Oh, I see! moments
Travel Cultures Language

Travel Adventures in the Friendly(?) Skies

by Meredith Mullins on May 15, 2017

Plane flying through clouds, offering travel adventures and air travel stories of the memorable kind. (Image © Artem Tryhub/iStock.)

Travel adventures of the aerial kind
© Artem Tryhub/iStock

Air Travel Stories to Remember

Air travel customer disasters have peppered the news lately.

A passenger was dragged off an overbooked United flight, a fist fight erupted between two Southwest Airlines passengers, a woman was hit with her baby’s stroller as an American Airlines flight attendant tried to wrestle it away from her. The flight attendant later said “Bring it on” to a passenger who tried to intervene on the woman’s behalf.

We tend to remember the horror stories—the headline makers as well as the travel adventures we have suffered through personally.

Man yelling at checkin, showing that travel adventures are not always pleasant and air travel stories do not always end well. (Image © Eyecandy Images.)

Haven’t we all felt this way at one point in our air travel lives?
© Eyecandy Images

There is no shortage of such tales in a world where millions of people fly each day. There are bound to be some hitches.

What comes to mind when you’re asked to recount your worst air travel stories?

For me . . .

  • The time I was captive at Chicago’s O’Hare for three days (sleeping on the baggage claim conveyor belt) because a storm had halted all air traffic (and, for that matter, all traffic to and from the airport) and the airport hotels were full.
  • The time I raced for a connection on Christmas Eve only to see my plane slowly backing out of the gate without me.
  • Or the time I was halfway across the Atlantic from Europe to the U.S. when a passenger fell ill and the medical decision was made to retrace our path back to Europe. “What about Iceland?” I thought. “Why go backwards, not forwards?” But I could not argue with the idea of making a sick passenger the priority.
Flight Departures Board, showing the potential for travel adventures and air travel stories. (Image © AdaptDesign Advertising/iStock.)

The departure board that strikes fear in the heart
© AdaptDesign Advertising/iStock

The travel truth is that we depend on the magic of the airplane to take us to far-flung corners of the world. It is often our chariot to great travel adventures. And quite often the adventure begins on the plane.

The Glass Half Full

Instead of remembering the nightmares, let’s remember the best of times—the “Oh, I See” moments that have lasting meaning.

Girl by mother looking at pilot, showing how travel adventures and air travel stories begin. (Image © David De Lossy/Photodisc.)

There are many ways that airlines make children feel at home.
© David De Lossy/Photodisc

For example, the crew who went out of their way to make the children on board feel comfortable, the steely-eyed pilot who greeted us at the door whom we know will get us to our destination safely, the awe-inspiring moments looking out over the majesty of the planet, and the sheer miracle of human flight.

As comedian Louis C.K. put it, “Everybody on every plane should be going OMG! Wow! We’re sitting in a chair in the sky!

View of Alps from airplane window, offering travel adventures and air travel stories that inspire us. (Image © Meredith Mullins.)

The grandeur of our planet (flying higher than the Alps)
© Meredith Mullins

Favorite Air Travel Adventures

What comes to mind when you think of your favorite air travel moments?

My most treasured air travel adventures span the globe—from Nepal to the Seychelle Islands to the California Coast.

On a Wing and a Prayer

When flying out of the Lukla airport, the nearest airstrip to the Everest Base Camp in Nepal, you learn the meaning of fear. (If you’re trekking into Lukla, you must step over the wreckage of a plane embedded in the land; but, in reality, plane accidents have been rare.)

The airport, which dangles on the edge of a mountain, is considered the most dangerous in the world. The runway is only 527 meters long (about six football fields).

Tenzing-Hillary airport in Lukla, offering travel adventures and air travel stories of a lifetime. (Image © Vernacht/iStock.)

The most dangerous airport in the world
© Vernacht/iStock

On landing, the pilots of the twin-engine planes must be perfect in their approach. On takeoff, you just hope that the engine doesn’t stall at the end of the runway, because it’s a Himalayan drop to the chasm below.

Plane landing at Lukla Airport, offering travel adventures and air travel stories to remember for a lifetime. (Image © je33a/iStock.)

Landings at Lukla must be perfect. There is no way to abort if something goes awry.
© je33a/iStock

When the weather clears for flying (a somewhat rare occurrence that high in the mountains), the small planes come in quickly from Kathmandu, one after the other. The landings and take-offs are orchestrated to take advantage of the narrow window of good visibility. Clouds, rain, snow, and fog can come at any moment.

The nervous crowd at the airport waits in anticipation, hoping that they will find a seat on one of the 14-seater planes of the day (and trying to keep their mind off the short runway).

Once the action starts, there is barely time for passengers to generate the appropriate amount of anxiety. Things happen quickly.

Runway at Lukla airport, offering travel adventures and air travel stories to remember for a lifetime. (Image © Photon Photos.)

All clear, for one brief shining moment
© Photon Photos

On the morning I was leaving, after a fog delay of several hours, the weather miraculously cleared. I was hurried to my plane, wrapped in a prayer scarf for good luck, and whoosh! We soared off the mountain into the sun and the glory of the Himalaya.

It was an experience of a lifetime.

The Himalaya from a plane to Kathmandu Nepal, offering travel adventures and air travel stories for a lifetime. (Image © Dutourdemonde/iStock.)

There’s nothing quite like soaring through the Himalaya.
© Dutourdemonde/iStock

Thumbs Up

Pilots can often be friendly, but when you’re on a six-seater hopping to the smaller islands in the Seychelles, you are part of a select crowd.

I have fond memories of my travel in those paradise islands, particularly a flight to Fregate Island. The check-in and boarding process was simple. It was all done by the pilot.

I was weighed (together with my luggage). I walked to the plane with the pilot.

Seychelles Island cockpit, offering travel adventures and air travel stories for a lifetime. (Image © Lehnhoff/iStock.)

Just me and my pilots on the way to Fregate in the Seychelles.
© Lehnhoff/iStock

I sat just behind the cockpit, so it was easy to keep tabs on him (and the co-pilot) as he went through the checklist. And just before takeoff, he turned to me and gave me a thumbs up and a smile.

I knew I was in good hands.

A Whale of an Adventure

I often make the trip on the smaller planes that fly from the Monterey Peninsula to San Francisco. These commuter flights are part of the normal rhythm of the area.

View of Monterey Bay, California, offering travel adventures and air travel stories to remember. (Image © Santalechuga/iStock.)

Monterey Bay, California
© Santalechuga/iStock

But on one of my travel days a few years ago in January, the pilot made an unexpected turn over the Monterey Bay. It appeared we were headed back to the airport. I cursed under my breath, immediately thinking of missed connections and everything else that follows from a delayed travel start.

Instead, the pilot was making a quick detour for a marine biology expedition. He had spotted a pod of whales in the Monterey Bay and wanted us all to take a moment to appreciate the grandness of nature.

Gray whale in the Monterey Bay, offering travel adventures and air travel stories to remember. (Image © Raingirl/iStock.)

A whale of a detour
© Raingirl/iStock

Travel Adventures of the Memorable Kind

The best travel adventures remain in our memory and heart for a long time. The details stay vibrant, even as time passes.

Flight attendant adjusting a pillow for excellent customer service, offering travel adventures and air travel stories worth remembering. (Image © Digital Vision.)

Is this a dream, or does this really happen these days?
© Digital Vision

Now, every time I hear of an airline customer-service disaster or experience one myself, I will let my mind visit for a moment the Lukla airstrip, linger with the smiling Seychelle twin-engine pilot, and imagine again the grandeur of a pod of whales swimming far below as the miracle of human flight unfolds.

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