The City of Lights

Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu once said, “A good traveler has no fixed plans, and is not intent on arriving.” Were it not for the fact that he died 2,500 years ago, one might imagine this was a tip of the proverbial hat to those of us who fly ultra-long range jets.

To the general public, this kind of life is glamorous and carefree, but insiders know quite well that long-distance international trips frequently take on a yin-and-yang quality. Between blasting through a dozen time zones in a single flight and the long dark hours spent on oceanic red-eyes, they can be impressively exhausting.

Maybe that’s why pilots I’ve talked to who are scheduled to transition into the Gulfstream G650 aren’t always as enthusiastic about the upgrade as one might expect. Sure, it’s the latest and greatest business jet, but with 8,000 statute miles of range, those grizzled road warriors know that the jet lag from those max-endurance flights can be just as awe-inspiring, especially if it’s a Part 91 ship being flown by a single crew.

Of course, it goes without saying that there are many wonderful aspects to this sort of flying. These are the things most people think of when I tell them I’m headed to Paris: decadent food, historic architecture, wide boulevards, and world-class museums. And that’s what you’ll see in the photo gallery below, because… well, time zones are hard to capture on film.

This trip started with a series of airline flights, first to New York and then on to London via Kuwait Airways. We are fortunate to fly in business class when airlining internationally, and the guy I was traveling with was looking forward to a beer or two before he sacked out for the long flight over the pond. Little did he know that Kuwait is a dry airline!

Eventually we alighted in Paris and had a couple of days to enjoy the town before flying out. Our hotel was on the south side of the city in the 14th arrondissement and proved to be an ideal place from which to explore restaurants and cultural sites. The area is known as a home to many members of Paris’ arts community. Speaking of the which, here’s a short piece by a former roommate of mine that captures the quintessential joie de vivre in the City of Lights:

This was, I believe, my fifth trip to Paris. I’d visited many of the city’s lionized sites and museums over the years, but had yet to make it down to the catacombs. So we walked the two or three blocks to a completely nondescript entrance and took the long, dizzying circular staircase that leads to “The Empire of the Dead”, a series of tunnels buried deep beneath the streets and Metro lines where the remains of more than six million Parisians are stored.

As we walked along the dark passageways, I couldn’t help but wonder who all these people had been. Was there a famous painter down here? A great political genius, a scientific wunderkind? You could literally walk for miles and see nothing but piles of bones on both sides of the tunnel, stacked five or six feet high. The “six million” figure brought to mind the Holocaust, and the sheer magnitude of the humanity represented there.

These people, of course, were not victims of a genocide, but rather ordinary citizens who had been buried in cemeteries within what were at that time the city limits of Paris. Eventually the graveyards began overflowing with human remains, and so the decision was made to relocate the bones to former mining tunnels out the outskirts of the city which had been dug in order to obtain the limestone needed to construct Paris’ many architectural landmarks.

As much as I enjoyed the experience of being 100 feet underground in musty, dark medieval caverns, it was nice to get back up to the surface among the living. There are some who really enjoy exploring the catacombs, however, and do so to the point where they’re almost living down there.

Between sightseeing and long relaxed meals, time in Paris tends to go by quickly and pleasantly. Eventually work called and we jetted off to Green Bay, Wisconsin for what’s referred to as a “tech stop” — a landing for fuel and/or a crew swap. Under Part 135 rules, pilots are not allowed to fly more than 10 hours in a 24 hour period. That’s not to say our work day can’t be longer than 10 hours. Between pre- and post-flight activities, it’s often much longer. But when flying charter passengers, we are prohibited from functioning as flight crew members for more than 10 hours of flying in a single day.

In the Gulfstream IV, this works out pretty well because that also happens to approximate the jet’s fuel capacity, so upon landing in Wisconsin the airplane was re-fueled, re-catered, and turned over to another crew who were taking the passengers on to their ultimate destination somewhere along the west coast. The “10 hour” rule doesn’t apply to flight attendants, however, so our FA continued on with the airplane while I got to adjourn to a warm meal and bed.

After spending the evening there, I realized that Green Bay might have more in common with Paris than it does with Orange County, California. For one thing, there’s the snow and cold wind that seems to penetrate even the most substantial clothing. That’s rather foreign to residents of coastal Southern California!

Another similarity: both Wisconsin and France are obsessed with cheese. I actually had a 45 minute conversation with someone over the squeaking sound of cheese curds, and another half hour about why they don’t squeak once they’re fried.

I am not making this up.

The next morning, we airlined to Chicago and then LAX, where I shuttled to my car and then fought rush hour traffic on the way to Orange County.

I try to keep my watch on Pacific Standard Time, as it seems to help stave off jet lag. Probably has something to do with keeping mental track of what everyone’s doing back home. Sleeping, working, eating lunch, etc. I’ve found that if I can periodically “check in” with the daily routine of my home time zone, the rhythm seems easier to fall back into once I’ve returned to California.

Enjoy the photos:

  4 comments for “The City of Lights

  1. May 22, 2013 at 6:14 pm

    Great trip report! You are so right, some of those trips can be a grind! My stead is only good for the occassional Hawaii run, but if I get into the Global some day, it’ll be a different world for me. I flew over to Paris in a Citation X several years ago and loved the city! Thanks for bringing back those memories.

    • May 23, 2013 at 9:11 am

      Glad it jogged some pleasant memories for you! Yes, the Global might entail a lot of long-haul flying… but then again, I was just looking at the FlightAware log of Steve Wynn’s new Gulfstream G650, and most of the flights were from Vegas to L.A. and back, so I guess you just never know!

  2. Lacey Gormley
    May 26, 2016 at 2:22 pm

    I think you’ve captured the true essence of what it’s really like for a crew member working on these luxury aircraft in this one phrase “grizzled road warriors…”
    You paint a beautiful picture with your writing. Can’t wait to read more!

    • May 26, 2016 at 3:10 pm

      Thanks, Lacey! I’m glad you enjoyed the post. 🙂

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