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The Coolest Flight I Never Flew

New York, USA

rain 20 °C
View Work Trips 2005 - 2006 on GregW's travel map.

I’ve been on a lot of planes. As I have stated in past entries, I never flew as a child. My first flight was at the age of 16, in a four-seater float plane for an hour long site-seeing tour. My first commercial flight was at the age of 25, from Toronto to Moncton for a business trip.

My life in the air really took off in 1997, when I got a new job as a consultant. In those 9 years, I figure that I have flown somewhere around 350,000 miles. I’ve flown on many different types of aircrafts; from the large, like my experience sitting in the upper deck of a 747 from Vancouver to Toronto back when Air Canada flew the big Boeing jets; to the small, like the 4 seater float plane mentioned above, or the 10 seater Air Excel flight that took me past Mount Kilimanjaro on my way to Zanzibar, the CEO of Air Excel at the helm and a passenger sitting in the co-pilot seat (they couldn’t pass up the opportunity for the passenger revenue). I’ve have smooth flights, with landings so soft I haven’t even woken up when we touched down. I’ve had bumpy flights, like the 45 mile hop on Sosa Airlines from La Ceiba to Roatan during a Honduran thunderstorm.

I’ve had a few interesting seat mates during those years. 6 year old Hannah sat beside me in business class from Rio de Janeiro to Toronto. She was on the second of three legs travelling by herself back to her mother’s home in Ottawa, after finishing a visit with her father in Brasilia. The flight attendant, on seeing me sit down, said to me, “thank God you are here. She’s a handful!” and then wandered off to serve Champagne to the rest of the business class passengers and left me to be in charge of the baby-sitting of Hannah. Despite my initial fears, Hannah wasn’t too bad. She was mostly well behaved, playing games or watching movies on the personal video screens, though she did get a little squirrelly during dinner time by refusing to eat, and scared my tired mind by threatening to not sleep at all and keep me awake in the process. But after dinner, she did fall asleep, and I got a good six hours in before Hannah shook me awake to tell me that the movie she was watching last night was on again, and that I should watch it.

I’ve also shared an armrest with:

  • a TV host, Mr. Kevin Cullen of Personal Watercraft Television, and no, I’d never heard of him either before flying with him.
  • two girls on a flight to Detroit, talking the entire time about how, “Jim was, like, totally bummed, and, I, like, was too, like, totally past caring. So Shannon is like, what’s up with Jim, and I was like, totally whatever, and she was like…”
  • my friend Vay, who after we spent twenty dollars each to get into the VIP lounge at Varadero airport in Cuba, drank himself into a stupor. He was mostly quiet, passed out with his head against the seat in front of him, only stirring occasionally when we’d poke him to make sure he was still alive. It was damn funny to watch.
  • a guy in a suit, notable because he and I were obviously the only people on a flight from Omaha to Las Vegas on Southwest airlines who wasn’t drunk and heading to Las Vegas for the Professional Bull Riders (PBR) National Championship Rodeo at the New York, New York casino. On landing of the plane, a young cowhand, made mute from too much alcohol, suddenly and silently hugged the flight attendant. She had the most shocked look on her face, but he looked like he was going to cry with happiness at having had a safe flight.
  • a fat, ugly dude on a small plane flying from Atlanta to Toronto. This is memorable because the flight held 50 people, and there was a group of swimsuit models and a photography crew who were transferring through Atlanta on their way from Mexico to Toronto after a photo shoot on the beaches of the Caribbean. In the waiting area I felt that the ratio between total number of passengers and total number of hot models meant that there was a statistically decent chance that a model had been assigned a seat beside me, and that I may get to take place in some porno worthy “geez, I’ve never had sex on a plane before…” fantasy, but it was not to be.

Mostly, though, my seat mates have been quiet, reading, sleeping, watching the movie or working on their laptops, and letting me do the same. Most of the flights just start blending into one another, the act of boarding a plane with your carry-on luggage feeling like getting on a really crowded bus with your groceries, hoping to find a place for them that won’t crush any of your eggs. It’s becoming harder and harder for me to be impressed when boarding a plane, and while I still get excited sitting in the airport lounge, knowing I’m flying off to someplace new, the walk down the gangway to the plane is starting to become a more and more oppressive experience – especially now because I know that I’ll have to wait 40 minutes on landing to get my luggage, that I’ve been forced to check because I have “liquid and gels” in the form of toothpaste and shaving cream with me.

It was, therefore, a bit of a surprise to me that I reacted with childlike glee at the thought of boarding a plane this weekend. I jumped up and down, giggling and, I believe, even pumping my arms with anticipation. The events are even more surprising considering that this past weekend I crossed from New Jersey to New York City instead of flying home to Toronto, and thus had no expectations of needing a plane to get anywhere.

