Flying to Florida 1959

My first flight was in the summer of 1959—to Florida of all places. Way back around 1946-47, we had all lived in Lake Worth, now a suburb of West Palm Beach. My Dad had the worst job in the world for someone with a delicate stomach: disposing of the bodies of dead alligators. My Mom worked as a checker in a supermarket. So when Mom wanted to hook up with her Florida friends a dozen or so years later, my Dad wanted no part of it.

Wait a minute! Florida in the summer? Were we out of our minds? Apparently. It was either June or July, and Mom had made a reservation at an apartment on Federal Highway in Lake Worth. So Mom, my brother (then seven years old), and me (aged fourteen) were off to Cleveland Hopkins Airport, where we boarded a prop plane similar to the one shown above and flew to Jacksonville, where we landed to embark and disembark passengers, and continued on to West Palm Beach.

That second leg of the flight was a real doozy. We were flying at low altitude through a violent thunderstorm. I saw a stewardess lose her footing and dump a tray of beverages into the laps of a row of passengers.

Then, when we finally landed in West Palm Beach and stepped out of the plane, it was as if we were hit in the face with a hot, wet towel. Cleveland in the summer was humid, but nowhere near so bad as Florida. We sort of got used to it. We even got used to seeing dead palmetto bugs as big as mice piled up along the curbs.

Bookworm that I was, even at that early age, I remember vividly that I was reading Lew Wallace’s novel Ben-Hur, which I completed there and started reading MorrisWest’s The Shoes of the Fisherman. Good reading for a devout Catholic schoolboy, though I couldn’t stomach it today.

One interesting memory of that trip: My Mom had worked for a rich widow in Palm Beach named Mrs. Gregory. One day, we went to visit her. Mom always thought that some rich person would out of the goodness of her heart shower us with money and gifts. It never happened. Instead, we went for a ride in her chauffeured Cadillac with no air conditioning and the windows resolutely closed on a sweltering day. Afterwards, she generously offered us a glass of ice water.


If I Can’t Fly Nonstop, I Can at Least Look Around

If I Can’t Fly Nonstop, I Can at Least Look Around

Above is a view of São Paolo’s new air terminal. There is no way I can fly nonstop from Los Angeles to Buenos Aires, so I picked a bargain flight with TAM Airlines, which recently merge with my favorite South American carrier: LAN. My flight lets me wander around the new International Terminal for three and a half hours before boarding another flight to Buenos Aires’s Ministro Pistarini airport, better known by its neighborhood: Ezeiza.

From Santiago, I have an even more interesting route back. I will take Colombia’s national carrier Avianca to Bogota, where I will spend three hours. Then I hop on a TACA flight (owned by Avianca) to San Salvador in El Salvador, where I quickly change planes to a LACSA (owned by Avianca) flight to Los Angeles.

Why don’t I fly on a U.S. carrier, you might ask? The answer is simple: I don’t like being treated like garbage, eating swill, and paying richly for the privilege.

Look at that airport above. Then compare it to the aging slum that is Los Angeles International. It’s almost as if we just didn’t care any more.

Cockpit Confidential—Reflections

Art Deco Doors at LaGuardia’s Marine Air Terminal

Art Deco Doors at LaGuardia’s Marine Air Terminal

A little more than a month ago, I wrote a posting about Patrick Smith, whose Ask the Pilot website has inspired me to read his excellent new book, Cockpit Confidential: Everything You Need to Know About Air Travel, Questions, Answers & Reflections. If you want to read my original post, you can find it here. I thought I would like write about his book and why I think that anyone who is even remotely interested in travel should read it.

Most of the text is arranged in Question & Answer format, but the things I liked most about the book are the essays interspersed between the chapters. One of the things that has most irritated me about American airports is their swift decline from classy places to visit and soak oneself in the whole culture of flying to something that barely competes with inner city Greyhound bus terminals. In fact, I have never been to a bus terminal in Mexico or Argentina that wasn’t more comfortable than the best American airports I’ve seen. In one essay, Patrick produces a list entitled “Fifteen Things No Terminal Should Be Without,” which includes are such items as:

  • A fast, low-cost public transportation link to downtown. Only Cleveland and Portland, to my knowledge, can boast of this.
  • In-transit capabilities for passengers just transferring to another flight.
  • Complimentary wireless Internet.
  • Convenience stores.
  • Power ports for re-charging your portable electronics.
  • Showers and a short-stay hotel, instead of sleeping on a filthy floor in the terminal.
  • Play areas for children.
  • Better dining options, most especially fewer chain restaurants.
  • An information kiosk.
  • A bookstore.
  • Sufficient gate-side seating to accommodate all the passengers on a flight.
  • Finally, some aesthetic flair, such as the Marine Air Terminal at LaGuardia (departure exit pictured above).

