Monday, October 26, 2009

A "Grand" Layover!

I've had a lot of great layovers as an airline pilot. I've gone on ferry rides across the Puget Sound, drank wine under the Eiffel Tower, hiked around the Acropolis, partied in Times Square, and laid on the beach in Mexico. This past weekend however, I had one of the best layovers I can remember. I was on a 26 hour layover in Sin City - Las Vegas - although this particular activity didn't involve any sinning.

I called up Scenic Airlines to ask about going on a tour flight over the Grand Canyon. The reservation agent told me that they have a special rate for airline pilots. The price they quoted for the flight was too good to pass up, so I set up my reservation. I was, of course, flying on a standby basis, but if I didn't make it, I still had the rest of Vegas to explore.

They have a shuttle that picks everyone up and drives them out to the Boulder City Airport. I was picked up at 7:30 AM and had a nice chat with the other passengers during the 45 minute van ride to the airport. Once we arrived, I checked in at the ticket counter - just like one might do when flying on any other airline. The only difference I noticed during check-in was that they weigh you and your bags. Airlines like Continental, Southwest, United and Delta use an FAA approved "average passenger weight" instead of weighing each passenger individually. (For those curious, it's 190 lbs in the summer and 195 in the winter.) Because it's a smaller airplane, they need an actual passenger weight so they will have an accurate weight and balance.

After about 30 minutes of waiting in the gate area, we headed out to the airplane. We jumped in the De Havilland Canada DHC-6 Twin Otter and got a safety briefing from the first officer. The Twin Otter is a super cool twin engine turboprop that hold 19 passengers plus 2 pilots. It's a high-wing airplane which makes it great for tour flights, a lot of places use them for skydive airplanes as well because of the over sized door in the back.

We took off and within a few minutes were over the Hoover Dam. I kept hoping for the National Lampoon's Vegas Vacation, Clark Griswold quote: "Where the hell is the damn dam tour?" After we circled around the dam, we headed out over Lake Mead and towards the Grand Canyon.

They were playing an audio tour through our headphones and somewhere between the Hoover Dam and the Grand Canyon, the tour got kind of quiet. I figured there wasn't much to say about Lake Mead but when I noticed all the passengers look out the left window at the same time, I realized I might be missing something. I followed my headset cord from below my neck to the plug and realized my headset had been unplugged for about 10 minutes. I'm sure there's some great history about that part of the country that I could pass along but you'll have to go on your own flight to find out - because I missed it.

It wasn't long before we arrived at the Grand Canyon. I took a lot of pictures and video but like most pictures you've probably seen of the Grand Canyon - the pictures don't do it justice. To fly 500-1,000 feet above the canyon was just awesome! By the time I was flying it was almost mid-day but an early morning or late evening flight would be incredible! The different colors of the rocks reminded me of the changing leaves of autumn in Minnesota.

We circled around the canyon for 20-30 minutes before it was time to head back. After an hour of flying we landed back at the Boulder City airport. I chatted with the pilots after I got off to thank them for the ride and before long, I was on the bus back to my hotel.

I was flying a red-eye flight that night and normally when I do red-eyes, I try to wake up early so I can wear myself out and take a nap in the afternoon. A scenic flight over the Grand Canyon was certainly a good excuse to wake up early but when I arrived back at my hotel, I was so excited about the flight that it was hard to take a nap before we left for the airport - nothing a little Starbucks couldn't fix, however.

To see a video from my flight, click here!

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