Circling the Pacific

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:

  5 comments for “Circling the Pacific

  1. May 31, 2013 at 7:03 am

    Sounds like a whirlwind trip Ron! Great write-up, as always!

  2. Graeme
    June 5, 2013 at 5:47 pm

    Its True what you say about LAX. I dont know why they dont just sort it out for once and for all. They have done a few upgrades. They do one about every 20 years or so. Once in the 60s, once for the olympics and the one now…Well lets just say I was at TBIT and I saw a sign that said “the future of LAX” and it had an artists depiction. Well. this was in the terminal and it was a drawing of what the area I was, was supposed to be like. The funny thing is that the photo looked, pixel for pixel, EXACTLY like it looked now. Every tile, brick, and feature was identical to the way it was now. It may as well as been a Photo. Even more dissappointing is the people who turned out to oppose them moving 24R 100 feet. Yeah, like THIS is going to really impact your life… Do me a favor. Its sad and happy at the SAME time, LAX. Sad that people who dream of America and LA and this is the first taste of america they get but happy because when I pick up loved ones such as family members from overseas then I have that destination association with that happy memory. Its Certainly no New Chitose

    • June 5, 2013 at 8:44 pm

      You sum it up pretty well, Graeme! Ironically, LAX isn’t that bad when viewed as a pilot from the airside. It’s not going to win any awards, but it’s fully functional — and it has the advantage of high quality weather throughout the year.

      But from the perspective of a passenger dealing with the antiquated terminals, auto & bus traffic, and overcrowding, it’s a whole different animal.

      It’s a shame everything is jammed into the middle of the airfield. If they could expand and add new terminals along the north and south (outer) sides of the airport, it could be a completely different place.

  3. Dan
    June 16, 2014 at 8:26 am

    Hi Ron,

    You mentioned a crew swap in ANC but no overnight….is there a bunk on your airplane or did you overnight in ANC?

    But, it sounds like there was a quick-turn in ANC?

    Also, you rode Hawaiian back from Sapporo….did you go CTS-HNL-LAX all in one duty period?

    Thank you,


    • June 16, 2014 at 8:43 am

      No, there’s no official crew rest area on the G-IV, so we have to crew-swap somewhere to avoid exceeding 10 hours of flying in a 24 hour period. The range of the airplane is about 10 hours, so it works out well. I can’t remember if we overnighted at ANC or swapped.

      If I recall correctly, we flew the return leg to Honolulu and airlined the rest if the way home. But don’t quote me on that. As I said, the trips run together after a while!

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