We tend to think of flying as an experience fraught with massive inconvenience (to wit: the TSA, incomprehensible airport public address systems, and grubby terminals) and white-knuckle experiences (like air turbulence, bouncy landings, and ominous announcements from the cockpit). One of the things that Cockpit Confidential accomplishes in its 300 pages is to give you a good feeling for the amazing safety record of airlines around the world. When Malaysian Flight MH370 goes astray, it not only hits the news but stays there for weeks at a time until most TV viewers get a sick feeling in the pit of their stomach about flying in general.

Just to show that he doesn’t sugar-coat the airlines’ safety records, Smith provides a summary of the ten deadliest air disasters of all time (nine of which occurred in the 1970s and 1980s), with a survey of the special circumstances that led to them. He even provides an essay on the events of September 11, 2001 and why it is now totally unlikely that a similar event would ever happen again.

“Exuberant, Profuse, May Rot Your Teeth. Overall Grade: F”

“Exuberant, Profuse, May Rot Your Teeth. Overall Grade: F”

A special area of interest to the author is the subject of airline liveries (i.e. plane decorations), logos, and names. Above, for instance, is his evaluation of Southwest Airlines’ new livery, which he regards as the worst-designed of the top ten U.S. airlines. I was particularly amused by the names of some airlines that I never heard of, and would be especially wary of flying. They include such beauties as Kazanskoe Motorostroitel’noe Proizvodstevennoe Ob’yedinenie (“which is the sound a person makes when gargling aquarium gravel”); Zhezkazan Zhez Air (good for catching a few Z’s); Wizz Air; Kras Air (imagine an h after the s), and U-Land Airlines (now defunct).

In my previous post, I mentioned adding Cockpit Confidential to my TBR pile. Good thing, too, because Patrick’s book is definitely a keeper.



Asking the Pilot

Patrick Smith, a Commercial Pilot, Writes a Great Blog

Patrick Smith, an Experienced Commercial Pilot, Writes a Great Blog

Since people have been flying in heavier-than-air machines for over a century, it is amazing how little accurate information one can find in the news whenever there is a fatal crash or—heaven forbid—a missing aircraft. For many years, I had been reading Patrick Smith’s excellent “Ask the Pilot” column in Salon.Com, before that website decided to cut him loose in favor of more celebrity-conscious material. Patrick is the author of a book entitled Cockpit Confidential, which I am adding to my TBR (To Be Read) pile of books. On his excellent website, called Ask the Pilot, he writes:

More than ever, air travel is a focus of curiosity, intrigue, anxiety and anger. In these pages I do my best to inform and entertain. I  provide answers for the curious, reassurance for the anxious, and unexpected facts for the deceived.

I begin with a simple premise: everything you think you know about flying is wrong. That’s an exaggeration, I hope, but not an outrageous starting point in light of what I’m up against. Commercial aviation is a breeding ground of bad information, and the extent to which different myths, fallacies, wives’ tales and conspiracy theories have become embedded in the prevailing wisdom is startling. Even the savviest frequent flyers are prone to misconstruing much of what actually goes on.

Which isn’t surprising. Air travel is a complicated, inconvenient, and often scary affair for millions of people, while at the same time cloaked in secrecy. Its mysteries are concealed behind a wall of specialized jargon, corporate reticence and an irresponsible media. Airlines, it hardly needs saying, aren’t the most forthcoming of entities, while journalists and broadcasters like to keep it simple and sensational. It’s hard knowing who to trust or what to believe.

In the current edition of his website, he launches a broad-based attack on the Huffington Post, which did an article entitled “16 Alarming Secrets That Will Change How You Will Feel About Flying.” I recommend you read the Huffpost article, and then look at what Smith has to say about it entitled “Nonsense from the Huffington Post.”

Not only is Ask the Pilot a great resource for information on flying, but it contains some fascinating travel articles written by a guy who’s been just about everywhere. I like it so much that I am planning to link to it on my own site.