Airport Tales: JR


By Peter Rood – Awaiting Departure, CC BY-SA 2.0,

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.


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

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.


By 颐园新居 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (, 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.


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 You can also follow JR on twitter – @JR_justJR

You Go Girls! Celebrating Women of Aviation

IMG_3117It’s Women of Aviation Worldwide Week and it begs the question: How exactly do you define “of aviation?” People tend to focus on increasing the number of female pilots, which is definitely a worthy cause. But what about female mechanics? Engineers? Ground personnel? Stairs truck drivers?  Being involved in aviation encompasses so much more than just flying!

The Past

You may have heard of Raymonde de Laroche (first woman to receive a pilot’s license) and Amelia Earhart (first woman to fly solo non-stop across the United States) but how many female aviation pioneers can you name whose contributions were made outside the cockpit? Turns out there are bunches of them.  Here are just a few:

 Phoebe Omlie – 1st Female Airplane Mechanic

phoebe_1929Phoebe Omlie was born in Iowa in 1902 and fell in love with aviation as a teen when she saw a fly-over to commemorate a visit from President Woodrow Wilson. She went on to get her pilot’s license and performed as a stunt pilot and wing walker. All of that is really awesome but then she did something which, in my opinion, makes her even more awesome still – in 1927 she became the first female to earn an airplane mechanic’s license!

 Mary Van Scyoc – 1st Female Air Traffic Controller 

Born in Kansas in 1919, Mary went on her first airplane ride at age 16 with Clyde Cessna. (Yes, THAT Cessna!) She went on to get her pilot’s license and later a degree from Witchita University in English and Physical Education. She taught school for a year then, soon after the start of World War II, she saw an ad for Air Traffic Controlers and signed up. In 1942 she began working in Denver tower.  Later she transferred to Witchita and eventually worked in the Cheyenne tower as well. To be fair, a number of women began working in ATC around the same time. Mary is generally credited as the first so she gets the mention, however they’re all amazing. You go girls!

 E. Lillian Todd – 1st Woman to Build an Airplane

toddplane1909Ms. Todd was born in 1865 in Washington DC. As a girl she showed an affinity for mechanics and invention – interests she later attributed to her grandfather’s influence. In 1906 she designed a biplane based on the wings of an albatross, which she had been able to study at the natural history museum.  She was eventually able to build the plane with funding from a benefactor and in 1910 it flew 20 feet.  Are you kidding me with this?  I can’t even build a decent paper airplane, let alone a functioning biplane.  Ms. Todd ROCKS!

 Bessie Dempsey – 1st Female Engineer at Boeing

Bessie started out her professional career as a Vaudeville dancer in California. She went back to school and studied engineering, specializing in aerodynamics. After graduating in the top 10 percent of her class she got a job as an engineer at Boeing, where she worked for 24 years.  So wait… she got to be in a movie with the Marx Brothers (A Night at the Opera) AND she got to work at Boeing?  Wow! Talk about having it all!

1st Woman to Drive a Stairs Truck

Sadly, this pioneering soul has been lost to the annals of history. I am truly devastated.  Whoever she is, I’m sure she relished every moment behind the wheel.

The Future

IMG_3058Last year for Women of Aviation Worldwide Week I rounded up a bunch of teenage girls and dragged them off to an aviation museum. I was a bit uncertain about how the trip would go since none of the girls had expressed any interest in airplanes or aviation. As it turned out, everyone had a really great time.  Here are some things that I learned:

– Inspiration comes in all forms.

– Airplane art is way cool.

– If they can climb in it, on it, under it or around it, they will.  More than once.

IMG_3118– Simulators are AWESOME.

– Rest breaks are important.

– Girls know more than you think.

– They’re open to learning more than you think.

– They’ll notice things you didn’t notice.

– Even if they aren’t interested in becoming pilots, they are quite confident that they COULD be pilots if they want to be.

And that’s really what it is all about.  I don’t know if these girls will go on to pursue careers in aviation, but at least now they know that they can if they want to. Ultimately, the best thing we can do for aviation is to get as many people involved as possible – men and women, young and old, from every corner of the globe and in every facet of the industry. Oh – and letting me drive the stairs truck wouldn’t hurt either.