Tag Archives: airports

My favorite airport

I just finished reading Skyfaring by Mark Vanhoenacker, a wonderful book about air travel written by a 747 pilot. I came to this book via Our Towns by James and Deborah Fallows, which I read back in February. Reading books like these often make me wish I’d stuck with flying. Twenty years and a month after getting my private pilot’s license, who knows what adventures might have been tucked into the lines of my logbook?

Approaching London over the Channel in 2007.

Skyfaring had me thinking of airports, desolate places in our current time, and not my favorite places in the world in general. When I was flying, I never minded airports, and indeed, enjoyed flying into smaller airports with pilot’s lounges and the satisfaction of knowing I could grab a burger while the plane was fueled and didn’t have to pass through security on my way back out to the plane (this was in the days before 9/11, of course).

It’s easy for me to list the airports I dislike the most, LAX being at the top of the list. I flew into LAX five or six times last year and always planned my arrivals and departures to be as early in the morning as possible in order to avoid the crowds and the rush of traffic into and out of the airport. On my last trip through LAX, they’d moved the Uber pickup to distant location and things seemed rather chaotic. I wasn’t looking forward to heading back there.

I don’t mind Washington-Dulles that much. It’s pretty easy to get into and get out of. I find it odd that the underground tram system that have takes you far past the D and C gates so that you spend more time walking back toward the gates than you do on the tram itself, but I like to pretend there is a good reason for this.

I’ve always had a fondness for Van Nuys airport, and for Camarillo airport. Van Nuys was my home base back when I flew, and I often flew out to Camaillo and its luxuriously long runway. (Van Nuys has and 8,000 foot runway and a 3,000 foot runway and I can count on two hands the number of times I was able to land on the long runway.)

Some airports seems too big–Atlanta and Denver come to mind. WhenI fly somewhere, I’ve been on a plane for a while, and want to be out and on my way to my destination. I the quicker I can get from the plane and off the airport property the better. Airports that make you take shuttles and trams from one part to another slow this down and annoy me, although I’m less annoyed if I can pick up train into town directly from the airport. (I know you can do this in Denver now, but the last time I flew in there, the train was closed for some reason.)

In all of the airports I’ve flown into, both as passenger and pilot, there is one that stands out in my mind as my absolute favorite: LIH, also known as Lihue Airport on the southeastern short of the island of Kaua’i in Hawai’i. I’ve flown in and out of this airport twice. My most recent trip to this airport was in 2005, right about the time this blog got its start. But my memory of that airport has stayed with me, and I judge all other airports by it to this day.

At the time Lihue was a fairly small airport. The long runway was 6,000 feet. Much of the airport was open or outdoors, which was new for me. The single best experience I’ve ever had in an airport took place in Lihue at the end of my last trip there. My friends who I’d vacationed with had left earlier in the day. I had a red-eye to LAX and then a connecting flight to Washington Dulles–a long flight. The day before, I’d picked up a couple books in a local bookstore. One of them was Alan Alda’s Never Have Your Dog Stuffed. I got to the airport fairly early for my 10 pm flight. The United counter hadn’t opened yet. Once it did, I checked in, and then headed to the gate to make sure I knew where it was. From there, I went to the bar for one final Mai Tai.

There was an area outside the bar and some other shops that was a kind of open air sitting area. Almost no one was around. The sky was the kind of blue I’ve only ever seen in Hawai’i, and the trade winds were blowing. The air smelled amazing, and the silence was interrupted only occasionally by the rumble of jet engines. It was still something like 2 hours before my flight. It was still sunny. I found a bench, sat down, and began reading Alan Alda’s book. I was lost in words and in the feeling of the trade winds. I think if my flight had been delayed or canceled, I wouldn’t have minded in the least. I could have sat in that spot all night and been happy. It was one of the more peaceful moments I can remember, and certainly the most peaceful, relaxing time I’ve ever had in an airport.

That’s why Lihue Airport remains my favorite airport. I haven’t been back there in 15 years and I imagine it has changed some. But I’ll always remember it as it was on that day.

Munich!

I am in Munich, waiting to board my connecting flight to Venice. I’m a little tired but I’ve also got a bit of an adrenaline rush.

I’m in Europe!

My flight from Washington/Dulles left on schedule. International Business Class on a 777 is nothing short of excellent. My seat reclined all the way back and the foot rest came up so that I could actually lay back and get some sleep. I tried to sleep as much as I could but I think I only grabbed bits and pieces of sleep here and there. The flight was scheduled for 8 hours 9 minutes, but it ended up taking just under 7 hours! So I got into Munich almost an hour early.

