Friday, February 21, 2014

Castles in the Air

Poster on my office wall
It's hard to beat a journey that starts with deicing fluid rumbling onto hollow metal. Before you know it you're six miles above a perfectly blue Pacific. Then, just as the sun is thinking of setting, you arrive in HNL (Honolulu) to a terminal with walls open to fragrant tropical vegetation.

The reality has to be nuanced. Ask the honeymooning couple just off the plane in HNL anxiously waiting for the no-show lei greeter.

Welcome to the Land of Brochure-Speak: there's still time to escape.

I've passed through HNL about fifty times on my way to or from neighboring islands in search of "old Hawaii" and good hikes, or heading to Japan or Australia. This place connects me with adventures.

Boeing Stratocruiser "Castle in the air"
In the 1950's and early 60's the way to fly to HNL was the Boeing Statocruiser with its circular staircase and "tastefully decorated extra-wide passenger cabin." As a working-class boy, I would have been thrilled to ride this "castle in the air" but the stratospheric price meant such dreams were for the rich people.

Back in the '80s, I started flying MSP (Minneapolis/St. Paul) to HNL, 4,000 miles nonstop on DC10s with an advertising jingle ringing in my head: "wide cabins in the sky." For the next 20 years, Northwest, our home-town airline, provided nonstop service using DC10s and 747-200s .

In 2007 my sister-in-law was on Northwest's final DC10 run which was from HNL to MSP. This was an opportunity to rescue the aircraft safety card for my "travel shrine."

DC10 Stations of the Crash
After this retirement run, Northwest operated nonstop, internationally configured, wide-body Airbus 330-300's on the MSP/HNL route. We blew WorldPerks (frequent flyer) miles to sleep on lie-flat seats.

I got my "Stratocruiser ride"
With Northwest's merger into Delta, we now get one-stops through west-coast cities like Seattle and Los Angeles using narrow-body (single aisle), domestically configured 757-300's.

I like the MSP/HNL route so much, I'd fly it standing up, clutching an overhead strap, subway-style. Economy on a 757, hurtling towards new adventures, is plenty fine for me.

[I photographed the "Castle in the Air" and "Nonstop Service to Honolulu" posters when I visited the NWA (Northwest Airlines) History Center, Bloomington, Minnesota, in January of this year. While I was there, I chatted with a 90+ year-old retired mechanic who maintained APUs (auxiliary power units) into his 70s. I asked if he had flown on the Stratocruiser. He had, but he just shrugged when I asked about the experience. He lit up when I asked about APUs. I thanked him for his contribution to my happiness.]

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