Monday, January 03, 2005

Home again, home again

My return flight from Seattle went as planned and only slightly late; lost 20 minutes on the last leg due to a late pushback in Atlanta. My trip outbound on the 24th was greatly delayed by a holiday snowstorm in the heartland, which grounded the planes in Cincinnati that were scheduled to pass through Scranton. A savvy booking agent at the Scranton airport (AVP*) was able to arrange the following:

Original Flight: Delta, AVP - ATL - SEA
New routing: US Airways, AVP - PHL; American, PHL - ORD; Alaska, ORD - SEA

Wow! Three airlines, none of them the one I booked. On the upside, I was kicked up into first class for the last two segments. So the day could have gone much worse; many people didn't get out at all that Friday. So I arrived, 9 hours late, and miraculously my checked luggage also arrived an hour later. (It had all the Christmas presents for Gail's nieces and nephew!) I had a grand time in Vancouver with Gail. I met her family, spent a few days with her four nieces and one nephew, caught a cold from one or all of them. *cough cough* I'll have more to write later on the trip.

Since I spend so much time flying "my way", it's always interesting to experience air travel the airline way, and these days that means security. I am amazed at how throughly I was searched each time; patted down, removed belt and shoes, bags unpacked and searched. And they are doing this to nearly every traveler, tens of thousands of passengers each day. I don't enjoy it; I think it is excessive, and intrusive. Air travel in a free society needn't require us all to become suspects.

Traveling commercially also allows me to observe the hardware and practices of airline flying. As an instrument-rated pilot, I know how the various approaches and departures work (all airline flights are considered instrument flights, whatever the weather) but it's interesting to see the heavy equipment at work, and to fly at altitudes far above what I normally see. One of my commercial flights took me to 41,000 feet; the highest I have piloted a plane myself is 11,500. And it was neat to see how effective the de-icing equipment is. On my last flight in last night, on a Canadair Regional Jet, we descended through layered clouds that I knew would produce some ice. I watched the wing from my seat as a quick half-inch of grey ice built up, then I heard the hiss of bleed air as the crew activated the deicing gear; the ice melted off within five seconds, like butter in a hot frying pan. In small planes, airframe ice is a real hazard; for an airliner, it can usually be shrugged off with ease.

And I got to fly on a variety of equipment, fun for an old planespotter. In order, I flew aboard:

US Airways, Canadair Regional Jet CRJ-200
American Airlines, McDonnell Douglas MD-83 (the old DC-9)
Alaska Airlines, Boeing 737-900 (a very stretched Baby Boeing)
Delta, Boeing 767-300 (biggest plane for this trip)
Delta, Canadair Regional Jet CRJ-200

So, all in all I traveled well, but I'm still looking forward to taking the yoke again myself. That's first class.
*The full name, ridiculously, is "The Wilkes-Barre/Scranton International Airport". The airport is in neither town; and why is the name of the smaller town first? Also, there are no international flights available at either of the two gates; it only holds that moniker because of a bored customs agent who is available in case any unscheduled Canucks drop by.