Airport Olympics

olympic_airlines_airbus_a3003b_sx-bem40gva3b30-12-2006_445no_28428011787729

Photo by Aero Icarus, Zurich Switzerland, Creative Commons

Editor’s note: Hello friends! Just a quick note to encourage you to give a listen to the latest episode of the Aviation Careers Podcast. I was honored to be the special guest discussing careers at the airport. Hope you’ll check it out!

Welcome sports fans! I’m thrilled to be reporting live from the Olympics! I’m sorry… Who? Michael Phelps? Oh no… Not THOSE Olympics! The AIRPORT Olympics!  They go on every day at airports around the world. Let’s go live to the ramp for our first competition!

Synchronized Push-back

IMG_4554Here we see two Southwest airplanes doing their best to “stick the landing” in the synchronized push-back competition. What they are hoping you don’t notice is that one of them actually pushed back one minute before the other. So while they look beautifully synchronized at the moment, the truth is that they actually weren’t synchronized at all. Not even a little bit. As a result the judges had to deduct 9 points (from a 10 point scale). However, the planes were awarded one point each for actually departing on time.

Runway 10,000K

IMG_4610

Waiting for their turn to antagonize competitors

If I can direct your attention to the airfield, it’s time for the start of the Runway 10,000K. This event combines the speed and endurance of a marathon (a really, really long marathon) with the ability to manage pyrotechnics. There’s the starting gun… and there’s a flock of birds! The competitors are sprinting to the approach end of the runway where they will pause and fire the bird cannon. Ah, nicely done! But now the birds are at the departure end of the runway. The competitors are sprinting the 10,000 feet necessary before they can fire their cannons again. This event is going to take awhile – we will check back in a bit later to see how things are going.

the_crowd_in_the_immigration_passage_of_beijing_capital_international_airport

Crowds of athletes preparing for the Gate Dash. Photo by 周一楠 (Own work) Creative Commons

Your-Gate-Is-At-The-Other-End-Of-The-Terminal Dash

The action continues inside the terminal where we see crowds preparing for the “Your-Gate-Is-At-The-Other-End-Of-The-Terminal Dash” (commonly referred to as the “Gate Dash”). This event is a perennial favorite – no matter whether you are entering through ticketing or making a connection, the gate you need is always the gate farthest away from where you happen to be. In fact, you may have participated in this event yourself on your last trip. At my airport this is considered a sprinting event. At other airports, such as Atlanta, it falls under the marathon category.

Luggage Toss

And now it’s back again to the ramp where scores of competitors brave the elements to compete in this well-known event.  It involves IMG_4604grabbing awkward, heavy pieces of luggage and tossing them onto the mobile conveyor. Points are awarded for actually getting them onto the conveyor.  Bonus points are awarded if the bags survive the journey up the conveyor and actually make it into the airplane.  Fail to make the conveyor too many times and hopes for winning this competition are dashed… along with every fragile item inside the suitcases.

Runway 10,000K (part two)

Let’s go back to the airfield for an update.  It looks like the birds have moved over to the other runway now, forcing the athletes to cross the ramp.  Woah!  One of them almost got hit by a suitcase from the Luggage Toss competition! Another had to hurdle over one of the mobile conveyors. It looks like they’ve finally made it safely to the second runway… but wait! The birds have flown back to the first runway again!

security_screening_at_the_denver_airport

Airport gymnasts wait their turn to compete. Photo by By Danpaluska (Own work) [CC0]

Security gymnastics

Inside the terminal its time for everyone’s (least) favorite event: Security Gymnastics! The first competitor steps up to the mat. He’s going to attempt to remove change from his pocket while simultaneously removing his loafers. Although nicely executed, the difficulty level is low which limits the number of points he can be awarded. Now the next competitor steps up to the mat. It looks like she is going to do the exact same routine… but wait! She’s doing it in high heels! And she’s removing a laptop from her carry-on while maneuvering a stroller and carrying a screaming baby! That’s an unbelievable level of difficulty which really maximizes her points potential!

Stairs Jousting

joust

A big thanks to Ken Hoke (Aerosavvy) for recommending this gif!

I saved the best and most daring competition for last! Of course I can only be talking about Stairs Jousting! And if you are looking at the footage, no, that’s not me on the fourth step waving a pitchfork. I don’t know what you are talking about. I disavow all knowledge! Besides, we all know that true Olympic Jousting Masters use STAIRS TRUCKS. Because nothing intensifies competition like horsepower!

Stair Truck Jousting

My trusty stairs-jousting steed.

OSH16 is P.A.S.T.

IMG_4431The last week of July I once again ventured forth to the aviation mecca that is Airventure Oshkosh. My happy place! This was my third year going and every year I’ve stayed longer and done more. (Yet I still missed things I really wanted to do and see. How the heck does that keep happening?) As you might have guessed from the title of this post, P. A. S. T. stands for more than just days gone by. It’s my way of summarizing what Oshkosh means to me.

A is for Airplanes (Yes I’m going out of order.)

IMG_4433OK, EAA – have you been stalking my twitter feed or reading my private diary? (I don’t keep a private diary, so that would be really weird.) The planes on display at this year’s show featured pretty much all of my faves including:

-The C-5 Galaxy
-The A-10 Warthog
-The F-18 Hornet
-An Alaska Airlines 737-900ER
-A Cathay Pacific 747-8 (which I missed because I left the day it arrived)
-More WW II era planes than I ever thought I’d see all in one place

FullSizeRender (49)I walked in, around, under and through as many of these planes as I possibly could. But even better than the planes on the ground were the planes in the air. The F-16 and F-18 demos were spectacular. The aerobatic performers were breath-taking. The Martin Mars water bomber was so unbelievable I just stood there with my mouth open. Team AeroShell in the night show was absolutely gorgeous!

IMG_4434Although it’s nearly impossible to pick a favorite out of all the performances, I’m going to have to give a nod to the Canadian Snowbirds, who put on a show that I struggle to put into words. If the Thunderbirds and Blue Angels demonstrate power, then the Snowbirds demonstrate poetry. Lyrical isn’t typically how I’d describe an air show performance, but it’s the only word that really fits.

P is for People

IMG_4184This year I finally learned why Airventure is often referred to as an aviation family reunion. For me it began with Laura, my travel companion, who is an awesome friend that I hadn’t seen in almost two years. She’s not an #avgeek but she is a photographer who found a ton of material to capture at Osh. She fell in love with the warbirds and their nose art. When we stumbled upon the WWII encampment she was in heaven. Day two of our visit she embarked on a “chicks that rock” campaign whereby she got her picture taken with every female service member she came across.

The reunion theme continued with all the great online IMG_4029friends that I got to meet face to face, many for the very first time. It started on Tuesday at the fabulous Oshbash, hosted by Dan Pimentel and Airplanista. I don’t want to try to list names because I know I’ll leave someone out, but I was almost overwhelmed by all the hugs and friendly faces. This continued through-out the week. One friendly face that I got to see for a second year in a row was Kevin Lacey from Airplane Repo. I told him about my first flying lesson and he encouraged me to get my butt back in a plane for lesson number two.

