And he’s off again!
Actually, I’ve been off for quite a while — and since I don’t get paid when I’m not flying, it’s with a sigh of relief that your humble host finally got back on the proverbial road. Also, my annual recurrent training is just around the corner, and so is the five-figure bill that comes along with it. Ah, the joys of a Part 135 contract pilot…
But enough about that. This trip took me west rather than east, essentially making a giant circle around the Pacific Ocean within the space of three days. It started at LAX, probably my least favorite airport on the planet.
Speaking of Los Angeles International, does anyone else think the entire place looks and smells like a third-world country? Even the iconic Theme Building isn’t enough to relieve the dread of an LAX encounter. I don’t believe I’ve ever heard or seen the phrase “I love LAX” used anywhere beyond the possible exception of an advertisement put out by Los Angeles World Airways. And I’m not really sure they could utter it with a straight face.
Thankfully all we had to do was fly to Las Vegas to overnight. Since I know you’re wondering, no, I didn’t put it all on black. Every since he went to prison for tax evasion, Wesley Snipes advice just doesn’t have the same panache.
The next morning it was off to Anchorage for fuel and a crew swap. Just about every time I’ve been into Ted Stevens Airport, the area’s been plagued with enough weather that there wasn’t much to see out the window. This time, however, the skies were completely clear and presented an almost surreal scene of majestic snow-covered mountains surrounded by the dark, serene waters of Aialik Bay, Cook Inlet, and the many sounds, arms, and lagoons along the southern Alaska coastline. Those large oval windows that dot the Gulfstream fuselage may be a signature feature of the brand, but they’ll never compare with the panoramic view from the cockpit!
Every time the main entry door opens and that first crisp blast of Alaskan air hits my palette, it takes me back to the years I spent there as a kid. Alas, we weren’t even on the ground an hour before it was “wheels up” as we winged westbound toward eastern Russia and then southwest into the northernmost Japaneses island of Hokkaido.
The gods were once again kind to a pair of lowly aviators and the weather, originally predicted to be near minimums, was scattered-to-broken, allowing a good view of the island landscape. Hokkaido reminds me quite a bit of central California, with gently rolling hills of golden scrub among various types of farms and orchards. It could have been Santa Maria or Salinas I was watching float past our jet rather than northern Japan.
Hokkaido was another “tech stop” where a fresh flight crew took over the aircraft, so we retired to a hotel in Sapporo for a few hours of rest before trekking back to the airport to catch a Hawaiian Airlines commercial flight to Honolulu and then Los Angeles.
Speaking of L.A., Japan was pretty much the polar opposite of our fair city when it comes to cleanliness and efficiency, especially as it regards their New Chitose Airport.
Chitose is actually two airports in one. The west side of the complex is a military field used by the Japanese Self-Defense Force, while the eastern half is a purely civilian airport. I would have sworn the terminal where our driver deposited us was brand new, but everyone I asked said no. It looked new, smelled new, was (if anything) overstaffed by impossibly polite employees, and definitely under-utilized. We spent an hour or so inside the first-class lounge and I occupied myself with an obsessive search for any sign of dirt or wear on anything. Even the urinals and restroom floor were completely spotless.
I may have also indulged in a beer or two poured by a robotic bartender.
Now if that’s not Japanese, I don’t know what is! Besides, how could any self-respecting man pass up the opportunity to drink a Sapporo while actually in Sapporo? I was almost disappointed when they issued the boarding call for our flight, especially because returning to the States meant older infrastructure. Speaking of which, the Hawaiian Airlines first-class lounge was the exact opposite of New Chitose, which is to say quite disappointing. Small, dirty, overcrowded, no food, nothing but a soda machine for drinks (with no ice!), ratty old furniture, and a tiny rear-projection television.
I know, I know: hash-tag it under #FirstWorldProblems. I wish it was isolated to a few commercial airports, but more and more I see our aviation infrastructure degrading while government spending virtually assures it will only get worse even as user fees and higher taxes are crammed into the budgets of the few who can still muster the wherewithal to fly.
On the other hand, we have far more GA in this country than they do anywhere else, including Japan. In fact, I know pilots who will airline across the Pacific for a weekend just because general aviation is so much better, simpler, and less expensive in the United States. But I always tell those who are interesting in pursuing aviation to do it now, because the only thing I can guarantee about the future is that it will be more expensive than it is today.
As usual, here are a few photos from the trip: