Travel: It’s an Adventure
By DAVE KIFFER
April 25, 2017
Ketchikan, Alaska – Few things are a relaxing as the slow descent of a jet into a major city.
You do that gradual descent through the clouds and then the familiar outlines of the area come into view. Lakes, rivers, housing developments. other aircraft yawing to the get out of the way. Eventually the airport appears and that lovely smooth touchdown follows. Back safely on terra firma because the only absolute in aviation is that takeoffs and landings must equal. And in big cities it seems like both the ingress and the egress to the friendly skies is usually fairly smooth.
This, of course, is something we know very little about in Southeast Alaska. The weather here is often problematic and we all have a personal carryon full of horror stories about meteorologically challenged landings at our airports. It simply comes with the territory.
But things are a little different when one of those challenged landings is a bit “out of context.”
Por ejemplo, I was landing in Seattle recently after a brief jaunt to the Southwest and things got waaaaayyyy “out of context.”
It had been a remarkably uneventful flight, no updrafts from the Rockies to worry us. Nothing untoward lobbed skyward from the Cascades. Just a pleasant, nothing to remember flight.
Until the landing.
Maybe it was the terseness of the message from the flight deck.
“Get in your seats, now.”
Since the captain even dispensed with the folksy, Chuck Yeagerish drawl they are all taught in flight school, it added a certain urgency to the message.
As did the fact the flight attendants immediately “sheltered in place” in the nearest open seats (fortunately it was not a full flight).
Okay, we’ve all been a cross country flight where they warn of “turbulence” and it ends up feeling more like the jet skipped over a speed bump in the Safeway parking lot.
We Alaskans all roll our eyes and think “turbulence, you call that turbulence, let me tell you about that time we flew into Sitka during Hurricane Griselda…yadda, yadda, yadda.”
But this was not one of those times. Apparently there was a bit of storm arriving at the same time we were.
Anyway, it decided to pinball us around a bit as it raced us to the runway. Kind of like if the mechanical bull at Gilley’s was going all three dimensional on us.
Now, this was not the “worst landing ever” although I’m sure some of the Outsiders on the plane felt so. You could probably argue it would have been a normal landing for either Sitka or Yakutat. But it certainly was a bit of a thrash. There was a lot of yawing and a lot of up an down. Especially that “down” bit where the jet suddenly feels like the whatever is holding it up suddenly stops and you drop so quickly your shoelaces start coming out of your nose.
And it continued as we circled around downtown Seattle and lined up our approach. That was weird as we pitched up and down and sideways as we passed the Space Noodle and other familiar sights. I’m sure that from the ground we looked nice and calm gliding past. I can assure you that was not the view from 3,500 feet.
Fortunately, we were rewarded with one of the smoothest landings ever – like the runway was made out of Beecher’s mac and cheese – because, as everyone knows, there are NO pilots in the sky as good as the ones with Alaska Airlines.
As I deplaned I nodded to the pilot as he left the cockpit. He was about as emotional as you ever see a pilot get. He rolled his eyes.
I hope he got to celebrate with the most awesome adult beverage imaginable.
Of course, this was NOT the end of the journey.
SEATAC was packed with travelers because the storm had been havocking air travel all morning. C Concourse was even more bat-doo-doo crazy that it usually is and I decided I needed to decompress a bit. So I wandered into the hinterlands of D Concourse (which now feels as forlorn and forgotten as the Aer Lingus terminal at Heathrow) until I found a quiet spot to sit.
No sooner than I found said quiet spot and settled in, a family of fellow travelers arrived to share my “space.” I will call them “Ma and Pa Kettle and the Three Honey Boo Boos.”
Now, I am sure they are really nice folks, but they were one of those “loud” families and I was not looking for “loud” at that point. And in a completely empty gate area, they chose to sit about four feet away from me. Now, I suppose I could have moved farther away, but that just comes off as “rude,” ya know what I mean?
Since the Honey’s were in “full chatter” mode, it was inevitable that the following would come up.
“Mama, is that our plane,” Honey Boo Boo I asked, pointing out the window at what looked like the last existing Horizon Air Cessna 185 on the tarmac.
“You silly,” answered Honey Boo Boo II. “We going on jet plane.”
That was a relief, as some days you never can be sure.
Anyway, the conversation was generally pleasant even though the standard operating procedure appeared to be that all three of the Honeys would talk simultaneously at increasing volumes until either Ma or Pa (glued to his cell phone screen playing Felony Flats Apocalypse) would look up and tell them to zip it.
Which would last about 30 seconds until the volume would rev up again.
“You got your sweater? It’s cold in here,” said Honey Boo Boo III.
“Not as cold as it’s gonna be in ‘laska,” answered Honey Boo Boo I.
How nice for Wasilla, I thought snarkily to myself.
Meanwhile, I sat vaguely trying to read my IPad but kept getting distracted by the endless series of messages echoing through the concourse. There was a lot of messaging because there were a lot of flight changes being made.
But there was one gem.
A party was hoping to meet up with “Ima Dufusky” at the baggage carousel. I almost missed it because the announcer really emphasized the second syllable of the last name and pronounced the first syllable as “duh” instead of “doo.” Then I got it and started snorting at the odds of someone really named “Ima Doofus-sky” being at the airport.
Ma Kettle assumed I was unhappy with the Honey Boo Boo chatter and glared at me, I just went into “landing pilot” mode and rolled my eyes and shrugged.
Anyway, it was time to gather my things and hike back to Concourse C to catch my flight.
Naturally, there were about 1,650 people gathered in front of the giant flight tote board and it took a few minutes to get to the front.
Usually, I can just quickly confirm the time and gate and go. But this was not one of those times.
The 3:30 flight to Ketchikan was there and on-time. That was the good news.
But the tote board said the flight was on Korean Air.
That was a little unusual, so I stayed put and watched the board.
Quickly, it switched.
Well, this was going to be interesting.
I continued to watch the screen. Finally, they corrected it.
The flight was now going to be on Air France.
Good thing I always travel with my passport.
Anyway, I made my way over the gate and quite luckily found the last available seat at the gate.
Then they announced that due to “unforeseen circumstances” the departure gate for AK 67 was changing. I started to steel myself for the endless. inevitable slog to N(owhere) Terminal.
But it turned out that the new gate was the next one over. Natch, everyone got up and rushed to the new gate. I just sat there, figuring I could make the “long” walk when they started boarding.
Finally, it was time to board. As I waited I heard a familiar voice behind me in line.
“Mama, why are we going to Ketchikan?” It was Honey Boo Boo II.
“We’re gonna stay with your cousins for a while,” replied Ma Kettle.
I turned around and shockingly came face to face with the pilot from the Albuquerque flight.
He nodded back.
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Dave Kiffer is a freelance writer living in Ketchikan, Alaska.
Contact Dave at firstname.lastname@example.org
Dave Kiffer ©2017
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