I also got to meet the entire Canadian Snowbird team. First they impressed me by taking time to join the crowds who were applauding the honor flight veterans. Then they came over to the fence and chatted with everyone while signing posters and posing for pics. They were extremely friendly and open – terrific ambassadors for aviation.

IMG_4438Probably my biggest “people moment” actually involved two complete strangers. The A-10 is one of my very favorite airplanes and although I have seen an A-10 before, I have never gotten to see one fly in person. I just happened to be in a good spot relatively near the flight line when they arrived. I was so excited and overwhelmed that I was in tears. There were a couple of guys there who, instead of thinking I was crazy, totally understood how I felt and talked with me for a bit about why A-10s are so awesome. That moment really epitomizes why I love Osh so very much. Not only am I surrounded by amazing planes, I’m surrounded by amazing people who share a passion for aviation and who understand each other. For at least one week each year I don’t have to explain why airplanes are so cool.IMG_4303

ST is for Stairs Trucks 

You knew I wasn’t going to leave them out! Don’t worry – all the Oshkosh stairs trucks are present and accounted for. But that doesn’t mean I didn’t take every opportunity to get up close and personal with them. I’ve even discovered yet another reason why stairs trucks are awesome – they’re an excellent way to get a birds-eye view of all the airplanes in Boeing Plaza!

OSH17

IMG_4432I never knew four days could go by as quickly as my four days at Airventure 2016 did.  It seemed like we had just arrived when suddenly it was time to say goodbye. And oh how I hate saying goodbye!  Leaving Oshkosh was really, really hard to do.  But a stop by O’Hare for a little plane spotting with a couple of twitter friends sure helped a lot.  And looking ahead to Osh17 helps too.  As Chris Palmer put it on his post-Osh podcast: whatever it is that you love about aviation, Oshkosh has it.  IMG_4440Commercial airplanes? Vintage? GA? Helicopters? Balloons? Yes, yes, yes, yes and YES! So how about it?  Will YOU be at Osh17? Sure hope to see you there!

Special thanks to my Osh16 partner in crime, Laura Kenneson, for walking a million miles on blistered feet, for not laughing when I suggested we stop by O’Hare on the way home and for allowing me to use some of her awesome pictures on this post.  

Also, if you haven’t listened to Airplanegeeks podcast #412, check it out.  Not only does Rob Mark provide an excellent Osh wrap-up, but David Vanderhoof shares his story “Suzy Goes to the Stars” which happens to feature a couple of cameos by a stairs truck with a very familiar name…

 

IMG_4172

 

Airport Tales: Captain Al

 

By RHL Images from England (Busy Holding Points) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia CommonsAnd now, the moment you’ve all been waiting for: the third installment of Airport Tales! This time around we’ve hopped “across the pond” to chat with Captain Al Evans.  Al flies with a major UK airline, but over the course of his career he’s flown pretty much everywhere and has some great stories and insight to share.

__________________________________________________________

Background:

Tell us a little about your background as a pilot, how you got started, what you do now and where your travels typically take you:

Captain AlLike many aviators, my passion for flying came from my Dad. He was and still is an inspiration to me on many levels. Coming from a rural background in wartime Britain his opportunities were limited but he grasped the opportunity to join the Royal Air Force with both hands. He started out as an apprentice radar engineer and showed great promise, not only in his trade but on the rugby pitch (being Welsh and fast he was a natural selection). An unique set of circumstances led to him leaving the air force, unable to fulfill his ambition of transferring to air crew. He had all the skills and acumen but lacked one thing – colour vision! Despite having umpteen Air Force medicals this small hiccup had been undetected, and what’s more, scuppered his current trade as engineer too. After many deliberations the Air Force accepted that they had caused his colour blindness and he left. Many years later, when I was six, my father reignited his passion for flying by undertaking his Private Pilots License (PPL), paid for by my grandmother who very astutely wanted to see her children enjoy their inheritance whilst she was still alive! My dad was a natural and went on to represent Great Britain in Precision Flying and Rallying for many years.

SONY DSC

By Valder137, Creative Commons

As for me the spark was ignited, but when I was old enough flying jobs were as abundant as rocking horse dung. So I fell into other careers: radio presenter, audio engineer, music producer, videotape editor and finally special effects compositor for feature films and commercials. This created the income and one day in a high street newsagent I saw a copy of Pilot magazine and bought it. At the back of the magazine was a full page advert for a UK PPL in 21 days in the Florida sunshine for the grand sum of £1999. The spark turned into a flame and 2 weeks later I started in Ormond Beach, Florida. Part-way through the course I telephoned my dad and told him what I was doing and he said “great, let me know how you get on”. The following week he turned up completely out of the blue on the day of my General Flight Test and congratulated me face to face for my initiative and hard work. For me there was no going back and with my parents backing and support (something they have always given regardless of my plans) the journey to commercial aviation began.

Chuck Yeager, NF-104

Chuck Yeager is a great guy, but sadly he’s not a natural Al. (U.S. Air Force photo)

I completed most of my training in Florida with the odd bit in the UK. I worked exceptionally hard to achieve the required standards and some failures (with the subsequent retests) were necessary but on reflection they made me a better Captain – not everyone is a natural Chuck Yeager!

Having flown in the Caribbean for a while, I returned to the UK and started in the right-hand seat of a Jetstream 41 flying domestic and international flights ostensibly from Cardiff. There is no doubt in my mind that flying a 29 seat turboprop is the perfect way to cut your teeth in European commercial flying, a career route that is fast becoming defunct!

Within the same airline, albeit after a rebrand, I flew the Embraer 145, the Jungle Jet, named after its Brazilian heritage. It was a wonderful aircraft, a junior B757, but it wasn’t well suited to British short runways or crosswinds!

FullSizeRender (48)There was an employment bubble, the world of aviation is cyclical, and I seized the opportunity to join a major player in the UK aviation world. The interview was a chat with two management pilots – no computer tests or HR trickery, and the deal was struck, or at least I thought so! A phone call later gave me an unexpected option Boeing or Airbus? Truthfully one look at the the beautiful A330 made the decision easy and the course date was set. A period of time flying the company A320/1s was required before I could get a go of the Big Bird, that time was quick and the delights of stormy nights in the Greek Islands was soon replaced by stunning visual approaches in the Indian Ocean! I still flew the narrow bodies but my time was mainly A330, it was a wondrous period of my life – I think I got married round about now but I’m not sure!

Command beckoned and a return to narrow body flying became the norm. Being a Captain in an airline that empowers its Captains brings many challenges and joys, but I can truly say not a day goes by where I don’t learn something new and enjoy myself.

Airport stuff

Favorite airport to fly into/out of (in terms of approach/departure) and why:

malc3a9_im_landeanflug

By StromBer (own work) Creative Commons License

My favourite airport of flights past is Malé International in the Republic of The Maldives.  Why? Because after flying for over 10 hours through the night the beauty of the world is presented in a plethora of beautiful colours, as the sandy atolls poke out of the azure waters. The airport itself was a joy and visual approaches were often the norm. The airport has a long tarmac runway and a somewhat shorter water runway. I can honestly say I only ever landed on the long one! The ability to call visual with over two hundred miles to run and hear the gentle squeak of rubber on tarmac as 11 hours clicked over was unforgettable.

