My toes are in the sand. The waves are crashing and my skin is soaking up the sun. This company reward vacation is a tradition that has been repeated every year for the past ten years in my husbands agency. We’ve all arrived safely at our destination and are as “unplugged” as possible on this beach. For years, traveling on commercial planes to far-off destinations has been good enough. Great, even. Until learning to fly on my own and in my own airplane.
Yes! Let’s Fly To Florida!
As soon as the familiar destination was chosen for this years trip, plans were devised in my head to fly myself there and meet our guests at the hotel. I’ve been visiting this particular area of Florida since high school. However, acting as pilot-in-command there, has yet to be accomplished. Flying into new airports or to new destinations is always an experience enjoyable for me. The route from our home city of Cincinnati to Panama City’s airport in sunny Florida would be almost directly south and require probably only one fuel stop. Having never flown myself into Florida, had me more excited to check this off my list.
Florida holds a special place in my heart because that’s actually where I was born and lived there, back and forth between cities, during the early years of my life. The naval hospital in Jacksonville, Florida is my birthplace. My family spent time in a suburb a few miles from the Navy base where my father served and also in Pensacola, Florida. The energy in Florida is unique and being there always makes me feel “at home.”
Home Sweet Home, And Here And There
There are actually many places in Florida that are on my flying destination “bucket list.” Other than visiting my home city of Jacksonville, I’d love to stop at Daytona Beach, where a friend and some family members reside. It would be awesome to spend some time with each and force my cousin to clean her house for me and provide me a comfy bed! Flying along the east coast of Florida to make a stop at Space Coast Regional Airport, or fly a little further out and lower over the Atlantic, to catch a glimpse of the NASA shuttle landing facility and Cape Canaveral is on that list as well.
Flying over The Florida Keys is another experience some friends of mine have already crossed off of their list. Jealous. Grrrr. A girlfriend and her husband live part-time in a private airport community on Key Largo. Hopefully, they weren’t joking when they said they’d welcome me anytime. I’m willing to press my luck…A glass of iced tea in the Keys would be a dream come true. The beauty of the Keys would be a memorable experience from within my little plane. Perfect for the GoPro too.
During the planning phase of this trip to the beaches of South Walton, my mind was trying to calculate and figure out how many of these destinations could realistically be checked off while in the vicinity. How many extra days could be added? How much time would my mother really be willing to stay with my teenaged sons?? Probably not long. There are currently only two of my sons living at home but one of them, in particular, is….Sheesh, enough to make even the most patient, best grandmother (which my mother is) ready to curl up in a fetal position. I’ll need to prioritize and find contentment with one additional location.
My friend in Daytona Beach seemed fairly desperate for some encouragement. She’s studying to be an airline pilot at the rigorous ATP school. That became my priority. Two birds with one stone: my friend and my cousin in Daytona. Perfect. The other Florida flight adventures would have to wait until I could secretly drug my mother with some kind of extra patience medicinal drip or until my patience ran out and the children begged me to leave.
Mother (Nature) Can Be Such A Drag
My fingerprints were all over my iPad while investigating my route(s) on ForeFlight. The imagery weather tab did not provide the outlook and forecast hoped for. The Weather Channel agreed. Mother Nature was against me for this flight. Accepting my fate on a commercial flight took some time, admittedly. Maybe there was a tear, or two, or a thousand, pouring from my eyes. 😭😭😭
FAA, TSA, And UA
My impatience with the commercial airline experience was surprising. It’s highly likely that there was a slight grudge being held because my original solo flying plans were slaughtered a few days prior. I’m saying: there’s a chance. Arrive two hours before flight time? My alarm was set for 3:45am. Insane. TSA: Remove my shoes and walk on this public floor with all of these other unknown foot particles and remnants? Take my iPad out? Take off my belt. Check my pockets….Yada, yada, yada. I’ll have to stand in line with all of these other commercial passengers. Oh yeah, I’m one of them once again. Humbling. Our plane boarded, we settled with the allowable items stowed in the pockets in front of us or under the seats. Just kidding everyone! “We need everyone to please gather your belongings and disembark the plane for an unknown period of time.” Maintenance issue. Everyone has a connection to make. We’re powerless.
Back on the plane within the hour, thankfully, the flight attendant seemed to have it out for me. “Ma’am, you need to close your computer for takeoff.” Even though I’m only using Word to type up this current blog about my unpleasant commercial traveling experience Mr. Flight Attendant?? Uh huh. OK. “Ma’am, that iPad doesn’t seem to fit in the front pocket. It needs to go under the seat.” “Ma’am, is your iPhone in Airplane Mode?” Why is this flight attendant staring at me during his seatbelt usage presentation? Unless you were born prior to this century, you should know how to buckle yourself or you definitely need a traveling companion.
Of course, we weren’t lucky enough to have a non-stop flight. How many non-stop flights are there anymore? Three? Four, maybe? Connections are either 4+ hours or 20 minutes. There’s nothing between. You’re either “moving in” to the layover airport or running through the terminal bumping into those people “moving in.”
Excuse Me? I’m Not Finished Here
The habit of being in control of how long my layovers are when flying my GA aircraft took over. We had a small amount of time in Houston to get to the other terminal. That was completely lost on me. There were lots of shiny things distracting me that you don’t usually find at FBO’s. Before long, my name is being called over the PA, as the doors are closing for my final leg. Geez! These commercial schedules are soooooo inflexible! I’m making purchases and friends with the shop employees. The plane did not leave. My belongings were dutifully crammed into the overhead bin. We arrived at Panama City Beach just behind the bad weather. And I’m thinking: “GREAT! If I’d just waited a few more hours, my little plane and I could’ve made it just fine, thank you very much.”
It turned out to be a relaxing trip with some great people. Eventually, the fate of my being a passenger on this particular trip was accepted, or was it? No, actually. It is what it is though. There’s nothing that can be done. I am spoiled by being in control of my travels in my own plane. No doubt. My appreciation for this freedom has grown during this past week. The hard work it’s taken me to get to this place of freedom, flexibility and control has been worth every minute. There will be time for other trips in my little plane. Florida will still be calling me and N474Y.