I like airliners.
I don’t know why. (Feel free to advance a Freudian theory.) Thanks to all the post-9/11 security nonsense and the general mismanagement of the airline industry I don’t particularly enjoy flying anymore, but I still love airliners.
When I was a young teen, I used to ride the bus out to the Portland Airport just to hang out and watch planes. (That was back in the day when you could get to the gates without a ticket and you didn’t have to take off your shoes and belt.) PDX in the ‘80s wasn’t super exciting, unless you had a thing for 737’s, 727’s and MD80’s. Me, I preferred the big ones. (Again, Freudian?) There was a TWA L1011 that flew daily to JFK via Seattle, but it was a redeye and was only seen at Portland late at night; likewise the old Hawaiian L1011s came in at night and left at dawn. When Eastern went belly-up there was an A300B stuck out on the tarmac for weeks. So life at PDX was pretty dull, until Delta started up a mini Asian hub with nonstops to Tokyo, Nagoya and Seoul using L1011-500’s. (The latter flight continued on to Taipei and Bangkok.)
See, I know where these planes went because I also collected timetables. I actually read them. Yes, I would sit and read timetables. Like, more than once. I read them so much that when updates came out, I would notice things, like, Continental reduced its daily flights from Wichita to Houston. So even though the planes from Portland didn’t go anywhere interesting, I loved poring over TWA’s flights to Europe or Eastern’s to South America or United’s to Asia. I had a particular passion for Continental’s Pacific routes; it was some weird thrill to know when the flight from Yap to Truk was. When Delta took over PanAm’s European routes and started flying to random places like Dubrovnik, I about had a heart-attack from excitement.
My collection, of course, was limited to tables I could pick up at boring old PDX, just the big American carriers. But one day, flipping through the yellow pages (this is how we surfed the internet in the 1980s) and looking at the airline ads, I had the brilliant realization that the yellow pages from a bigger city would have more ads. And the Multnomah County Library had the New York City phonebook. So I went downtown and wrote down the 800 numbers for all the foreign airline offices in New York and called and requested timetables. What must my parents have thought when schedules for Air Afrique and Cathay Pacific started coming in the mail? Screw Wichita; now I could memorize the available routes from Geneva to Islamabad.
I about hyperventilated anytime I got to actually travel through a big airport. In 1990, when my high school marching band went to Hawaii for a competition, I took off on my free time…and went back to the airport. That was where I saw my first real-live 747-400 (Singapore Airlines to Los Angeles via Taipei). While I was still orgasming over this milestone sighting, a second one pulled in right next to it, from Malaysia Airlines. That summer I traveled to Japan as an exchange student and about died at Narita; yeah, that was 18 years ago now, but I still remember seeing an Iran Air 747-SP and an Aeroflot IL-62, among others. Most people don’t remember (because they don’t care) the kind of plane they just disembarked from, let alone a plane they didn’t ride on two decades earlier.
JFK, of course, has an amazing variety of airliners, but the terminals are lousy for plane spotting. My favorite was Zurich; the airport has an open-air observation deck on the roof of one of the concourses, which puts you at right about cockpit-level on a 747. I was so homesick there that I used to stare at the New York-bound Delta 767-300’s with a seriously intense longing, as I huffed the fumes. Good stuff.
Wish there was a way to make money with this.