Brad, a friend of mine that I have known since my flightless childhood, has been working in Connecticut of late, doing the same Monday to Friday flying back and forth between home and work routine that I am quite familiar with. With him in the state just north of New York City, and me in the state just west of New York City, it seemed to make some sense that we planned a meet up in New York City. A date was chosen, hotels were booked and train tickets secured. On Friday, we met up at the Residence Inn Times Square, and set out to see the sites of New York.

2006 08 26..al Park.JPG

In a strange stroke of luck (potentially with some prompting from me), all the suggestions Brad made from things to do were things that I had not done on my previous 5 weekend trips into the city.

Friday night we went to the Top of the Rock – the observation deck of Rockefeller Center for view of the Manhattan skyline at night.

Saturday included a visit to the Museum of Natural History where we wandered around the exhibits of African mammals, Aztec artifacts, sparkly gemstones and scary dinosaurs until they kicked us out at closing.

2006 08 26 F11 T-Rex.JPG

2006 08 26..dallian.JPG

Sunday we ventured out in the rain to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. Luckily, the rain stopped for the hour or so we wandered around Liberty Island, peeking up the skirt of Lady Liberty, and didn’t start up again until we were safely inside the indoor exhibits at Ellis Island.

2006 08 27..Liberty.JPG

2006 08 27..in Hall.JPG

The jumping up and down like a child, though, came early on Saturday at the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum. The Intrepid is an Essex class aircraft carrier, which served in the Pacific during World War Two, did 3 tours of duty in Vietnam, served as the recovery vessel for the Mercury and Gemini space programs and hunted Soviet submarines during the cold war. The boat was retired in 1974, and became the primary platform for the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space museum in 1982. There are a number of exhibits on the ship about both life on board the ship during World War II, and information on the space program. The deck of the ship holds a number of aircraft from various air forces around the world, including a Soviet MiG.

2006 08 26..id Bell.JPG

2006 08 26..-21 PFM.JPG

It was from the deck of the Intrepid that I saw the sight that had me giddy like a 3 year old at the thought of birthday cake. In the back recesses of my mind, I knew that the plane was at the museum, but it had been years since the news stories announcing her arrival, and it wasn’t until I caught site of the white plane sitting on a barge near the end of a pier that I recalled she was at the museum.

It was the Concorde.

2006 08 26..l Plane.JPG

The Concorde, flying at 60,000 feet and powered by four engines, was able to achieve speeds of Mach 2.04, more than 2 times the speed of sound. Scheduled commercial service of the supersonic jets started in 1976. In July of 2000, Air France 4590 crashed immediately after take-off. The supersonic fleet was grounded, and though they came back into service a year later, the drop in passenger levels due to the crash in France and the slow-down in air travel due to the September 11th, 2001 terrorist hijackings led to both Air France and British Airways to decide to retire the planes permanently at the end of 2003.

The plane on display at the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space museum is British Airways G-BOAD, referred to as “Alpha Delta.” Visitors pass underneath the Concorde, allowing good views of the engine housings (the engines have been removed), the landing gear and the underside of the plane. Steps lead up to the entrance at the mid-section of the plane, just forward of the triangle shaped wings. After a view into the aft half of the cabin, visitors walk down the aisle of the forward half of the cabin, separated from the seats by clear Plexiglas. You can get a quick view of the forward service area and into the cockpit, before exiting via the forward door. Visitors then pass under the nose of the plane, which famously tilts downward upon landing to allow the pilots a view of the runway.

2006 08 26..de Wing.JPG

2006 08 26..Cockpit.JPG

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2006 08 26..W Entry.JPG

I’d seen the Concorde in flight (at the Toronto air show) and on the ground (at various airports while taxiing to and from my gate), but I’d never been in one before. It was small and cramped and dim, and wasn’t all that well appointed compared to today’s trans-continental flights with personal entertainment screens, “lie-flat” beds and telephones. Concorde, of course, was fast enough that one didn’t need these things. Heading from London to New York, you could look out the window and see the sunrise IN THE WEST as the plane overtakes the sun, before finally landing at your destination earlier than when you left. At 60,000 feet, you were high enough up that you could easily make out the curvature of the Earth.

But Concorde was much more than just a really fast plane. It was luxury air travel. I can imagine what it must have been like on board, flying from London to New York, sipping champagne and eating off Wedgwood china. It was a chance to forget about the drudgery of air travel. It was an opportunity, if only for a few precious hours, to forget about overcrowded airports, cranky security people and weather delays, and be part of the adventure and glamour of flying. It was the physical embodiment of what the phrase “jet set” conveys: fashion, wealth and privilege beyond the masses.

2006 08 26..Seating.JPG

Now if I want to see the curvature of the earth, I’ll have fly to the edge of space in an old Soviet MiG. That would suffice as being labeled the coolest flight I ever flew.

…Until Sir Richard Branson gets his space plane running.

Posted by GregW 17:13 Archived in USA Tagged tourist_sites air_travel travel_philosophy

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