I was served an excellent 4-course meal: Crab salad with mango; fresh seasonal green salad with creamy Italian dressing. For the main course, I had the pan-seared filet mignon with balsamic rosemary sauce, served with wily mushroom stuffing and roasted root vegetables. For dessert, I had ice cream. After dessert, I tried to get some sleep, but it was a bumpy ride over parts of the Atlantic, even for a seasoned traveler like myself. Eventually, I gave up sleeping and listened to air traffic control the rest of the way in. It’s very much like U.S. ATC, with only very subtle differences.

Once in Munich, I had to go to the Lufthansa service desk to get my boarding pass for the next flight. There was a nervous moment when they said that they had a booking but not an e-ticket. However, that was quickly cleared up and I was on my way to the next gate. I had to go through security again, which means I got my first stamp on my passport in Germany on page 8 of my passport. I found out that I could use Lufthansa’s Senator’s Lounge with my Red Carpet membership, but I opted instead to come straight to the gate. Here I am with about 45 minutes before we board.

There was a great view of the alps coming in. I got a window seat on the next flight so maybe I’ll get some good pictures going over the alps. It’s really incredible to think that I just traveled 4,200 miles, a journey that would have taken Ben Franklin several months at great peril. And here I did it in seven hours and in considerable luxury.

More later in Venice…

Roll out the Red Carpet

The car was at my house at 1:20 PM and shortly thereafter, we were on our way to the airport. The car was brand new and one of the nicer town cars that I have been in. There was no traffic and it was a quick drive to the airport. Halfway through the drive, I realized that I thought I’d read that there was no denim allowed in the Red Carpet Club and I was wearing jeans. I called jkashlock and asked him to check the website for me. The website left it ambiguous, but I decided to take my chances.

When I got to the airport, I walked into the United Business “line”. I said “line” because there was no one in it. I walked up to agent, handed him my passport and told him where I was going. I checked my two bags and 2 minutes later, I had my ticket. My bags are checked all the way through to Venice. I have to stop at a kiosk in Munich to get my connecting ticket.

Next was the security lines. I wandered over to the security checkpoint, and got into the Premium “line”. Once again, there was no one in it (the regular security line wasn’t terribly long either but it was definitely longer than the Premium line). I was through security in 2 minutes and then caught the shuttle to the C terminal. Once in the C terminal, I checked to see where my gate was relative to the Red Carpet Club; and then I nervously headed into the club, wondering if they would toss me out on my ear for wearing jeans.

They said nothing about it. They check me in and told me to head down stairs.

It’s a large club (it seems to me). Lots of mahogany. I found a comfortable seat with a little table that has jacks for my laptop (which is convenient, even though I don’t need it. I have a power adapter that allows me to plug my laptop and iPod into the power jack on my airplane seat so I don’t have to worry about wasting battery life). There is a kitchen area that has soft drinks and snacks, all of which are “free”. I say “free” because I really paid for them when I paid my annual club dues. There is also a full bar (for which you have to pay). I’ll probably get a drink before I get on the airplane. In the meantime, I am sitting here sipping a Sierra Mist and eating some cookies. Here’s what my view looks like:

I recently added T-Mobile’s “hot spot” to my phone plan and since most of these clubs have T-Mobile hot spots, I’m able to access wireless, high-speed Internet without a problem.

It’s just now a few minutes past three. My flight boards at 5 PM so I have a few hours to kill. I’ve got the laptop, of course. I brought a few movies with me. I also have the new issues of SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN and Call of the Wild and White Fang; plenty with which to kill two hours.

And my flight is on-time–so far…

One-six-right

I got my pilot’s license at Van Nuys airport back on April 3, 2000. If you like flying, have ever thought about getting a license, or just like really good film-making, you should check out this new DVD:

http://www.onesixright.com

One-six right refers to the long runway (8,001 feet) at Van Nuys airport–the runway from which I made most of my takeoffs (most of my landings were on the shorter 16L). The video looks awesome and I’m ordering a copy today. Thanks to kevnyc for pointing it out to me. (kevnyc was one of the first people to fly with me after I got my license.) Check out the scenes from the video that they have on the web site.

Watching and listening to the “look ma, no hands” video, about the first time you fly solo as a student, brought back a lot of memories and emotions I had on the day that I did my first solo flight in September 1999.

Read about my first solo flight