Most challenging airport you have flown into/out of and why:

gibraltar-_el_pec3b1c3b3n

By Ayala (Own Work) Creative Commons License

Currently my favourite airport is also one of the world’s most challenging, Gibraltar. A short runway clinging to the side of a rock with sea at each and and no instrument approaches focuses the mind on a regular basis. There is nothing more satisfying than achieving a smooth touchdown after spending many minutes battling with horrible orographically produced winds. Gibraltar often has a tailwind on both ends of the runway!

Biggest airport-related hassle:

IMG_5163

Hey now… that’s a Boeing! How did it sneak in here? Oops! Sorry about that Al!

Security is now part of our lifeblood in aviation but standards vary greatly, not just from country to country but airport to airport. It is time that ICAO mandated that whilst no pilot is perfect, of can of Pepsi in the hands of a pilot is not a security risk. Many pilots these days judge airports more on their practical and common sense approach to the landside/airside transition than more aeronautical related facilities. Some airport genuinely view pilots as part of the problem and not part of the solution! I do not need a 330ml can of Pepsi to cause harm when there is a fire axe on the flight deck and within my reach!

Airport/FBO you’ve been to with the best coffee? Food? Other amenities?

My turnarounds are often short (less than an hour) so my interface with terminals/FBOs is minimal but any handling company that provides free doughnuts gets a thumbs up from me (thank you Calgary)!

Strangest airport-related incident:

catching_a_swarm_of_bees_sj_28769474296229

Virginia State Parks, Creative Commons License

The strangest airport experience I ever had was when I was deadheading from New Dehli to Dabolim (both in India) when we were asked to evacuate the aircraft via the forward doors only. Once outside and fearing the worst we could see what the problem was – a huge swarm of hornets had covered the entire tail section of the aircraft, there must have been millions of them! From the relative safety of an airport bus the fire brigade tried to disperse them by spraying them with water – it didn’t work and the flight was eventually cancelled! I know not what happened to the hornets or indeed the aircraft but I did make it to Dabolim, eventually!

In your opinion, what qualities make for a good airport (as a pilot and as a traveler)?

Emirates 1

Ha ha ha Boeing, very funny. Now cut it out!

As an industry we have faced many challenges in the past 20 years or so, but airports must become more open minded and become ‘user friendly’, nobody likes queues and often they are as a result of poor design and poor implementation. Our customers face huge delays in proceeding landside to airside with little justification. Our airports have become soulless people processors. Once airside opportunities are missed, does your airport offer a choice of full service restaurants? Very few do, favouring a selection of fast food & fast eat options. Not everyone is in a rush! We need to put some soul and passion back into our airports – no more grey or beige corridors please!

If you could operate any piece of airport equipment/vehicle, which would it be?

IMG_4527

Pushback tug. Hey.. wait just a minute! Thought we wouldn’t notice, huh Boeing? Well we did. Now stop it!

I have often mused about taking a pushback tug down to my local pub! No parking spaces? No problem! Some years ago when Milan Malpensa airport opened its new terminal they provided crew with electric scooters to get to the gate – there is nothing more surreal than watching 3 pilots and 14 cabin crew racing down the concourse on scooters!

Is there anything airport staff can do to better support you?

If I could ask airports to provide one thing it would be a courtesy filter, nobody should be allowed at an airport unless they can be courteous. Every week I find myself dealing with rude and disrespectful people and it seems to be getting worse. My industry once led the world in service and style alas no more or perhaps I’m just getting old!

Anything else you’d like to share?

MarkJHandle by Creative Commons

OK Boeing, now you’re just showing off.  Seriously that’s enough! Cut it out! (Photo by MarkJHandel, Creative Commons)

I don’t want to end on a negative so I shan’t! Aviation is a vocation or perhaps the worlds strongest drug – either way it is a truly wonderful industry and not a day goes by when I remind myself how lucky I am. And finally (if you’ve made it thus far thank you) our industry is in good hands for the future as just last night I had the pleasure of meeting Jess. She was one of my cabin crew, and at young age of 19 has embarked on learning to fly. Her commitment and enthusiasm are an aviation viagra to us old pilots.

IMG_5925

Getting better.  Now remove the flag…

So at this point I bid my passengers farewell, my crew adios and my wife and son hello!

Captain Al out.
Captain Al Evans

A320/1 Fleet Manchester (MAN) and Birmingham (BHX)

_______________________________________________________

Yay! Thank you SO MUCH for taking the time to share this with us Al! I completely agree with your observations about some of the challenges facing airports today. And I LOVE your choice of airport vehicle! Of course now I’m going to be sorely tempted to “borrow” the nearest tug next time I plan a night out!

One other interest that Al didn’t mention is his desire to help people who have a fear of flying.  Check out his awesome website: flightfearsolutions.co.uk!

IMG_5975

Ah, there we go!

Blog Post About (Aviation) Podcasts

Author’s note: My apologies for the long delay between posts.  I took ill rather suddenly right after I published my last post.  I required emergency surgery which sidelined me for several weeks.  I am finally on the mend and ready to get back to being an aviation fan-girl running loose at the airport and (of course) blogging all about it.

730px-Microphone_studio

By Zzubnik (Own work) Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

I’ll admit, for a long time I wasn’t a podcast listener. I knew what they were (sort-of) but didn’t figure that there were any out there that would be of interest to me. Boy was I so totally WRONG!!! Beginning last summer I began making a series of long drives back home to visit my ailing father. In search of something aviation-related to listen to while driving I decided to download a few aviation podcasts that had been recommended by friends. Those few led me to others and the next thing I knew, I’d become a regular podcast listener.

What makes podcasts so awesome? Not only do they provide a lot of excellent, detailed information on the world of aviation, but they also come with really wonderful communities of listeners who encourage and support each other. I discussed two of my favorite podcasts in my last post Airplane Geeks and Plane Talking UK. However, there are several other amazing podcasts out there that you really don’t want to miss!

IMG_3607 (1)Airline Pilot Guy

This podcast is hosted by Captain Jeff Nielsen, who flies for a major US carrier. Originally a one-man show, Jeff has since added several co-hosts including Miami Rick, who recently added the 747 to the long list of Boeing airplanes he knows how to fly, Dr Steph, a physician and general aviation pilot, and Captain Nick who flies A330s/A340s for a major UK carrier.  The podcast covers the latest aviation news as well as addressing items of interest and questions sent in by listeners.

Aside from being incredibly informative, the show is just plain fun. Jeff and his co-hosts broadcast live, usually via Youtube, but you can listen to the recorded podcast any time. That said, if you get a chance to watch it live, DO IT! Seriously, the comments and discussion in the chat room in combination with the live podcast are typically completely hilarious. It never fails to lift my spirits. In fact, I always watch the show live and then go back listen to the podcast. I almost always learn something that I missed the first time and I find that I laugh just as much.

One of my favorite episodes: Secret Number Two   Really you could pick just about any episode – they are all great.  However, this is a recent one in which they cover an accident involving a Cirrus SR20 and I thought the discussion was very insightful.

