An avgeek treat: experiencing a takeoff from the cockpit jumpseat

I’ve flown out of Newark International Airport dozens of times, but Tuesday’s departure wasn’t like any of the others. Instead of flying United (or, years ago, Continental), I was on Gogo’s 737-500 testbed with other journalists to try out the company’s latest inflight WiFi system.

And instead of occupying one of the 58 generously-spaced seats on that 1982-vintage airframe, I took the jumpseat up front, just behind the pilot and co-pilot.

That was all Zach Honig’s fault. When I was on another Gogo WiFi flight last March, the editor of The Points Guy travel blog thought to ask if he could take the jumpseat for landing–allowable because FAA air-carrier rules didn’t apply to this private flight. That sent me into an immediate fit of jealousy.

So Tuesday afternoon, I had to ask–politely, while acknowledging the pilot’s discretion. He considered it for a moment and then said okay, and I promised to keep my mouth shut and not touch anything. A flight attendant unfolded the jumpseat, and of course I needed help buckling myself into the five-point harness.

My eyes got a little wider as the pilot explained that if we had to get out of the plane in a hurry, we’d bail out the side window, using the rope stashed above it. Then he and the co-pilot busied themselves with their checklists as I gawked at the switches, knobs and gauges covering most of the available surfaces.

I’ve had the privilege of flying up front a couple of times before–a biplane ride out of College Park’s tiny airport in 1996, and a floatplane tour of Seattle out of Lake Union in 2010. This involved a lot more metal.

EWR being EWR, we had to wait an extra 10 minutes or so to get our clearance. We taxied to the runway–it felt like we took each turn too late, on account of my sitting forward of the nose landing gear–and lined up. The pilot pushed the thrust levers forward, the engines roared, and after a very short takeoff roll our lightly loaded Boeing cranked into the sky.

I had to resist the impulse to yell “holy shit! holy shit!” as we banked left and then right, the altimeter spiraled upward, the trim wheels on each side of the throttles spun, and Manhattan’s skyline unfolded across all three of the windows on the right side. Flying is a more visceral experience when you can watch the pilot turn the yoke, then see the plane respond a moment later–and when sitting at the front of the jet lets you feel it shake more than you would seated by the wing.

Then we popped through a layer of clouds to see them spread out before us, an impossible sight from any seat in the back. Looking at that office view, it became much clearer why people do this for a living.

I will admit that the seat itself–with no recline and vanishingly little legroom–was among the least comfortable I’ve sat in on any airplane. That did not matter Tuesday afternoon.

For more pictures (plus a shaky, poorly exposed video of the takeoff), see this Flickr album.

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Weekly output: Gogo 2Ku, online harassment, Twitter filtering, SXSW

I still haven’t caught up on the sleep deficit and food surplus accumulated at SXSW.

Yahoo Tech Gogo 2Ku post3/15/2016: Taking off soon: Gogo promises in-flight Wi-Fi that you won’t hate, Yahoo Tech

This was the most avgeek-ish post I’ve written since my recap of texting and calling from Gogo’s private jet at SXSW two years ago. For more details about this test of Gogo’s new “2Ku” satellite-based WiFi on that company’s Boeing 737-500, I’ll point you to the writers who sat one row behind me, Gary Leff and Zach Honig.

3/16/2016: At SXSW, talking about online harassment — but is anyone listening?, Yahoo Tech

I found SXSW’s Online Harassment Summit to be a little less depressing, slightly more hopeful and a lot less crowded than I expected.

3/18/2016: Hate it when social networks tinker with your timeline? You’d hate it more if they didn’t, Yahoo Tech

As I type this, the post on my Facebook page linking to this story has been seen by all of 29 people, or barely over 1 percent of the people following my page. So, yeah, I am fully aware that algorithmic filtering of social-media timelines has consequences. Or maybe I just wrote a boring post?

3/20/2016: SXSW 2016: A look back at the highlights, USA Today

After a lot of mental back and forth about how I could so some sort of SXSW recap that wouldn’t duplicate all of USAT’s earlier coverage out of Austin, I realized that I could contrast each highlight of the festival with whatever event I had to skip to attend that panel, Q&A or demo.

Yet another airline prepares to pull into the hangar in the sky

With yesterday’s announcement of a planned merger between US Airways and American Airlines, one more airline I’ve flown will vanish from the skies. Well, not its planes or people, but its name, livery and two-character code, and hopefully its call sign too: It would be tasteless to ditch AA’s “AMERICAN” for US’s America West-derived “CACTUS.”

Pan Am boarding passThe list of defunct U.S. and foreign airlines–excluding regional carriers and those from childhood that I don’t remember–that have transported me from one place to another is longer than I’d thought. I’m not sure if that demonstrates the crummy economics of the airline business or merely my own advancing age.

  • Aloha: My wife and I flew them to and from Maui for a friend’s wedding several years ago. Maui is an excellent place to go to a friend’s wedding.
  • America West: My chosen conveyance to and from CES for a year or two. I don’t miss their hideous livery at all.
  • ATA: We took this discount carrier to Chicago and San Francisco a couple of times.
  • Braniff International: I was on them a few years with my parents in the ’70s or ’80s. Their colorful paint jobs are still missed.
  • China Southwest: Flew me from Chengdu to Lhasa, Tibet and back on a memorable, two-and-a-half-week-long vacation in 1998.
  • Continental: The first airline I reached elite frequent-flyer status on; some of those miles went towards upgrading our honeymoon flights (they took great care of us), and some are still in my United account.
  • Eastern: Flew them up and down the East Coast a few times growing up.
  • National: This short-lived airline got me from San Francisco to Las Vegas–horribly late–for one Macworld-plus-CES trip.
  • Northwest: They got me to Tokyo and Hong Kong on that 1998 trip but couldn’t get me home, courtesy of a strike that resulted in my getting rebooked on United a day later. Did I complain about having to spend an extra day in Hong Kong? No.
  • Pan Am: The one I miss most of all, as do all self-respecting aviation dorks.
  • PeoplExpress: Not “People’s Express,” damnit. I learned years later that their dense, single-class configurations had earned them the nickname “PeopleCompress.”
  • TWA: I think this was the first airfare the Post paid on my behalf, courtesy of the paper sending me to cover the first E3 video-game trade show in L.A. in 1995.

If you have anything you’d like to say about the departed, the comments are all yours.

8/23/2015: minor copyediting to fix mistakes I should have caught long ago.