Jet-Setting, Writers’ Block Style

My fear of airplanes is known far and wide, and has been since I was a child. I’ve had nightmares about plane and helicopter crashes for as long as I can remember. In most of them, I dreamed I was on the ground watching some type of aircraft plummet toward me, with nowhere to run for safety. Most alarming is that as video footage of such disasters became more and more common on the internet, it confirmed that my dreams were remarkably accurate. I never thought I would ever work up enough courage to actually board a plane and fly.

Last week, I did exactly that. My motivation to attend and make a presentation at the Toronto Steem Creators Conference proved to be greater than my lifelong fear. I bought a seat on a nonstop flight from Charlotte Douglas International (CLT) to Toronto Pearson (YYZ) and determined that I would go through with every step of this journey.

The flight up definitely managed to alarm me. I didn’t get any great photos, just a few blurry shots of black night sky and the faraway lights of cities I couldn’t identify. There was no turbulence, but after my flight down, I think perhaps the pilot’s flying style didn’t put me at ease. I couldn’t tell which movements of the aircraft were deliberate and which ones I should worry about. None in the second category, obviously, but it didn’t feel like that at the time.

 

All throughout the trip, I was surprised at how streamlined and efficient the boarding and customs process was. I didn’t encounter a single unfriendly airlines employee or law enforcement officer. Me, who gets lost in shopping malls, was able to navigate my way through without a hitch.

On the return flight home, I knew what to expect. This made things easier, I think. It was also daylight, which meant I could see what was happening and was able to take some decent photos.

Below is what the Toronto airport looks like from the freeway. It’s hard to imagine the constant bustle of activity going on in the terminals from just driving past. From the outside, it looks industrial and heavy on the mechanics. In fact, as evidenced by the cover photo of this post, huge jetliners are such routine business in an international airport that pilots seem to just park them as casually as cars.

Throughout my stay in Toronto, @jasonbu acted as tour guide and Sherpa for @GMuxx and myself. He kept us safe and very entertained! He also did a great job getting us to the airport on the day we were scheduled to fly away to our respective continents. Leaving him to walk into the airport nearly broke my heart. But we’ll see you again soon, Jason! One meetup or the other, and we’ll do it all over again.

The check-in area was ridiculously busy. I, however, checked in on my smartphone. American Airlines sent me this handy-dandy little QR code that scanned properly the entire way through baggage inspection, customs, and Gate A6. I felt so efficient! The flight ran on time, and promptly at 12:00, we received the call to board.

The type of jet doing the Charlotte/Toronto route is called a CR9. This is a long, skinny aircraft with a sleek profile and the body of a cigar. The passenger compartment is so tight and narrow that, even though American Airlines lists a specific bag size for carryon, the accepted rolling luggage size is still too small. If it’s not a tiny duffle bag, it has to be valet-checked and loaded in the belly of the plane.

If you know me, you know I’m a big girl. I worried for the welfare of my seatmate. Fortunately, she was a teeny thing who probably didn’t weigh eighty pounds soaking wet. We did fine…after I wedged myself against the window. The seat itself was fine. But the walking aisle? Holy cow. An estimate of twelve inches wide might be too generous.

This pilot had a totally different flying style. I noticed it on takeoff. We were airborne a lot sooner, climbed a lot harder, and he kept the angle of attack considerably steeper as we left Toronto airspace. Surprisingly, I preferred this. When he rolled the plane onto its side for a turn, there was no gradual tilt. He just laid it hard over and gunned it. He drove that cigar like a sportscar, and it absolutely worked for that model of aircraft, and for me.

I hadn’t realized it, but we were flying directly into a storm that covered the entire eastern seaboard. Once we breached the clouds, nothing was visible but white until we started our descent into North Carolina. We did hit turbulence. But I kept an eye on the flight attendants, who never broke stride or sat down until we were ready to land. I figured if they were unconcerned, then I had no reason to worry. Even though we landed on the front edge of a major thunderstorm, this landing held true to the better experience and we were on the ground without hesitation or a bobble. I wish I had some way to know the flight experience and history of that pilot. I would stake money on him having logged many hours in active military combat. He knew his stuff, and his flying showed it.

 

The entire flight lasted less than two hours. We took off at 12:30 pm and were sitting on the ground in Charlotte at 2:15 p.m. On the flight up, I learned about GoGo Inflight Wireless. On the way home, I ordered this service. It was $10 USD for the duration of the flight, and it was well worth it for communicating with my husband, who’d be picking me up at the airport. I was able to send him all of the photos in this blog from the air.

I learned that most commercial flights cruise at an altitude of seven miles. Apparently, this is well above light aircraft traffic and up that high, the air is thinner and less turbulent. We had such a quiet, smooth flight from Toronto at that height that dropping down through all the lower level of convection was startling. It’s also difficult to gauge cruising speed when you’re flying above the clouds. Only when we passed another aircraft going the opposite direction did I perceive just how fast both vehicles were travelling.

Will I fly again? You bet! In fact, already I’m making plans to attend Steemfest in Krakow in two months. That will be a long flight over the ocean, into a country where English isn’t the spoken language. New adventures for someone who swore to never leave home soil. But I’m up for the challenge. This is going to be a very interesting year.

 

Meet me at SteemFest 2018 in Kraków