IMG_3608Plane Safety Podcast

This little gem of a podcast is hosted by Pip, a pilot for a European airline. As the name suggests, this podcast focuses on the safety aspects of aviation. Pip discusses many of the day to day issues faced by pilots and airlines, often drawing from current events.  He also has several episodes in which he reviews well-known aviation incidents from the past, points out some of the key contributing factors and highlights how they have influenced the policies and procedures of today. When he isn’t discussing safety, Pip often talks about his latest trip which gives the listener a behind-the-scenes look at what life as a pilot is really like.

One of my favorite episodes: Nats, Brexit and the Millenium Falcon No, I did not pick this because it is the most recent episode (although it is). I chose this because it includes an interview with an experienced First Officer that is the BEST INTERVIEW EVER.  Seriously, check it out.

IMG_3591AviatorCast

Hosted by Chris Palmer, a private pilot and founder of Angle of Attack, this podcast features guests and topics that focus on general aviation and flight training. Chris is passionate about encouraging current and future pilots, and it really shines through in the way he talks about flying.

One of my favorite episodes: My Scariest Pilot Moment I think it takes a lot of guts to share a frightening or difficult moment that you’ve had as a pilot.  I really like that Chris was willing to put this out there so that others can learn from his experience.

IMG_3609Flying and Life

Hosted by Mike, who works for a major US carrier, this podcast gives us a detailed look into the world of an airline dispatcher. I have always wondered just what exactly a dispatcher does, so I really enjoy this podcast and I have learned a lot. For example, did you know that a dispatcher shares operational control with the captain of the flight?  Me either! It is pretty incredible all the things that dispatchers are responsible for.

One of my favorite episodes: Building Routes Part 1 Wow! A lot of thought goes into what route you’ll be flying the next time you head out on vacation!

IMG_3601Some Podcast Regulars You Should Follow:

There are several folks who don’t have podcasts of their own, but often contribute to the podcasts listed above. If you are interested in aviation and/or podcasting, I recommend giving these guys a follow on twitter:

Micah (Airplane Geeks, Plane Talking UK, Airline Pilot Guy): Micah uses his background in radio to submit amazing pieces of audio feedback that are amusing, poignant and never fail to get you thinking.

Captain Al (Plane Talking UK, Plane Safety Podcast, Airline Pilot Guy): Al’s background as a captain with a major UK airline allows him to add valuable experience and perspective on pretty much any aviation topic.

Nevil (Plane Talking UK, Airline Pilot Guy):Nevil is an aviation enthusiast who is also a self-proclaimed analogue recording geek.  Enough said.

IMG_3614

Podcast Supplemental

FullSizeRender (47)I’m not typically a big fan of Mondays. Sure I love my job and where I work but like any other Monday-through-Friday employee, I often find Mondays pretty tough to take. However, this past Monday two really awesome things happened, both of them involving podcasts.

The first thing had to do with the incredibly cheerful and totally fun Plane Talking UK Podcast. Carlos and Matt cover the week’s news in aviation (both civil and military) plus they usually have a guest (or two). They also read emails and play audio feedback submitted by their listeners. I was listening to Episode 115 on my way to work but thank goodness I had parked before the feedback section came on because the first piece of feedback really blew me away.

IMG_3211It was from Jennifer Parkinson, also known as “Jenny in Rome.” She had sent in audio feedback about how her husband had suggested an aerial tour of Rome for her birthday. She went on to say that she had recently read a blog post about a discovery flight and it inspired her to get flying lessons instead. Imagine my shock when she stated that the blog post was mine! (Mooney Over My House) When I first started this blog I didn’t know if anyone would even read it, let alone that it might inspire someone to give flying a try. I am truly humbled and oh so very pleased! I wish Jenny all the best and look forward to hearing all about her lessons!

AirplaneGeeks-banner-960x125The next awesome thing happened Monday night when I was invited to be a guest on the Airplane Geeks Podcast. In the pantheon of aviation podcasts, this one is right up at the top. I can’t tell you what a tremendous honor (and, quite frankly, surprise) it was to be asked. My first thought was, do these guys have any idea what they’re getting themselves into? My second thought was, boy I hope I can form a coherent sentence! And my third thought was, I have GOT to find a way to bring stairs trucks into the conversation.

Well I don’t know if I managed to speak very coherently, but I did manage to discuss stairs trucks. And we talked quite a bit about airports and what goes on behind the scenes. However, there was one question that I was unable to answer regarding where the airport gets its statistics on passenger travel. Well that just won’t do! So I did some asking around and here’s what I found out:

IMG_3203The information comes from the Department of Transportation. They take a sampling of passenger tickets (around 10%) and publish the data quarterly. The airport uses a software program which analyzes the information and makes it easier to dig in to. The data is apparently quite detailed and includes not only the point of departure and destination but connections, ticket prices, the airlines and even historical trends. Because the information is several months old by the time it is published, the airport will also look at trends in the community (what businesses are adding jobs or have moved into the area, etc.) to get an idea of whether demand for certain routes is growing.

FullSizeRender (46)Oh and in case you are wondering, yes my dad really did throw away the TV when I was in 6th grade and we didn’t have another in the house for 11 years.  Well, except for a tiny little TV that one of my brother’s friends gave him.  We hid it in his toy box and would get it out on Thursday nights when my parents worked late. The reception was terrible and we only got one channel but watching Magnum PI was a tradition with us until the little TV died.  Shhhh – don’t tell my parents!

(Pssst – the podcasts mentioned in this post are just two of several really awesome podcasts that I enjoy. Stay tuned – in the next post I’m going to cover a few others that you don’t want to miss!)

IMG_3209

For The Love of Plane Spotting

http://flyingandlife.com/

Photo by Mike Karrels: http://www.flyingandlife.com

As the weather has gotten warmer I’ve seen more and more people taking the time to walk to the end of the parking garage and check out the action on the airfield. Some just take a quick peek before heading inside the terminal. Others stick around for quite a while, admiring the airplanes and taking pictures.  Sometimes I’ll stop and chat with them. One man in particular stands out in my memory.  He hadn’t been to the airport in a long time and he had lots of questions about the airlines, the airplanes, airport operations and even the airport’s history.  I gave up my entire lunch break to chat with him.  At the end of our conversation the man expressed regret that he hadn’t come to the airport more often. It got me thinking about the people who DO come to the airport often not because they have to, but because they want to – the plane spotters.

Plane Spotting?

Let’s start with the basics: what exactly IS plane spotting? I posed that question to aviation fans on twitter and here are some responses that I think sum it up pretty nicely:

FullSizeRender (37)

FullSizeRender (38)

FullSizeRender (40)

Of course some of them had to be smart alecs:

FullSizeRender (44)

And pilots have a slightly different take:

FullSizeRender (43)

But for me, this tweet really says it all!

FullSizeRender (39)

Plane spotters are people who are passionate about airplanes. They look up whenever a plane flies over. They like to visit aviation museums and attend air shows. And they love to spend time at airports. It doesn’t have to be a special occasion.  It doesn’t even have to be a nice day. (Have you watched an airplane take off in the rain? It’s pretty darn awesome!)

