non-stop to London. He will be wearing a wrinkle-proof suit, shirt and tie, and he will be carrying a small flight bag containing some toilet articles and three books. Unlike the rest of the passengers, he will be known to the captain and the cabin crew. They will know why he is going to London. In the tower another man will record the exact time the wheels of the aircraft, a 747, leave the ground.

On May 13, at approximately 11:05 a.m., Pan American's Flight 12, non-stop from Tokyo, will touch down at San Francisco International. The man with the small flight bag and the three books will be aboard, again known to the captain and the cabin crew. Another man in the tower will record the exact time the aircraft's wheels hit the runway.

If all goes well, it will be forty-one hours and five minutes from the time Warren Rairden left San Francisco until he returned. And he will have set a new world's record for an around-the-world journey on scheduled airlines.

The man in the tower will file the total elaspsed time with the proper authorities in Dublin, Ireland and Rairden's name will appear in the next edition of the Guiness Book of Records.

"You're right. It's crazy," says Rairden, who held the record in 1969 (forty-two hours, fifty-nine minutes) and lost it in 1971 to Millbrae busines Maurice Rosen (forty-one hours, thirty minutes).

"It's not a sight-seeing trip," he says. "Except for the takeoffs and landings, all you see is a lot of clouds. But I might get a view of the South China Sea out of Singapore."

Rairden's itenerary calls for British Airways to London with three and a half hours on the ground and then the British Airways Concorde to Singapore with a refueling stop in Bahrain in the Persian Gulf. After one hour, five minutes on the ground in Singapore, he will take Japan Airlines non-stop to Tokyo (forty minutes on the ground) and board Pan American's Flight 12 for San Francisco. The round-the-world trip will cost approximately $4,000 and cover 20,962 air miles in four different aircraft. Total time on the ground will be about five hours and fifteen minutes.

One of the first questions Rairden is asked is: "Why?"

"First of all I want to get the record back," he says. "I promised myself a long time ago I would try it again when it became feasible; whenever there was a new schedule with the Concorde that would allow me to break the record."

He made his first attempt in 1964 (fifty-nine horus, thirty-five minutes) and failed the break the record. "I made some bad connections." Then in 1969, he did the London-Moscow-Tokyo leg on the Russian airline, Aeroflot, changing plans in Moscow in an incredible seven minutes, and broke the existing record.

"When I landed in Moscow in 1969 I could see my connecting flight on the ground, already boarding. I got off and saw this little Russian official standing there. I pointed to my wristwatch, held up my passport and said: "Tokyo.' He took me to a Russian girl in the building; we went through a couple of rooms and I had to sign my name twice, without knowing what I was signing. She took me back to the connecting flight and the little man was there with my passport, and I got aboard. The whole think took about seven minutes," says Rairden.

His other recollection of that journey was clearing customs back in San Francisco. There was an incident that will probably be repeated on May 13 when he returns from his record attempt.

"Well, they know you've just arrived non-stop from Tokyo and everybody's got bags to be opened. You stand there with only a flight bag with toilet articles and some books and they say: "Where have you been?"

"Then you tell the oficer that you've been to London and Singapore and he asks: 'Where is the rest of your baggage?"

"When you tell them it's all you have, you get this funny look. It's like they're thinking: 'This guy is an odd one, we'd better watch him.' It just looks totally ridiculous because it's not an everyday occurrence."

Rairden travels light because baggage would slow him down. He travels without visas; none are necessary when your're an in-transit passenger in a foreign country not intending to clear immigration.

He says he's going to buy a wrinkle-proof suit "to see if it is really wrinkle-proof. I wear a shirt and tie because that's just the way I am, but I loosen the tie and the first think to come off are my shoes. I try to get as comfortableas possible."

Rairden also travels first class all the way around. "It would destroy me to try it in coach. This way I get the best meals and wine on the Tokyo-San Francisco leg on Pan Am I'll have a sleeperette and I hope to get six or seven hours of sleep. I'll need it by then." He will go through twenty-four time zones and three nights while earthbound people in San Francisco will go through only two. "Eastbound they're short nights," he says, "Only three and a half to four hours apiece."

How about exhaustion and jet lag after flying around the world? Rairden says there is no jet lag because you return to the same place you left from before your ssytem has a chance to adjust to another time zone. "I fully expect to be in the office at 9 a.m. the day after I get back." His office is that of Portal/Albertson, a travel corporation in the Wells Fargo Bank building on Montgomery Street. Rairden is the vice-chairman of the firm, and says, "All the airlines involved will know I'm trying for the record. The various public relations departments will know of the attempt and probably the captains and cabin crews will know who I am. None of them will be eager to drop the ball."

There could be mechanical problems or bad weather, of course, and that's a chance he has to take. "May should be a good month ofr the attempt, but if I get socked in, I just have an airplane ride out, and no record."

When Rairden made his first attempt at the record in 1964, there was no trans-Siberian flight; he went all the way around on Pan American. In 1969, when he broke the record, there was a trans-Siberian flight, but no Concorde with a cruising speed of 1,250 miles per hour (twice that of the 747). Now there is a Concorde flight from London to Singapore.

His itenerary might change and eliminate the Japan Airlines flight from Singapore to Tokyo, if he can convince Pan American to hold their Singapore-Hong Kong-San Francisco flight for fifteen minutes. If he can bypass Tokyo, Rairden would make it around the world in thrity-seven hours, forty-five minutes, far ahead of the present record of forty-one hours, thirty minutes or more, becuase as a Pan Am spokesman says, "Flight 12 from Tokyo is usually fifteen to thirty minutes early arriving here."

Rairden's 1964 attempt was a promotion for the opening of Stevens Creek Boulevard from Highway 17 to Saratoga Avenue. He went from one end of the extension to the other the long way around. His 1969 record-breaking flight was another promotion. This time for the opening of the El Camino Highway in Santa Clara, where he was president of the Chamber of Commerce.

What does he plan to do in the air between San Francisco and San Francisco while traveling around the world?

"Well, there isn't much you can do besides eat, sleep and read. I'm takng along thre books on pro football. Paul Brown's autobiography and a couple of others.

"Fortunately, I sleep like a baby on airplanes."

Taken as a whole, the trip may be the most boring way in the world to get into the Guiness Book of Records.

San Francisco Examiner/Chronicle 1975