Ramble On

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Things I Saw from Airplanes

My first ever air travel was the day of my enlistment, back in April, 1980.  It was a series of flights from Jacksonville to San Antonio – but it was evening, and dark, so you couldn’t see anything from the plane.

The next time I flew, however, was from San Antonio to Monterey, California, via Dallas and San Francisco.  I saw the Grand Canyon from the air that time, and the Golden Gate Bridge.  For a long time afterwards, I sought out the window seat because of that.

In business and as tourists, we do fly a lot these days, and I probably take it for granted.  I fly enough that I generally go for the aisle seat now, and I’ll pay the extra to get the exit row.  It means I usually miss the Washington Monument, the Capitol Building, and the Pentagon when we’re on approach into National, but so be it.

The window seat strategy paid off a few times.  A few years after the flight to Monterey, coming back from vacation on a flight from Palma, Mallorca to Berlin, Germany, we flew directly over the Matterhorn and Mount Blanc.  Those are not destinations I’m likely to ever visit on the ground, but I was glad for the chance to see them from 30,000 feet.

There was a flight from Almaty, Kazakhstan, to Amsterdam, when first and business class were so full of diplomats and business executives that there were only five of us back in coach.  We had full 5-seat center rows to sleep in if we wanted (and they offered us seconds on every meal served!) – but I kept waking up to go have a look out the window.  Just as dawn caught up with us I looked down to see a Russian pipeline below, stretching from horizon to horizon, with the Black Sea in the distance.

In business school we took a study trip to Stockholm and Helsinki, with the first leg from LA to Seattle.  The skies were clear over Oregon, and looking down I spied Crater Lake directly below us, just like that time with the Matterhorn.  On another flight into Seattle, I caught a glimpse of the awesome business end of Mount St. Helens – I guess there’s just about always something to see, if you pay attention.

I can’t say there were a lot of pleasant highlights during my two years at Booz Allen, it was a pretty sucky professional environment back then.  But I was lucky enough to land a project that had me flying monthly to LA over the course of six months.  I learned that if I booked the Sunday late evening flight out of Baltimore, I could get a first class upgrade – often a window seat (I’ll make exceptions).

I found this aerial view of Las Vegas on line.  The photo wasn't credited.
It's similar to what I described in the post.
On that flight, the descent into Los Angeles begins in the Nevada desert, and it always woke me up from a nap.  If it had been daylight, I can imagine that I would have seen the Grand Canyon and Lake Mead below, but it was night.  There lay the full neon glory of the Las Vegas Strip, sparkling like jewels in the night.

Chicago to Tokyo, in 2011; I worked hard to book that flight and ended up in the last two-seat row on the left window side of the plane, with an empty seat beside me (it’s the small things that make air travel better these days).  That’s a long flight, as anyone who has done it knows, and between nodding off here and there I looked out the window over Alaska.  I image that I saw Denali towering over the cloud layers, with a full spectrum sunset or dawn glowing in the sky above.  It could have been any number of great peaks in that state, but I’m sticking with my claim of Denali.

These days I don’t travel as much for business – it’s more often vacations, and many times that means we’re flying in from the west.  As it happens, the beginning of the descent is over the Shenandoah Valley, and that’s my cue to have a look out the window to see if I can see the river, or perhaps my beloved Luray below.  So far, I haven’t been so lucky – except, this is beautiful country side, and I can’t complain about the view.

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