So now that we know what plane spotters are and what they do, why do they matter?

IMG_3009

Photo by Lew Wiezorek  http://www.wkpix.com

Airport Ambassadors

I know it seems hard to believe, but airports are often not very popular with the communities that surround them. Among other things, they are thought of as loud and bad for the environment. Having a good relationship with the neighbors is a major challenge for pretty much every airport .  Enter the plane spotters. Guess who loves airports and happens to live in the local community? You guessed it!  Guess who likes to share their pictures and are happy to talk about airplanes and aviation with pretty much anyone who will listen? Yup!  Plane spotters are natural community ambassadors for their local airports.

IMG_3011

Photo by Andrew Stricker

An Extra Set of Eyes

Even the best police departments cannot have officers everywhere at all times.  To deal with this, many communities have established neighborhood watch programs which encourage neighbors to watch out for each other and to contact the authorities to report anything suspicious.  Airports face a similar challenge.  Even with patrols and security cameras it is impossible to watch every inch of the airfield 24 hours a day.  As a result it doesn’t hurt to have an extra set of eyes on the airfield in the form of plane spotters. They tend to be familiar with airport operations and are likely to notice if something is amiss.

DanPPic1

Photo by Dan Pimentel: http://www.Airplanista.com

Weather eyes on the sky

My airport recently hosted a weather spotting training for employees which was run by the National Weather Service. Yes, airports have a lot of weather equipment on the premises, but that equipment can only provide information about what is currently happening in the area where it is located. Trained spotters are needed to assess the surrounding conditions and make a determination about whether dangerous weather might be imminent.  Hmmm… who spends a lot of time outside staring at the sky? Ah yes, plane spotters!  I don’t know the percentage of plane spotters who are also weather spotters, but I know there are at least a few who are both.

http://www.wkpix.com/index

Photo by Lew Wiezorek http://www.wkpix.com

Creating future avgeeks… and pilots!

Ask a pilot how they became interested in aviation and a good number of them will tell you that they loved to watch the planes at their local airport when they were children. These days kids don’t get many chances to marvel at all the fascinating things going on over the airfield fence. Unless, of course, someone takes them to the airport and lets them see for themselves.  The same holds true for a lot of adults as well.  How many people might become interested in aviation if given a chance to get to know more about it?  And if there is one thing airplane spotters like to do (besides watch airplanes) its talk about airplanes and share the plane spotting experience with anyone who is interested.

If you build it, they will come!

There’s no doubt about it – keeping airports safe for travelers is a major challenge. For a lot of airports this means more security personnel and fences, which often does not translate into a very welcoming environment.  Some airports, however, have found ways to be more spotter-friendly.  Charlotte Douglas Airport in North Carolina has an awesome overlook park  located near the center runway. I spent some time there last fall and loved it.  Can’t wait to go back with my camera!  Minneapolis St. Paul recently opened a new observation area and although I have never been, it is on my list of places I’d like to visit – if for no other reason than to thank the airport for creating it! (Oh, and to take pictures too, of course!)

IMG_2975What one little spotter can do

As you may know, I have a reputation for being “the office aviation enthusiast” – the one who actually cares about the airplanes outside the window and who spends time looking at them and taking pictures.  Are my plane spotting ways starting to rub off on my non-avgeek coworkers? Hard to say, but when two T-38s taxied by the department window recently, two of my coworkers ran by me with their phones out saying, “We’re going outside to take pictures!” I’m going to call that progress!

You know you want to!

If you are interested in aviation and aren’t a plane spotter already, I encourage you to take the plunge! If you can link up with other spotters they will happily show you the best viewing areas. Just remember to carry your id with you and be courteous to others, (especially airport security). Want more information? Here are some resources:

NYC Aviation – what is plane spotting

NYC Aviation – spotter guides

SpottersWiki – spotting guides for locations around the world

Flightline Aviation Media – spotter guides and more 

Special thank you to…

I want to give a special shout-out to Andrew Stricker, Cynthia Drescher, Dan Pimentel, David Vanderhoof, Jeffrey Roeher, Lew Wiezorek, Mark Lawrence, Mike Karrels, Owen Hewitt, Rob D and Steve Knopf for contributing quotes/photos for this post.  If you aren’t already following these guys on twitter, do it now! You won’t regret it!

DanPPic2

Photo by Dan Pimentel: http://www.airplanista.com

The Next Firsts

IMG_2775You may recall a while back I wrote about some of the exciting first experiences I had when I started my job over a year ago – first time hearing the bird cannon, first time walking out on the ramp, etc. Well it has taken some time but I finally have another collection of firsts to share.

Single Runway Operations

At the beginning of April the airport closed the north runway for resurfacing. This is an involved process that is going to take a good six months to complete.  During that time we are a one-runway airport. The closure was timed to coincide with the end of winter and the arrival of spring.  So guess what happened the day after the runway closed?  You guessed it – we got snow!  Snow ops with a single runway can be something of a challenge.  Normally we’d land planes on one runway while the other was being plowed and then switch.  Obviously that isn’t an option when there is only one runway. Fortunately the snow was light and the only real issue was moving everyone through the deicing pads.IMG_2779

Single Runway Operations… and a Bird Strike

When you only have one runway to work with, even routine things become more of a challenge. Obviously you can’t do maintenance on or mow around an active runway, so all that has to be done in the middle of the night when there aren’t any scheduled landings. The operations department did quite a bit of planning to try to prepare for as many potential problems as possible, including what to do if the remaining runway ever has to be closed. The hope, of course, was that the plans wouldn’t be needed.  And those hopes were dashed in the second week when a bird strike forced the runway to be closed for 20 minutes to allow crews to clean up debris.  During that time at least four flights had to divert to alternate airports. In a truly extreme situation, however, the airport could land airplanes at the cargo airport instead.  It is only a few minutes away and more than big enough to handle the traffic.IMG_2736

First Aborted Take-Off

I have seen quite a few missed approaches in the last 17 months, but it wasn’t until just a couple weeks ago that I got to witness my first aborted take-off. The airplane involved was a small business jet.  It came from a hangar located on the northwest side of the airfield, which is about as far away from the south runway as it is possible to be.  I was actually checking out the construction on the north runway when I first spotted the airplane taxing along the length of the airfield and I continued to watch as it made the journey all the way to 28L.  I remember thinking what a hassle it must be for them to have to taxi such a long distance.  At last they were cleared for take-off.  I watched them line up, heard the engines spooling up, saw the plane start to go and then… nothing.  Instead of accelerating they throttled back.  It was incredibly un-dramatic.  Of course then they had to taxi all the way back to their hangar again. Ouch!IMG_2780

A Soldier Comes Home

One afternoon in late March my coworker called out that there was a hearse parked on the ramp next to one of the gates. I got up to look and saw that not only was there a hearse, but also a number of soldiers in dress uniform. This could mean only one thing – a fallen service member was coming home. As we waited for the plane carrying the casket to arrive, I saw the ground crews form a line next to the hearse where they waited in silence.  In the meantime, pretty much everyone in my department had gathered as well.  We stood in a line along the glass hallway looking out at the ramp. Everyone got very quiet when the American MD-88 pulled up.  IMG_2776

