Thursday, June 25, 2009

An Unexpected Stop

Mt. McKinley (Denali), Alaska

while visiting Alaska in May, we decided to take a flight around the peak of Mt. McKinley (aka. Mt. Denali) because it seemed that everyone we spoke to said that seeing this was an experience of a lifetime. and it was. just not how we planned it to be.

the young pilot
arriving at the airfield outside of Denali, we felt excitement and a bit of nervousness. what an adventure we were about to embark on, seeing the top of a mountain shrouded in clouds that supposedly only 20% of visitors got to see. it would be quite amazing. we were set to fly on a 8 seater plane (including the pilot's seat) and (as it luckily turned out) it would be just the 3 of us and the pilot - a nice YOUNG guy no more than 20. what?! he barely looked old enough to drive a car, much less fly a plane. but, he assured us, he had flown for years and in fact had done this flight many times. age aside, he seemed to know his stuff and after brief instructions about flying over a certain elevation in a plane that small (at some point we'll have to wear oxygen masks), we were soon in the air. being that this was my first time in a plane this small, i was not prepared for how much it bounced... or the mysterious popping noise. wait, popping noise? that can't be right, could it? as it turned out neither the shaking nor the popping noise were part of the usual take off procedure (doh), and the young pilot told us through our headphones that we would be re-landing after only minutes in the sky.

the decision
unfortunately, the 'technical difficulties' plane was the only one they had that was able to go to the elevation needed for the summit of Mt McKinley. so that put us without a ride. the plane tour company (wanting to try all means to avoid refund) offered to give us a free upgrade to a plane that landed on a glacier about halfway up the mountain. well, suffice to say, we were a bit leery of getting back on a plane right away and not to mention that the other plane (another 8 seater) already had 5 people flying. doubt still lingered. was the first plane grounding a sign? as we hemmed and hawed over whether or not to go, they upped their offer. our own plane with the pilot that taught the rest of them to fly. i think my exact words were "that sounds okay", and then they hurriedly prepped the plane before we could decide against it.

the experienced pilot
a bit white-knuckled after our first attempt, the experienced pilot told us all about the plane and explained things as he did them... before i knew it we were halfway there (it was an hour to the mountain). being the only ones on the plane had its advantages... for one, we spoke with the pilot the whole way there and he pointed out cool parts of the Alaska Range. another thing that he did was to ensure that i was getting all the photos i wanted by turning the plane this was and that, it endeared him to me especially. next came another new experience: landing on plane skies. you could feel the plane sliding and it was quite bouncy, and right when i thought that it was going to slide into a huge snow bank it stopped. whew.

the amazing view
standing on Ruth Glacier was unlike anything i have ever experienced. all around you are the tops of mountains and clouds at eye level.

the flight definitely was a highlight to an already magical trip.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

window or aisle?

ultimate air travel question:

i am a frequent flier to be sure. and on my double layover back from alaska last week i got to thinking... which is better: a window seat or an aisle seat (and let's not forget the last seats chosen on every flight: the middle seats). now, me, i like to check-in online usually the day before to be able to have a relatively good seat selection. some people (especially single travelers) do not really care where they sit, while others are firm believers in which seats are the 'best' seats (aside from first class i'm sure - which i unfortunately do not get to fly) on a plane and push for said 'best' seats (even up until right before the flight). now me, i can go either way. it is is all about what i'm looking for in that flight.

my first bit of advice: be a respectful traveler
i'm a firm believer in karma. and in my mother's advice that you get a better response from honey than vinegar (basically being nice over not). so when i'm traveling alone i'm usually willing to move (especially for families with kids). but people need to also respect that people do not have to move for you (especially if they took the time that you did not to insure said seat).

my 'best' seat history
growing up i ALWAYS wanted the window... oh the things you could see. and my feelings basically stayed this way until a few years ago... when i got hooked on the aisle and, aside from the occasional seat roulette, have pretty much stayed there. until my flight last week (which was window seats the 2 flights there and 3 flights back).

first: window vs. aisle
i would assume most everyone has there own ideas of the benefits and pitfalls of both seat selections... here are mine...
note: left side window, right side aisle

view view view vs. leg room
wall to lean on vs. place to stand
don't have to get up for others vs. deboarding quicker

trapt vs. getting up for when someone needs out
cramped vs. getting hit in the elbow/knee/foot

second: how to choose??
here is my seat selecting process:
1. how long is the flight?
meaning are you going to have to get up more than once? if so, an aisle is definitely the way to go. also becoming cramped can become an issue and an aisle allows for a bit more leg stretching. but if the flight is just an hour or so, then even a middle will do.
2. where are you going?
have you been there before? then you might want to let someone else get the nice window view. if not, views can be a major pull to the window, like the picture (see below) i took from my window seat view of mount rainier as we flew out of seattle.
3. what time of day is it? weather?
if it's dark, there's mostly likely nothing to see anyway (unless, of course, it's VEGAS... that was an awesome night view!). it's the same if the weather is bad.
4. single, pair, or group?
if you are in a pair, one of you has to resign yourself to the fact that one of you is getting that dreaded middle seat (unless your in a 2-3, 2-5-2, etc). and a group has to just fit in where they can. but the single flier is obviously the one with the most wiggle room.
5. layover / connecting flights?
this is where another part of respecting your fellow passengers come in. if you do not have a connecting flight or you have a long layover, then sit farther back on the plane and by the windows to allows the ones in a rush to get out. opposite is true: if you know you have a short layover and need to deboard quickly do not situate yourself so that you can't get out in a timely manner.
6. inflight entertainment?
basically, what are you planning on doing during the flight: reading, sleeping, games?

third: enjoy your flight experience
it is amazing to fly. far too many of us take it for granted. so take the time to feel the the takeoff. if you enjoy it, or at least try, then you are more likely to have a positive experience. this is precisely what i did on my last flight... and it worked for me.

well, i hope ya'll enjoyed the read. happy flying.