Friday, June 20, 2008

Don't Lay Around on Layovers!

The one thing that connects practically every airline crewmember in the world regardless of the company they fly for is the fact that they spend a major portion of their life away from home. Attitudes toward this vary pretty widely. For some pilots and FAs it's the best part of the job, for some it's a necessary evil, some hate it with a passion. I personally find that it's what you and your crew make of it. Four day trips mostly spent in hotel rooms can be pretty boring, lonely, and depressing. It's not always easy to get out and do stuff, though. A lot of layovers are too short for anything but grabbing a bite to eat and getting a few hours of sleep. Many of our layovers are spent in airport hotels with nothing to do in the surrounding area. Ground transportation can be tricky to arrange; the weather's often not conducive to roaming around town, especially in winter. It's not uncommon to fly with a "slam-click" crew that's uninterested in getting together on the layover.

Despite all that, I've had pretty good experiences on layovers. Sometimes it's as simple as getting together with a good crew for conversation over drinks and dinner; often it involves taking advantage of the opportunity to explore an unfamiliar area. Horizon was a great airline for this as the Q400 flew to many smaller mountain towns that had attractions within walking distance of the layover hotel as well as good hiking in the surrounding area. NewCo is a little tougher for layover options. We fly to mostly bigger airports and tend to layover in nearby hotels far from the city center. On the upside, I'm going to a lot of towns where I've never been or have only passed through, so there's a lot of new places for me to explore when I have the time to take public transportation into town.

I had a long Washington-Dulles layover on Memorial Day. NewCo's IAD hotel is located in Chantilly VA, near the airport; all my previous layovers had been too short to venture into DC. I've been to 42 of the 50 states and 13 countries at last count, but had never been to our nation's capitol. My FO and I caught a bus from Dulles that dropped us off at L'Enfant Plaza just south of the National Mall. We arrived just as the Memorial Day Parade kicked off on the east end of the Mall near the Capitol Building. We followed the parade westward along Constitution Ave, stopping in at the Washington Monument. Memorial Day ceremonies were ongoing at the WWII Memorial and the Vietnam Memorial. The day was brilliantly sunny, with a light breeze; crowds sought shelter from the afternoon sun on the steps of the cool, cavernous Lincoln Memorial. After a respite, we moved back east against the parade and ducked north to say hi to George at the White House. From there we walked all the way to the southeast corner of the mall and visited the National Air and Space Museum. I could spend days in that place. I could spend hours in the lobby alone. You enter the doors and look up and it's almost too much to handle: there's the Spirit of St. Louis! And the Bell X1! And SpaceShipOne! And the X15! When you look back down, there's the Gemini IV capsule and Apollo 11 command module! As an aviation and history enthusiast, it was the proverbial candy store for this kid. Alas, we had only a few hours for a cursory inspection of the museum's offerings before they kicked us out and we walked back to the bus stop as the setting sun turned the Capitol Building golden.

That last shot is of the headquarters of everyone's Favorite Aviation Administration.

A week later, I had my first layover in Norfolk VA. Our hotel is actually in between the airport, Norfolk, and Virginia Beach - basically in the middle of nowhere. Fortunately there's a bus stop a few blocks away for a bus that my flight attendants and I took to the beach. The water was too cold for swimming but we walked up and down the beach at surf's edge and people-watched. Later we had dinner at a local restaurant, then got some cheesecake to go for dessert on the beach. Turns out that blowing sand gives cheesecake a distinctly different texture. After that the flight attendants got somewhat bored so they buried me to my neck in sand.

A few days later I had a Kalispell layover. That was one of my favorite layovers at Horizon and remains so at NewCo. Dawn came along with me. One of our flight attendants also brought her husband. They had never been up to Glacier Park before so they went in on a rental car with Dawn and I and we drove up to the Park. Again, it was a gorgeous clear-blue day, perfect for being out doing outdoorsy things. Unfortunately, most of the Going-to-the-Sun road was still closed for snow. We were able to go as far as the Avalanche Creek trailhead, where we did the easy 5.5-mile roundtrip hike to Avalanche Lake. I'd been there a few years ago and forgot how gorgeous and majestic it is - pictures don't do it justice.

And then there's layovers like this one, where I stay inside blogging. They've been somewhat far and few in between, leading to a darkening complexion but also a dearth of new material on the blog. I'd blog on my days off, but, well, the weather's been too nice to not be riding my motorcycle or playing tennis or walking around the lakes. The harsh MN winter definitely is making me appreciate summer more.


Anonymous said...

Next time you're laying over at IAD, trying visiting the Udvar-Hazy Air & Space Museum Annex, just off the Dulles Airport property.

Matt said...

Did you ever overnight in YLW when with QX? If so, what did you think of it? I used to work on the ramp there. I always thought it was funny when you guys came in because they hooked up the Dash to the bridge. The bridge was (and probably still is) sooo slow. Most times they could've deplaned the whole airplane by the time the bridge was hooked up. :-)

Bruce said...

I once spent two days exploring the Air and Space Museum, and that was before the Udvar-Hazy Annex was completed. I think people thought I was crazy as I just stood in front of those incredible aircraft and thought of the accomplishments of those aviation pioneers. Same thing applies for the Air Force Museum in Dayton, Ohio. An outstanding collection of military aircraft and a must see for any aviation enthusiast.

John said...

Nice pics from two of my favorite places, DC and VA Beach. Having grown up between the two (in Richmond) I've spent much time at both. Just across the Potomac is Gravelly Point, a good-sized park that sits at the end of 19 at DCA. A great place to spend an afternoon, and a place our 5 yr old daughter loves, which makes me all warm and fuzzy inside ;)

If you ever find yourself on an RIC layover you're welcome to a home cooked meal.