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The Very Beginning
Today LOT is a large, million passengers modern enterprise, carrying more than 2 million passengers annually. It is hard to imagine how its beginnings looked like in 1929 when a flight to London, which now takes two and a half hours, lasted three times longer. There are only a few people who remember the earliest days of the Polish carrier. One of them is Honorata Strawinska, who joined LOT exactly 70 years ago.
She is 95 today. This exuberant lady remembers very well the time when she started to work in the newly born firm. "How did I land up in LOT? I come from Czestochowa but I studied economics in Warsaw. One day a friend of mine asked if I wanted to work in Polish airlines, which were being created at that time. Air travel, aeroplanes - what an exciting challenge for a young girl. At the time the Warsaw city scape was dominated by horse drawn carriages, even cars were hardly a common sight. I made up my mind within minutes."
The company in which Honorata Strawinska began to work was called Linje Lotnicze LOT Sp. z o.o. and its head office was on Nowy Swiat street in Warsaw. The stylized crane, which can still be seen on the tails of LOT aircraft, was its characteristic mark already in 1929. Mrs. Strawinska started to work at the booking office. At that time there were no stewardesses on board: planes were small and there was not much room inside. The backbone of the fleet were American Douglas and Lockheed aircraft as well as older Fokker and Junkers planes. "Air travel was a luxury at that time," Strawinska recalls. "Few people could afford it: they were mainly high ranking officials, representatives of the diplomatic corps, great artists."
Honorata Strawinska later worked at LOT's press office and after that was in charge of the firm's finances. LOT was growing at a dynamic pace. In 1939, ten years after its foundation, the Polish carrier had a fleet of 26 aircraft, which served 25 destinations. Its route network extended beyond Europe: Polish planes were flying to such places as Lydda in what was then Palestine, and to Beirut.
Until September 1939 LOT carried 65 thousand passengers. Then the war broke out. "I was a kind of a chief accountant at the time" Strawinska recalls. "Dramatic moments came. I was sent to the bank to bring money for what turned out to be our employees' last salaries. It was a considerable sum of money so an army officer was delegated to protect me. Just when money was paid out to me, a bomb alarm sounded. My guard disappeared out of sight. I waited but he was nowhere around, so I set off for the office alone. My return with the money was a big surprise to everyone. - What has happened to the officer? - my director wanted to know. - Well - I ventured - he is perhaps sound and safe in an air raid shelter. It was a sensation - unescorted I carried money from the bank through the streets of Warsaw during an air raid."
The war interrupted the operation of the enterprise and changed the lives of its employees forever. At the beginning of 1939 a decision was taken to evacuate all the personnel abroad. Some pilots stayed at home and were killed in action, some emigrated and reinforced the allied air forces, including the British RAF. "The evacuation began at night on the 4th of September" Strawinska says. LOT personnel landed up in Rumania, where they spent more than a month. Then they went via Athens to Paris, where LOT's foreign head office was established. "We did not have a genuine office, so I had to carry all LOT's money on me. Once, I left all LOT assets in a restaurant where we had dinner. I realized what happened as soon as we went out. Fortunately the bag was waiting for me where I left it - on the back of a chair."
Military operations throughout Europe forced LOT to close its foreign offices The inter-war epoch of LOT was inevitably coming to an end. As a result of the war the firm lost all its equipment and assets, its employees were dispersed all over the world. The same happened to Honorata Strawinska. "I settled in France. But I regularly come to Poland, always flying with LOT. Whenever I am on board a LOT plane I think how much the world seen by a traveler has changed and how LOT has been changing, especially in recent years How much it differs from what I can still remember. . .
Based on an interview conducted by Anna Popek