It's not often that performing groups charter jumbo jets to go on tour, but when the Mormon Tabernacle Choir does, it's the only way to fly.
Some 280 choir members along with 150 spouses and support staff said goodbye to well-wishers Tuesday night at the Salt Lake International Airport before boarding a Qantas 747 jet bound for Honolulu. They will kick off their three-week concert tour of the South Pacific at BYU-Hawaii's campus Wednesday night."It is always nice to get to this point when you can feel like a tourist," Choir Director Gerald Ottley said Tuesday night. "Everything indicates this will be a first-class tour. We have had good preparation and have great buildings to perform in. I hope we will meet their expectations."
Qantas Airlines Capt. Les Hayward said getting the choir to Hawaii and on to New Zealand and Australia took some special planning. Jumbo jets, like the one that carried the choir, are a rarity at the Salt Lake International Airport. Qantas' kangaroo logo is even rarer. The last time the Australian carrier landed in Salt Lake City was for another choir tour over a decade ago.
Hayward prepared special instructions so he could get the jet off the airport's only runway long enough to handle a 747 in Utah's thin air.
"The altitude decreases the aircraft's performance," Hayward said.
Officials were also concerned about the effect 300 tons of people, equipment, clothes and particularly the choir's sheet music would have on the aircraft.
"Paper weighs a lot," said Ernest Beyl, a Qantas public relations officer.
While there were only three empty seats on the plane, 16 flight attendants didn't have to worry about the "no-smoking" signs or passengers' quarreling after drinking too much. "We had to replace the alcohol, tea and coffee with a lot of fruit drinks and milk," Hayward said.
Choir members, who are all members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, abstain from using tobacco, alcohol, tea and coffee.
For the choir the departure was a time of mixed emotions. Mary Matheson, who is a first soprano with the choir, left her husband in Utah, saying he wasn't so sure how his family would survive for three weeks on his cooking.
"We're going to be tired. It is going to be a hectic trip," said Matheson, "This is a good organization to represent the country as well as the (LDS) Church."
The choir will present 17 concerts in such places as the Waikiki Shell in Honolulu, Sydney's opera house and represent the United States at the Expo '88 site in Brisbane.