Some More Air Travel PlussesI had to spend Friday, starting at some brutally early time, working my way back through the skies to home. I described one such trip in an earlier post.
What was the highlight of this trip? I wound up seated next to a talkative ex-pilot (Navy fighter, I recall) flying back to Illinois for the funeral of his brother. I was trying to read and he forced me to talk, which initially annoyed me, but by the end of the flight made me feel I had been privileged. United Airlines has a nice feature - you can hear the air traffic control chatter from your seat, and he helped me parse it to the point where it became quite interesting. In fact listening to the chatter on the Sand Diego to Denver stretch made me understand a sharp descent we made between Denver and Toronto. Most of the chatter that goes on once planes are in the air is choosing altitudes that avoid 'chop', or turbulence. 2, 4, or 6 thousand feet of altitude can make an awful lot of difference and the controllers know what happened to the poor sap right in front of you.
It is very entertaining to listen to the pilots and controllers negotiating pathways of least misery for the various flights.
My neighbour told me another story that was very entertaining if a bit sobering. He was once on a flight as a passenger, with a long descent into O'Hare. Sitting in his seat he noticed a small plane flying below his, and inferred that this plane was there to inspect the landing gear on the airplane he was sitting in. As his airplane landed, it favoured the left side of the landing gear as support and then did a gentle lean back to the other side. As the landing ended safely, his seat neighbour said, "Are you a pilot?" And he responded, "Yes, but how do you know?" "You hands have been grasped to the seat firmly for the last ten minutes and have gone totally white. You know something I did not."
He had more stories, some compelling ones, as his now late brother had been a medic at Iwo Jima (he said we must read Flags of our Fathers), and he himself had had an early career as a fighter pilot, and he had very interesting reflections on the technological differences between air warfare then and now. It really can be a great privilege to spend time with someone who knows so much more about one of these aspects of life from which one is utterly protected.