Monday, July 23, 2012

July 23rd, 2012

Fresh Air Matters... with Capt. Yaw

Much as I really do not like flying in the bigger aircraft, there are times where it is simply more practical. My usual steed, the Zenith CH701, even when equipped with the latest engine (the Rotax 912iS, which is an absolute marvel), the flight from Ghana to the USA is not really practical. Do not get me wrong, it can do it. Well, it would not be too comfortable. A two-seat, 2,000km range plane, not equipped with a toilet and that you cannot stand up during flight, cruising at a maximum of 80knots (about 150km/hr) can still make it to St Louis, Missouri…. It would take a slightly longer route than one would imagine, due to refueling/overnight stops… Leaving Accra, after clearing immigration/customs, the most practical route would be to fly 2,000km direct to Dakar, Senegal, then 2,000km to Agadir in Morocco before landing in Nantes, on the West Coast of France, then head towards the cold part of the journey. A shorter hop of a little under 1,000km to Prestwick in Scotland, to collect some warm weather clothes, before setting out over large expanses of water towards Keflavik in Iceland, and on to Kangerlussuaq, Greenland, which is actually inside the Arctic Circle. Sliding South Westwards into Canada, Goose Bay, Labrador, would start the downward leg and see the end of the large water expanses. Just for fun, and some more fuel, a stopover at Niagara Falls in Canada would be great, and then cross into American Airspace before landing at St Louis, Missouri and clearing customs in the ‘Show-Me-State’. I am sure we would really need to show them that we did fly all the way from Ghana in an aircraft with a wingspan of less than ten metres! Such a trip would cover a mere 14,000km, take just ten days of flying in each direction and consume around one hundred hours in the cockpit! Not a practical solution by anybody’s standards – but an adventure by everybody’s imagination! Yes, one day, I hope to make such a flight – in an aircraft built in Ghana by Ghanaians! One day, not yet, but not too far away either…

Since I can’t afford the cost nor the time to fly ten days each way, and thanks to the support of some amazing people, it worked out more practical to fly with Delta Airlines to Atlanta, and then on to St Louis, in less than twenty-four hours. Being able to fly directly over the Atlantic and cruising at over 800km/hr, the airliner solution covered the 10,000km trip at higher altitudes and with great food and inflight entertainment. OK, I admit it, flying in an airliner is more practical – but it is not adventurous and is not really fun. Even with all the inflight entertainment in the world, sitting up-back with no forward-looking window lacks the charm and amazement of sitting in the pointy end, flying low ‘n’ slow over the most amazing sights you can imagine.

Sadly, practical won over adventure and fun, on this occasion. The airline that worked out the most practical was Delta. I had never flown Delta Airlines before. To be honest, I was a little ‘reserved’ due to some of the newspaper coverage in Ghana of the ‘not-positive’ nature. Delta is a BIG organization, and as such has ‘its own ways’. I wrote several times to their CEO last year, for support towards taking some young people to the USA, they never responded to the e-mails, and so, I was ‘not in the most positive of attitudes’ towards the airline giant.

In order to ensure rapid connection in Atlanta we only took carry-on. Arriving at Kotoka to check-in we were wonderfully welcomed. The passport checker was the most smiling and pleasant young person – at the end of her shift and full of bounce and cheer. The check in desk was less bouncy, but all the same pleasant – even if they decided that my ‘on-line boarding passes were not suitable for an early check-in’ and so insisted on issuing new ones. (It took me ages, and cost data, to get on-line from a rural internet connection to print those out, so I won’t do that again!)

The Ghana Immigration Service process went smoother than butter onto hot toast. GACL security then spoiled the record. They called me to one side, and rummaged my carry on. Picking up a special gift that was a unique present for a supporter of the charitable work that we do, he ripped the cover, never even asking a question about what he damaged. A unique, irreplaceable gift made to look like an old rag, with not a care about the image that it presented. I explained, but he shrugged and went to the next person. My mind considered putting a mouse trap in my carry-on for my next travels, but quickly rejected it as ‘not worth the energy to explain the effect of a careless attitude’.

Gate security was far more stringent, polite and correct. Chemical wipes, careful and polite checking of bag items, a demonstration that it can be done remarkably well. Next came the surprise of the day. The crew was walking through the lounge, when one of the Pilots looked and smiled at one of the young people I was travelling with, Lydia (the young disabled student pilot with the biggest smile in all of Africa). I stopped him, explained who Lydia was and asked if we could visit the flight deck at the end of the journey – he agreed, smiled and walked away. Less than three minutes later he returned, and spoke for a few minutes with Lydia, encouraging her and promising to make the time to show her the flight deck.

We departed on time, the seats, although restricted in recline, were comfortable and the In Flight Entertainment was one of the best I have ever flown with. The cabin crew were incredibly efficient and the service crisp and efficient. Looking around the packed cabin I could find no reason for any of the negative press banded about, wondering if I had read correctly.

On landing, the promised cockpit visit was more than anybody could ever imagine. Lydia was allowed to sit ‘left seat’ and ask as many questions as her tired mind could conjure, and Mike the Pilot was incredibly attentive. The generation, culture and experience gap between the two was immense, but the commonality of a love of aviation joined them in an almost magical manner.

Leaving the plane well after all the other passengers, we ran to our connection, only to be treated incredibly well, even being the last passengers on board. Delta won another award for customer service and kindness in my book.

Of course, I still have to fly back… and that could be a disaster! If it is , I will surely write about it, but if it goes half as well as the outbound, Delta Airlines is clearly not abusing its monopoly on direct flights to the USA, in fact, it seems to be fighting well to ensure it remains at the top of the list ‘I wanna-fly-with’! Give them a try, with an open mind!

Capt. Yaw is Chief Flying Instructor and Chief Engineer at WAASPS, and lead Pilot with Medicine on the Move, Humanitarian Aviation Logistics ( e-mail

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