The pilots and a military representative disembarked the plane and stood together by the ground crews.  Then the airplane’s cargo hold was opened and the casket was handed out.  During this time, no one got off the plane, none of the ground crew moved and neither did anyone in the hallway.  We all stood in silence, watching as the honor guard lifted the casket and placed it into the hearse.  I have never, ever heard my department so quiet.  Not a single one of us moved a muscle until the hearse pulled away. It was an incredibly somber and powerful thing to witness. Even though none of us had any idea who the soldier was, quite of number of us were in tears.  I was proud to see how many people stopped what they were doing and took the time to honor a fallen hero.FullSizeRender (35)

First visit to the Communications Center

My first visit to the Communications Center happened totally by chance. I had to deliver some papers to one of the admins in the Public Safety department and I brought along my new coworker who hadn’t been to that department before. The admin gave us a quick tour of the offices, the police lockers, the interrogation room and the holding areas.  Then she asked if we would like to see the Comm Center.  Would I? Are you kidding me?!?!  In my mind I had always envisioned a room filled with monitors that were constantly flickering as they switched from camera to camera… and I was not disappointed because that is exactly what it looked like.

IMG_2781

One of the airport K-9s

As you know, airports have TONS of cameras everywhere. The Comm Center monitors the cameras for all three of our airports. We recently installed digital cameras at the passenger airport and let me tell you – they are crystal clear.  I asked one of the technicians on duty how well they could zoom in. She proceeded to show me by zooming in on a table in the food court. I could see pretty much every drop of moisture on the table and read the words on a discarded food wrapper.  Wow!

While we were checking out the monitors I noticed a buzzer kept going off periodically. The tech explained that every time someone attempts to open a secure door without scanning their credentials, it sets off the buzzer. The techs then have to check out the situation and follow up if necessary.  The Comm Center fields most of the incoming calls to the airport’s general number so they get stuck answering questions about where to park, how to get to the airport and if flights are delayed. They also field calls from the various emergency phones installed around the airport, as well as handle emergency communications during a crisis.  The most common call they get on the emergency phones? People calling from the parking lot to ask when the next shuttle will be there to pick them up.  Doh!

FullSizeRender (36)

This mouse’s last flight

My First Flight

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about my first flight, which I wrote about in my last post. It was quite an eye-opening experience for me in many ways.  It occurred to me that there really aren’t that many people in this world who can say they have flown a plane.  For example, neither of my parents have done it, nor any of my grandparents, nor my aunts, uncles, or cousins, or even my brother.  I guess that makes me the first one in my family to give it a try.  I haven’t scheduled that second lesson yet… but I find myself thinking about it.

In the meantime, I’m looking forward to the next round of firsts, which should include the return of an airline that hasn’t flown out of my airport in a couple of years, two new K-9s and potentially (hopefully!) a visit to check out some simulators.  Stay tuned!

IMG_2799

Mooney Over My House

Did you hear about the state-wide TFR that was issued last Saturday? Did you hear they brought in the National Guard and evacuated the streets? Did you hear they put a special NTSB go-team on stand-by? OK, so none of that really happened. But it should have. Because THIS happened:

IMG_2335 (2)

Yes, you are seeing that correctly. Someone was crazy enough to let me take the controls of an airplane while it was in the air. How on earth did this happen?

Let me start with a confession. Until this past weekend, I had never been up in a small plane before. Heck, I haven’t even flown commercially in ages. And to be honest, I’ve never had any desire to be a pilot. Yet somehow I found myself pulling up at a small municipal airport on a gorgeous sunny day looking for a CFI named Greg who clearly didn’t know what he was getting himself into.

Then again, maybe he did. He was smart enough to be based at an airport with no stairs trucks, plows or broom trucks to distract me. But what it did have was a nice 5,000 ft runway and lots of very cool airplanes sitting around. Among them, his Mooney:

IMG_2325

I complimented Greg on his lovely airplane and told him how much I appreciated his willingness to take me up in it, however I felt he should know that that there was absolutely NO WAY I was going to fly it. He just laughed and asked if I knew anything about the physics of flight. He then proceeded to talk about the wings and lift and other related topics, at which point I knowingly nodded my head and said, “Ah yes, Delta P.”

IMG_2330Apparently he doesn’t listen to the Airline Pilot Guy podcast because he made no comment. Instead he ignored my fit of giggles and handed me a checklist. He pointed to the walk-around items and told me to read them out loud. So I read the checklist and we walked around the airplane, examining each thing on the list.

After that it was time to climb in and get ready to go. He helped me with the door and my headset and went over a few safety procedures. He also pointed out the attitude, altitude and speed indicators, along with a few other items on the instrument panel.

IMG_2296 At this point I piped up, “Before I drove here this morning I reviewed the airport map, the sectional chart and checked the weather. Winds are out of the south at 4 knots. I presume we’ll be using runway 28 today. Can you tell me how the Class C airspace around the pax airport will affect our flight?” I think he might have been just a little relieved to discover that although I’m rather silly, I’m actually not completely clueless. He confirmed that we would, in fact, be using 28 and that we would stay in the proper altitudes to work around the Class C airspace.

I think everything got real for me when he fired up the prop, we listened to ATIS and taxied out to the runway. There was another plane on approach but it was several miles out. Greg announced our intentions to back-taxi to the end of the runway, turn around and take off. As we pulled onto the runway I confirmed that we were, in fact, on 28. I also looked to make sure the runway was clear of traffic.

IMG_2303It was at this point Greg said, “OK, we’re ready for take off.  Are you ready to fly the plane?” Um… what? Wait – remember that whole “I’m not flying this plane” thing? Yeah, I wasn’t kidding! I was just about to remind him of this but the next thing I knew we were accelerating down the runway and then we lifted up and I saw the ground gracefully fall away beneath us and at that point I pretty much forgot everything else. Oh. My. God. We’re FLYING!!!

It’s really difficult to find the right words to describe flying in a small plane for the first time. It was incredibly amazing, incredibly awe-inspiring, incredibly beautiful. And, to be honest, just the teensiest bit nerve-wracking – at least at first. It was not an especially windy day, but there was a little turbulence as we flew out over the nearby reservoirs. Greg explained the flow of air around the surface of the earth, how it rises and falls around the terrain, like water in a stream. He then climbed the plane to 4,000 feet and I immediately noticed how much calmer it was.

IMG_2337If my instructor had any flaws it would have to be that he was really good at ignoring my protests. No matter how many times I told him I was NOT going to fly his plane, he somehow got me to make some gentle turns as well as climb and descend. We flew east and then turned south to fly over my neighborhood. I was surprised to find it didn’t take too long for me to recognize where we were. We circled around and I was clearly able to see my house, my yard, the neighbors’ houses… Hey! I didn’t realize those guys had such a big swimming pool!

IMG_2394Visibility was amazing. I looked out and could see not only the pax airport, where I spend so much of my time, but also the cargo airport and the GA airport – and at least one other airport as well. The sight of all those airports was actually rather comforting. It was nice to know there were so many places to land if we needed them.

