I spent many years flying around the country on work related business, and have been sitting here remembering some of the interesting things that happened in the air. Some of my trips were on small private planes because sometimes that was the only way to get around in the West. A rancher flying me across Wyoming pointed out that his property went from horizon to horizon. A pilot who contracted with government agencies showed me how to find and count wildlife while flying through the Rockies. Colleagues from the East were stunned to see miles of nothing but Nebraska corn fields in every direction. An old DC-3 outfitted for smoke jumping featured a bucket as the toilet. Snow piled up on the wings of a light twin on the way to a meeting during a winter storm.
Not every flight stayed on course. On one, the other passenger, a local rancher, got the pilot to take him to look at a herd of cattle he was thinking about buying. On another, the pilot detoured to look at a piece of property he had an eye on. Then there’s the story of the pilot who fell asleep, but that’s for another time.
Airline flying was different too. More small cities were served by the big airlines, so a flight from Minneapolis to Denver or Billings might include stops at a half dozen places. A few people would get off, a few get on, and freight was exchanged. Western Airlines served a glass of (not very good) Champaign on every leg: it could add up. Overhead bins were open racks, and though they were for coats and hats only, more than a few suitcases were stowed up there. It made window seats a premium. Smoking was allowed on every flight, sometimes only in the rear, and it was common for promotional packs of cigarettes to be on meal trays: meals were always served on every flight of an hour or more.
A late night Kansas flight got slammed into the runway by a wind shear. A South Dakota flight, caught in a thunder storm, had to turn back. All passengers were given the opportunity to get off and wait for another plane. My daughter and I were the only ones to stay on and make another go of it. We made it. More than once, a plane would have to buzz the runway of smaller airports to chase deer or antelope away before landing.
I got to remembering all this on a recent flight back home from Nantucket. The Nantucket to Boston leg on a light twin was canceled due to a fire in the number two engine. Sometimes things are a lot like the way they used to be.