Monday, February 16, 2004

You may have noticed that I added a link to Ask the Pilot over on the side there. I figured I should, since it is the only thing I make absolutely sure to never miss when my Salon newsletter comes in the email everyday. Since I got back to the US, I haven't had nearly as much time to peruse the news, looking for stories of the strange or irritating, and so most of my Salon newsletter goes unlooked at. Never, however, Ask the Pilot on Fridays.

Part of this is no doubt because of my father, one of whose main clients is GE Aircraft Engines, and who has a long-standing fascination with planes in general. We used to have a picture of a jet engine test cell as the desktop image on our home computer. When he came back from business trips to the various plants, we got to hear stories of how they frequently repair worn-through holes in the jet blast deflectors (or reversers) with flattened Coke cans, or how that one plant somewhere else once used frozen chickens to test its aircraft windshields before they realized they were supposed to be thawed, and all sorts of interesting stuff. He gave me an appreciation for the more technical aspects of flight, and is another avid fan of Patrick Smith.

Another part of this is of course just flying itself. Ever since I went to Grinnell, I have joined the ranks of the experienced airline traveler. I flew back and forth between Grinnell and Raleigh 4 times a year during my first two years, before I took my car to school with me. I flew to Taiwan with my mother, first class on the way over, coach on the way back. I flew to Chile for my semester in Santiago. I flew between the US and Japan 3 times during my year on the JET program. I flew to Germany via Kuala Lumpur, and then to France. And every time, I loved it. No matter that Delta lost my luggage irrevocably during my first fall break and I will never trust Comair with checked baggage again. No matter that the girl behind me from Lyon to Berlin barfed all over the back of my seat. No matter that the people in front of me were blocking my view of the movie screen with their constant making out on our way back from Taiwan. Those things can never even come close to defining the act of flying for me.

For me, flying is seeing the lights of ViƱa del Mar at night as I flew home from Chile. It's seeing the wrinkled, tree covered contours of the Appalachains between Cincinnati and Raleigh. It's seeing the sudden tips of snow-covered mountains breaking through the cloud cover over what was certainly the ocean not long ago, but is now Alaska and Canada. It's the infinity of shapes clouds can take. It's the fascinating destination map on a long-haul flight in between movies. It's the knowledge that I can go anywhere in the world. It's giant airports with fun gate changes; it's tiny airports with oversensitive metal detectors; it's counting flight attendant uniforms on a layover; it's being kissed on the cheek by the cute Australian when we both got off the same plane in Arica and I never saw him again; it's seeing people I haven't seen in so long, and then saying good-bye again; it's taking me away from one part of my life and on to something new.

The latest Ask the Pilot was about how long-haul flights are getting longer, and all the things that airlines will be doing to make people comfortable on those 14+ hour flights. You ask me, that sounds like fun! I like long flights. It's fun to absolutely have to watch movies, read, curl up in a chair, and look at fascinating things out the window. And soon I get to do it again! Because my beloved daddy's frequent business trips have racked up enough SkyMiles to get me a free ticket to Japan and my brother a free ticket to Colorado, and still have some left over. In just 3 weeks, I will be taking the Great Circle over those fabulous mountains to Japan to see everyone in Sendai again! Danola and Sharon have reportedly been fighting over who gets to keep me. I can't wait! In the meantime, I'll look forward to reading more fun flying columns from Patrick Smith.

PS - If you feel you have lost the joy of flying, I suggest this year's Thanksgiving column.

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