I posted earlier about the experiences and influences from my childhood that got me really interested in flying. There are also many experiences from my adult years that have helped sharpen and focus this into a very strong ambition to learn to fly recreationally. Too much for one post, so I’ll start with some reflections from the air travel I experienced as a younger adult.
I did a fair bit air travel in my early to mid twenties. When I left university in 1991, I joined a large management consulting firm whose global headquarters was based in Chicago, Illinois. Working for this company back then entailed regular travel to their global training centre in St Charles, Illinois at least once a year, and for those people located outside the United States, this of course meant a reasonably major air trip, particularly if you were in the southern hemisphere.
Naturally this was all pretty exciting for me and the other recruits I started with in 1992. Doubly so for me, of course, since it meant lots of plane trips and travel to places I hadn’t been before. That first trip to St Charles in 1992 involved, then as now, a flight from Sydney to the west coast (LAX, as I remember) and then a connecting flight on to Chicago. United Airlines‘ service was, then as now, nothing to particularly write home about, but I do remember vividly my experience of first flying in to Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport at night. The lights of Chicago sprawled as far as I could see out my window – up to the sudden blackness of Lake Michigan – and what really struck me was the sheer size of the operation at O’Hare. I’d simply never seen so many large commercial aircraft, so many runways before. O’Hare was huge, and I found the whole place vibrant and exciting.
I suppose that, for me, there’s something cool about airports – even the crappy ones. Airports symbolise two of my passions, aviation and travel, so I’m probably more receptive to their hidden charms than perhaps the average jaded traveller.
In 1994 I moved to California for 3 years, to the San Francisco Bay Area. Over that time I had occasion many times to fly in and out of the Bay Area, both from San Francisco International Airport (SFO) and from Oakland International Airport (OAK – which happened to be my “local” airport as I lived in the East Bay). Both are, of course, substantially smaller than major operations like O’Hare or LAX, but then of course they’re also picturesquely located on the wonderful San Francisco Bay. On a few memorable occasions, when sitting on the left hand side of the plane, I enjoyed the experience of taking off from SFO to the north and observing the magnificent Golden Gate Bridge outside my window …
For a while I did some air commuting down to LA. What blew my mind about this was how many airports most large cities in the US actually have … I variously flew in or out of LAX, Ontario, Burbank (now Bob Hope Airport), John Wayne and Palmdale. That’s not to mention LA’s other major airports like Long Beach and Palm Springs, nor the many other GA operations like Oxnard, Fullerton and Van Nuys.
What’s cool about this, in my view, is just how set up around aviation most American cities are. It’s a matter of size and scale, of course. LA (for example) is huge – got some 18-odd million people in the Greater Los Angeles area. Plus, it’s a major tourist and commercial hub, not to mention a centre for aerospace and defence in the US, so of course it’s got a huge aviation infrastructure. It’s just striking, when you are used to cities like Sydney and Melbourne, to experience cities with such a variety of large airports and aviation operations. (Sydney and Melbourne, by comparison, contain about 4.5m and 4m people respectively and each have just the one major international airport – Kingsford Smith in Sydney and Tullamarine in Melbourne, plus the other GA airports of Bankstown, Camden, Avalon, Essendon and Moorabbin. A special shout-out to Bankstown Airport, where I will be learning to fly next March!)
In was also from San Francisco that I made my first trips to Europe. In 1995 I flew to Ireland for a friend’s wedding, flying from SFO into London Heathrow (frustratingly, then, not even being able to leave the airport despite the fact that I’d never set foot in the UK before) and then straight onwards to Dublin’s international airport. Having spent my entire life being used to the relatively washed-out green shades of the landscape within Australia and then California, I was particularly struck, as we descended into Dublin, by the intense greens of the fields punctuated by vibrant yellow fields of rapeseed.
This was also my first experience of flying across Canada – over which I have since flown many times but still never actually visited – and then across the Polar regions to Europe. I was stunned to look down and see ice bergs down below!
Then in 1996 and 1997, before I returned to Australia, I was lucky enough to consult to a California-based company whose European distribution centre was located in Woerden, in the Netherlands. Over the course of 6 months, I flew four return trips with KLM between San Francisco and Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport. Cool for so many reasons. Firstly, of course, because of the travel to the beautiful Netherlands. Secondly, because it was my first experience of flying business class – which apart from the obvious relative luxury, also helped me build a small collection of KLM’s renowned Delft blue houses that still sit on my mantelpiece. Thirdly, as an airport geek, I really enjoyed Schiphol – a beautifully designed airport, at least from a passenger viewpoint – sleek, modernist, efficient.
And the link between all this and my desire to learn to fly? Thinking about it, it’s just another cool reason to fly. If you like aviation, and airports, then recreational flying – apart from the sheer pleasure of the flying itself – also gives you a great reason to hang around airports.
Aviation geek? Guilty as charged.