After checking out my house we turned north and west, heading back to the airport. Greg briefly discussed the airport traffic pattern, but he knew that I already understood how it worked so he turned his attention to completing the pre-landing check list. It was at this point that he asked if I was ready to do the landing. This was the first thing that flashed through my mind:

FullSizeRender (29)

Um… he’s kidding, right? Just to be safe, I put my foot down (not literally since both feet were resting lightly on the rudder pedals) and said “I am absolutely NOT landing this plane!!!!” It was pretty clear that Greg was just having a little fun with me because this time he accepted my protests and handled the landing – which was, of course, very nicely executed.

IMG_2392We taxied to the ramp, parked the plane and we both climbed out. My first thought upon putting my feet on the ground was… wait a minute… did I just fly an airplane??? Oh holy cow I DID!!!! I just flew a freaking airplane!!!! I looked around thinking for sure the FAA or the NTSB would he there to haul me away, but nope.

For those of you wondering about motion sickness (which was my biggest concern going into all this), I felt fine while we were flying. After we landed, however, some queasiness set in. Fortunately it passed after ten or fifteen minutes.

IMG_2399Still trying to wrap my mind around everything that happened, I gave Greg a very sincere thank you. Not only was he good teacher with the patience of a saint, but he managed to get me to fly his plane despite my adamant assertions that it wasn’t going to happen.

His last act was to hand me a log book which he had filled out detailing my very first lesson. He reminded me to take the log book with me any time I fly with an instructor so I can keep track of the hours. I laughed because of course I have no intention of becoming a pilot.

But then again…

FullSizeRender (30)

Aviation Items I Should NOT Be Allowed To Buy

One of the benefits of being the only aviation enthusiast in the office is that when the department admin goes through the mail and finds aviation magazines or catalogues, she very kindly passes them on to me. I, of course, take them home where I go through them cover to cover.  And then recently I happened to come across an advertisement to buy this:

Follow Me

Wait wait wait… Hold on a moment… I can just BUY “Follow Me” stickers and a flag? Are you KIDDING me??? Do you have any idea the amount of trouble I could get into with those? I mean I could walk out the door, “borrow” the nearest ops vehicle and spend the rest of my day merrily leading large aircraft around in circles.

First Officer: Tower, we’re declaring a fuel emergency.
Tower: But… you landed an hour ago!
First Officer: Yes, but the Follow Me truck has taken us three times around the airport to six different gates!
Tower: This airport doesn’t have a Follow Me truck!

Naturally I began to wonder, what other reasonably priced aviation items are out there that I should not under any circumstances ever be permitted to purchase? Imagine my shock to discover quite a few things!

airport-runway-light-table-lamp-desk-lamp-4

Runway/Taxiway Lights: OK, so these aren’t exactly cheap. However, if I budget very carefully (and if I win the lottery) I could conceivably purchase quite a few of these.  I’m convinced that EVERYTHING goes better with runway lighting!  I’d be setting up runway lights everywhere I go.  People would always know where I am at any given time.  At home? Yep, runway lights up the driveway and in the back yard.  Camping? Runway lights around the tent. In fact, I’m pretty certain I would put runway lights EVERYWHERE.  You can see where this could become a problem:

Captain: We have the airport in sight.  No, wait… actually that’s Jenn’s house.

Marshalling Wands

Marshalling Wands: I’ve discussed in other posts about the trouble I could get into with marshalling wands. There would be airplanes awkwardly positioned random distances from gates all around the airport.  However, the mayhem wouldn’t stop there. I’ve discovered a host of other places where marshalling wands could be useful (and by “useful” I mean totally not useful at all) including:

– marshalling runners across the finish line at the local marathon.

– marshalling equipment at the nearest construction site.

– marshalling fashion models up and down the runway. (I wouldn’t want them to knock over any of the runway lights. Put there by me, of course.)

– marshalling cats. Hahahaha!  Just kidding!  Everyone knows cats cannot be marshalled.

magnetic FOD sweeper

Magnetic FOD sweeper: Thank you so much aviation supply website! I had never heard of this piece of equipment before, but now that I have I am convinced I can’t live without it. I mean look at it!  Can’t you just see me wheeling that sucker around the ramp, sweeping up all those metal bolts and screws that I scattered around earlier in the day for the sole purpose of using the FOD sweeper? Three words: Oh. Hell. Yes.

Plane Skate

Plane Skate: I have no idea what the heck this is, but it just looks really cool, doesn’t it? Apparently it is used to move disabled aircraft.  I’m betting I could use this on parked aircraft as well.  Oooh! Just imagine the fun I would have rearranging the ramp parking area! No, not for functionality – for asthetics! We can’t have clashing aircraft parked together! “Let’s move the Cessna over there and park it next to the Bell helicopter. Hmmm… no, that just doesn’t look right.  Those colors do NOT work together.  Move the Cessna over there and let’s put the Piper next to the Bell. Oh yes, much better.  Now let’s put the Gulfstream on the other side…”

flyingpig

Windsock: OK, so most airports have far more sophisticated methods of measuring wind speed and direction. But that would not stop me from stringing unorthodox windsocks all around the airport. Because let’s be honest, where would you rather get your wind information from  – ATIS or the flying pig?

STOP THE PRESSES!!!

In my quest for aviation equipment I shouldn’t be allowed to have I came across the convention I shouldn’t be allowed to attend!

THE INTERNATIONAL GROUND SUPPORT EXPO!!!

IMG_2144

Let me get this straight… they have an entire convention dedicated to ground support equipment? Are you freaking serious? And they are having it in Las Vegas! Have I died and gone to heaven??? Why the heck wasn’t I told of this sooner??? Probably because the organizers of the event have been desperately trying to keep it on the down-low in the hope that I wouldn’t find out about it. And also because they know I would have to point out a rather glaring deficiency in their otherwise excellent promotional photo. Can you find it?  That’s right! WHERE IS THE STAIRS TRUCK? How can you promote what must surely be the most excellent expo of all expos and fail to include the most excellent vehicle of all ground support vehicles?  If ever there was an event I absolutely should not be allowed to attend, it’s this!  Paradoxically, if ever there was an event that truly NEEDS me, it’s this.  And on that note, I’m off to set up a Go Fund Me account to help cover travel expenses! Your donations are appreciated. See you in Las Vegas!

viva las vegas

By PeterDandy (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Airport Tales: JR

Awaiting_Departure_(8194430704)

By Peter Rood – Awaiting Departure, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=24301274

It’s time for another installment of Airport Tales, where seasoned travelers share some of their favorite (and not so favorite) moments from airports around the world.  Next up is Jeffrey Roehr, better known as JR.  He has racked up at least a bazillion miles (that’s the official number) jetting to various corners of the globe.  Seriously, if a mere mortal were to attempt to match his distance record, he/she would have to start traveling today and continue on for… well, practically forever!  As you might imagine, JR knows a lot about a lot of different airports and he has some pretty interesting tales to tell.


Background:

Tell us a little about yourself, how you got the travel bug and give us an idea of where your travels have taken you (locations, miles, etc). 

