Observing places, people and planes is part of the job
Almost by definition, half of every delivery flight I make is on an airliner. I’ve been able to dovetail ferry flights to and from the same destinations a total of once in nearly 30 years of delivering airplanes.
Most recently, I delivered David Gardner’s Cessna 421C from Reykjavík, Iceland, to Waco, Texas, by way of the usual milk-run route through Narsarsuaq, Greenland; Goose Bay, Canada; and Bangor, Maine. That meant two airline flights, the first from Los Angeles to Chicago, Chicago to London, and on to Reykjavík and the second home to Los Angeles from Dallas at the conclusion of the trip.
The actual ferry portion of the trip was probably the easiest aspect of the delivery. I arrived in Reykjavík about midnight, slept for a few hours and was in the air, headed for Greenland the following morning at 8:30. Weather in Reykjavík was typical for mid-July, brisk and overcast with ice in the clouds. Iceland is one of the most beautiful destinations on the North Atlantic, but the atmospherics are nothing if not changeable. Weather can transition from severe-clear to 500 to blowing snow in little more than an hour.
This was my second try at delivering Gardner’s 421. The owner and I plus fellow pilot Steve Minar had picked up the airplane at Biggin Hill outside London in mid-June, made a stop in Wick, Scotland, for fuel and gone on to Reykjavík. We had stayed over in Iceland the following day, June 21, the summer solstice, the longest day of the year and a holiday in Greenland. We tried to leave on the 22nd, but the winds weren’t willing, blowing about 35 to 40 knots on the nose on the route through Narsarsuaq and Goose Bay. The usual hedge of flying the shorter legs through Kulusuk and Sondre Strom Fjord, Greenland, and Iqaluit, Nunavit, Canada, wasn’t possible, as both Kulusuk and Iqaluit had run out of avgas. After three days of waiting, we huddled with the forecaster, determined that the trend looked the same for the next week or so and elected to fly home on the jet.
A month later, the 680 nm leg to Greenland was sporting unusual tailwinds down low, the usual neutral or headwinds up in the flight levels. There was a stationary low parked halfway out in the Denmark Strait, and the swirling winds resolved to a slight push, only the third time I’ve seen that on that route in 30 years.
Predictably, tops were well above me on the crossing, but as I approached Greenland’s east coast, the clouds began to dissipate, and the ice began to sublimate. Midway across the icecap, the clouds disappeared completely, and I was gifted with a view practically to the bottom of the Northern Hemisphere’s largest island. When I circled down over Narsarsuaq four hours after takeoff, the airport was luxuriating in temps of 20 degrees C. The turnaround took only 45 minutes. Oh yeah, fuel was $10.50 per gallon.
From there, it was an easy 3.7 hours to Goose Bay and only 3.3 hours on down to Bangor. The following morning, I flew through the remnants of a hurricane to Cleveland and Kokomo, and then continued on into Waco.
My Southwest Airlines flight home out of Dallas-Love was a typical zoo, although Southwest probably does better at handling its huge human traffic load than most other airlines. It’s not hard to understand why Southwest is the leader of the low-cost carriers and, more than coincidentally, the most profitable airline in the world.
As one who spends an inordinate amount of time sitting on airliners flying around the world, however, I couldn’t help noticing a few things about the travelers on the trip home to Southern California. First, it seemed that roughly every other man (and a few women) in the boarding line was talking on a cell phone most of the time. Depending on your point of view, cell phones are either one of the most convenient innovations of modern times or an insult and curse to civility. Most users seem not to understand how rude it is to others to blather loudly on their cell phones while waiting in line, finding their seat, stowing baggage in the overhead or strapping in. Bluetooth users can do it in stealth mode with an earpiece strapped on so there’s not even a need to hold the cell phone. If it wasn’t so amusing, it would be even more irritating.
Like many of you, I own a cell phone, two of them, in fact, and yes, I do sometimes use one in public, but I hope I’m not so inconsiderate as to assume that everyone within earshot should be obliged to hear my side of the conversation. In fairness, cell phones do make communications more of a 24/7 process, allowing those with a need to stay in touch from practically anywhere. I have a satellite phone for communications from some islands in the South Pacific and other remote locations (at a price), but again, I try not to impose my conversations on others. Many states are considering bans on the use of cell phones while driving and in certain public venues, and that can’t come soon enough.
As a seasoned observer and avid admirer of the fair sex for the last 40 years, I also couldn’t help noticing that practically every woman on the Southwest flight was wearing sandals. Until a few years ago, I used to reflect that women’s shoes seemed to get uglier every year. Now, female footwear seems to become less visible with each passing season. Of course, there’s always the red, blue, brown, green, black, heart-patterned or striped toenail polish to deal with as well. At the risk of sounding like Andy Rooney, I’ve always felt that the only human feature less attractive than women’s feet is men’s feet.
As if in partial confirmation, NBC offered a piece on the “Nightly News” in late July regarding a champion women’s college lacrosse team that was invited to the White House for an award and photo op with President Bush, and virtually the entire team showed up in flip-flops. Almost predictably, the girls were surprised that anyone was offended and commented that no disrespect was intended. It was just “the style,” and like lemmings, they were following the style blindly.
After grabbing a cab out of the Los Angeles International Airport for home, it was great to slip on my Birkenstocks, slide my Motorola up to my ear and get back in touch…at least I didn’t subject anyone else to it.
Bill Cox is entering his third decade as a senior contributor to Plane & Pilot® and provides consulting for media, entertainment and aviation concerns worldwide.
E-mail him at [email protected].