Cockpit Chronicles: Lonely paradise

It must sound so exciting. “Why, sure, I’ll take the Aruba 2-day trip, with a layover on the beach!” Even I was thrilled for a moment. At least I wasn’t being sent out to do the Panama City and Caracas three-day trip. There’s nothing wrong with that trip, really, it’s just that I’ve been holding out for something that we don’t often do, and laying over in Aruba was certainly unique.

We usually fly to Aruba out of Boston as a day trip, staying on the ground for only an hour, but this gave me a rare 17 hour layover there. Who wouldn’t want to get away from the ugly spring we’re having in New England. So of course I jumped on it. The trip would require me to ride down as a passenger (a.k.a. deadhead) to Miami before flying on to Aruba.

I was actually looking forward to the deadhead leg down to Miami, even if it did leave at 5:30 in the morning. Most pilots dread deadheading, but I’ve been enjoying the ability to catch up on the news or a podcast on the iPhone. I even managed to sleep a bit, but I agree with Andy Ihnatko who recently said: “the sleep you get on an airplane is the junk food of rest. Empty calories with no nutrition.” Sure enough, my neck was stiff and I didn’t feel any more rested, but I caught up on a weeks worth of the Daily Source Code podcast.
I met the Washington D.C. based Captain at the airplane in Miami. His original co-pilot who flew with him to Miami was also on reserve and since his days off would start the next day, I was called out to pick up the rest of the sequence.

Captain Gary gave me the leg to Aruba. It was blowing a bit (30 m.p.h) but at least it was right down the runway. Aruba is known for its constant breeze, and I doubt I’ve ever landed there with less than 10 m.p.h. of wind.

When we checked in at the hotel, we were both beat. Waking up at 2:30 in the morning tends to ruin any plans you may have for hitting the beach. If I had fallen asleep in the intense Aruba sun, this bright and dyn-o-mite white Alaskan would have cooked for sure. I slept in the ‘heavenly bed’ for over two hours before the alarm went off for dinner.

Gary and I ate at a place called Salt & Pepper. Apparently if you bring them a pair of salt and pepper shakers, they’ll give you a glass of wine for free with your dinner. The salt and pepper shaker collection was overflowing on the walls.

We sat next to a family with a really cute 3 year old daughter. You can’t really go far without some reminder of what’s waiting for you at home. So as nice as an Aruba layover might sound, without the ability to bring your family along, you’re really left with an empty feeling. At least Gary was fascinating to talk with and a genuinely nice guy.

On the way back to the hotel, I snapped a few nice pictures of the beach. There were a number of cockatoos and parrots along the walkway near the pool. They had apparently been put to bed since a heavy tarp covered each cage. The sun was going down and I figured I’d sit on a beach chair from our hotel and watch the view. Unfortunately, 30 seconds after I sat down, the hotel staff came and insisted on picking up all the chairs from the beach. Couldn’t they see that the sun was about to set?

So I started back to the hotel room, trying not to think of all the sandcastle building and feet burying I could do with my 6 and 2-year-old girls here. I walked back toward my room and saw a swing-set and play area for kids. I continued around the corner and saw the kiddy pool area. Something was trying its best to convince me to come back here with the family.

Sometimes pictures don’t quite describe the moment, so here’s a quick video clip of the beach.

The beach at Aruba during a sunset from Kent Wien on Vimeo.

I passed on paying the $15 to get on the internet. I remember it being painfully slow on the last visit here, so I actually watched a bit of TV — an amazing HBO miniseries about John Adams — before getting to bed.

The flight back to Miami was entirely uneventful. Gary flew the visual approach to runway 9, touching down nicely. I thanked him for a great trip and made my way to the gate for my deadhead flight back to Boston. The pilots of this flight were Boston-based friends of mine, and while I wouldn’t have minded sitting in the cockpit to visit with them, I really preferred to sit in the back, this time in coach, to sleep on the way home.

Whether it’s sleeping, reading, watching a video on an iPod or listening to music, if you have something to do, it can really make all the difference when you’re a passenger. I just can’t wait for the WiFi that we’re slowly going to start seeing this year. Unfortunately it will only be available on domestic flights. I’ll be sure to test it out if I run across it during a deadhead on one of those flights.

As usual, I have no idea when or where I’ll be going next. I kind of like it that way. Stay tuned!

Cockpit Chronicles takes you along on each of Kent’s trips as a co-pilot on the Boeing 757 and 767 out of Boston will be there.