George Bush Airport 1

By DearEdward from New York, NY, USA CC BY 2.0 http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0

My name is Jeff, but everyone calls me JR. During my life I have lived in 7 different states, and overseas in the UK, Singapore, and Taiwan. I am 56 years old and have been married 29 years to a wonderful lady. I love to laugh, and I try (I try!) to get along with everyone. However this specifically excludes you if you start kicking my seat halfway between Houston and Tokyo, or if I ever see you giving a flight attendant or a gate agent a hard time.

I started my international traveling in 1970 when our family moved to the UK, and the travel bug bit me hard as a teenager with weekend trips from the UK to all sorts of cool places in Europe. By now, I can count visits to over 40 countries with an estimated 6,000 hours in the air as a passenger. In terms of total travel I have documented over 2.5 million actual air miles, including 1.2 million just on United. Just for fun, I also have a WordPress website with some of my travel experiences/tales, tips, and tricks. http://www.paxview.wordpress.comMillion Mile3

Airport stuff:

Favorite airport to fly into/out of (in terms of approach/departure) and why:

I do not think there is any finer approach to see than SFO, and that left-turn and bank just in front of the Golden Gate bridge on a bright and sunny winter morning after finishing a TransPac flight. It is just the nicest way possible for America to say “Welcome Home” (although I still have hours of flying ahead). Yes, the DCA approach is also nice and scenic, but it is not SFO.

Prettiest airport and what criteria did you use to make that decision?

Probably like everyone else who has been there, I am going to say Singapore/Changi. And unless you have been there, it is so hard to describe. Yes, they really do have indoor butterfly gardens. Yes, indoor amusement park. Yes, waterfalls, trees, gardens. Yes, a 6 story high open atrium. Yes, smiling friendly staff, great shopping, and so clean… They even have a Dunkin Donuts in Changi (I mean talk about perfection)

Favorite airport to visit (in terms of facilities) and why:

Surprise!!! Not Changi. And I only say that because I have seldom (never ?) used any facilities at Changi other than the SQ Silver-Kris lounge. I do love Narita, the stores there are fun, but the best overall facilities might actually be in Hong Kong (the new airport). Special mention goes to the somewhat hidden casino in Frankfurt (FRA).

PWM chairsIn your opinion, what qualities make for a good airport?

Let me start with what is bad… Tight, cramped, dirty, noisy, smelly, dark & dingy, too crowded. (Yes La Guardia, I’m talking about you…) So when I find an airport that feels roomy, is bright and well lit, is not annoyingly noisy (no echoes) and is not too crowded… Love it. There are several that fit that description, but here in the USA they are all small airports. Among them are T.F. Green in Providence R.I. (PVD), Greensboro N.C. (GSO), and my former hometown airport of Portland Maine (PWM) where they even provide wooden rocking chairs by sunny gates.

Pappa'sAirport you’ve been to with the best coffee? food? Other amenities? Best coffee is tough. I am going to exclude Starbucks and Dunkin Donuts at any airports, since they are so universal. I do not remember the name of the restaurant, but it was in Zurich, and it was the best tasting cup of coffee I have ever had at an airport. So it’s Zurich airport for coffee. Food is a toss-up tie between Legal Seafoods in Boston (Logan BOS Term C), and here in my new hometown with Pappadeaux’s seafood in Houston (Bush IAH Term E).

Strangest airport-related incident: It was 1999, I was flying from Singapore to Jakarta (my first time going to Jakarta) to meet my sister and her family who had recently moved there. Coming out of immigration, I see her, but her back is facing me. So I start to rush forward with my arms outstretched to give her a big surprise hug. About 2 paces away from her I am intercepted and stopped cold by her bodyguard, complete with his pistol jabbed into my ribs. Welcome to Indonesia.

Beijing_Capital_International_Airport_Terminal_1_Baggage_Claim_Hall_20140329

By 颐园新居 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Best airport-related moment: Anytime I finish a flight and I see my wife waiting to pick me up. Second best is if I have luggage and I win the baggage claim lottery after an International flight because my bag is first off. Fun game – only played by very seasoned Frequent Fliers.

Worst airport-related moment: Three weeks after 9/11, I am doing a hand carry of some new silicon wafers from our test facility in Boston to an assembly house in Korea (BOS-FRA-ICN). I have all the paperwork I need, the name of the customs broker to meet up with in Incheon (ICN), and the wafers are carefully packaged inside a hermetic carrier. Problem is… all the instructions are in English and nobody at Korean customs appears able to read English. And they don’t understand my reaction when they try to open the container. End result was two rifles and a pistol being pointed at me while someone else was screaming at me in Korean. I ended up with a Korean soldier’s knee pressed into my back, keeping me face down and immobile on the floor.

JetlaggedEasiest airport to navigate and why? Domestically, I think SFO has done a great job since they remodeled back in the 90’s. Orlando’s MCO is also really easy to get around in, and the short train ride is actually a nice feature. At both airports there is a good amount of walking, but they have gone to lengths to add in some entertaining features (Yes, I mean the stores in Orlando) and good signage. The ever changing ‘museum’ exhibits in SFO on the walk between security and the gates are actually fun, I often bypass the moving walkway so I can wander through.

Most difficult airport to navigate and why? Ohhh boy… This is not easy. I have never liked trying to connect in JFK from International to Domestic, so much so that I have avoided JFK for the past 15 years. Completely 100% avoided it. It’s just a nightmare. When considering only domestic flights, it is Chicago ORD – which is probably my least favorite airport anywhere. If you ever run the mile needed to connect from a late arriving regional jet at terminals E/F to catch an on-time International flight out of terminal C, you will know why I hate ORD so much.

What’s your best advice for travelers on navigating airports? First: Calm down. Seriously. Calm Down! It seems like every trip I watch somebody just losing their mind in an airport. Stop. Take a breath. Look around. Even ask someone, there are plenty of airport workers and security/police around. Most of them actually like to help. It is not rocket science. Second advice is travel light. Don’t try to get thru security and navigate an airport with a tight connection on a busy day while carrying too much. That is asking for trouble and stress. Pack light, wear comfortable shoes (NOT slippers or sandals), and you will move fast and easy thru every airport.

ThisWayIs there anything airports can do to better assist travelers? It sounds silly, and obvious, but SIGNS. In some cases there are too many, too distracting, too much to read. In other airports there are too few, or they are too small, and you easily can head away from a gate in the wrong direction. If I could design an airport, as you walk out of every gate there would be a BIG RED ARROW pointing either left or right so you know which way to the exit and/or baggage claim.

If you could operate any piece of airport equipment/vehicle, which would it be? Any piece? Any?? The planes of course!! But there are these very strict & annoying laws, rules, and regulations that are in place to stop that. Confession; Frank Abagnale is my airport idol.

DreamWorks


Wow!  Thank you SO MUCH for sharing your stories and expertise with us JR!  I have made a note to never, ever, ever carry wafers (silicon, Necco, or any other kind) into Korea! Yikes! If you want to read more of JR’s stories you’ll definitely want to check out his blog at paxview.wordpress.com. You can also follow JR on twitter – @JR_justJR