Always a Kid: First Time On A 747
A Dreamy Quest
Family vacations often brought us through Chicago during the hub and spoke days of the 90s. While everyone else in my family dreaded connecting through delay ridden O’Hare, I was thrilled to have the chance to see the battleship scheme jumbos of United at the gates, bound for exotic destinations far, far away. I marveled at the airplane’s raw power with every window-shaking departure. I reveled in its ability to fly half way around the world and look sexy while doing it. Yeah, that’s right, the 747 is a sexy airplane. It always has been, and it always will be. And I dreamt about being on one, ticket in hand to some place new, exciting, and far from home.
Yet for years it has evaded me. In days past I used to look up crazy itineraries, hoping for a good price, in a bid to get aboard one on the cheap. I’d look up Boston to New York – via London, or a weekend in Tokyo. Unsurprisingly it never worked out. So with most of my travel being domestic, I got to fly an endless number of A320s and 737s instead. They got boring, and flying got kind of boring with them.
Meanwhile, most of my first flights on the big Boeing jets were while working events for NYCAviation. Both the 777 and 787 went down this way. So while it was awesome to fly on them, I can’t say I was paying all that much attention (yeah, I know, cry me a river). Even still, the 777 and the Dreamliner just don’t connect with me in the same way the 747 does. They don’t have the same elegance or the same obvious raw power, nor have either served as the symbol of global travel for decades. Maybe what I’m saying doesn’t make sense, but the 747 is just different. At least for me, it represents everything there is to love about flying: the beauty of flight and the promise of adventure.
In any case, while the first twenty-six years of my life were devoid of luck, the twenty-seventh turned out to be the charm. Thanks to some clever routing and help from the good folks at Delta, I finally scheduled up my first flight on the jet late in 2012: Tokyo to Detroit.
The 747-Plane Cometh
There it was, sitting at gate 23 of Tokyo Narita, basking under a partly cloudy sky: a big, beautiful 747-400. In my hand, a ticket on Delta 276 service to Detroit; seat 74K. Detroit wasn’t exactly what I had in mind when I dreamt about going somewhere exciting, but at least coming from my first visit to Japan made it close enough. The gate agent merely called out our flight number and I felt myself getting excited about going flying for the first time in awhile. After snapping a few pictures from the terminal I stepped on board. I spent a good long time admiring the iconic forward cabin (the nose) for the first time, before pressing onward to my seat on the upper deck. While putting my things away I noticed the flight deck door was ajar. Never missing an opportunity to visit an open cockpit, I ventured on up and asked if I could pay a visit. Thankfully the pilot said yes.
After a few minutes of gawking and talking, two young kids sheepishly knocked on the door. Their father – in tow – remarked it was their first time on a 747. They beamed with excitement when our pilot not only invited them in but offered them each a chance to sit in his seat; quintessential pilot cap included. Both kids were clearly over the top. Pictures were taken, smiles shared, and a short while later the family was off to their seats.
Admittedly I was sort of jealous of their ability to be so unabashedly excited. It was my first time on a 747 too, I thought, and I’ve been looking forward to this day longer than they’ve been alive – combined. I was crazy excited about it just like they were, but didn’t want to show it for fear of looking, well, childish. After all, I was in the first class cabin with all the prim and proper international business people, most of whom had probably flown on the Queen of the Skies for years by now. As a result I spent the entire time boarding the plane trying hard to contain my excitement. The effort probably resulted in this creepy half smile that left fellow passengers thinking I was nuts, but that didn’t occur to me then.
Back on the flight deck our pilot then turned to me, asking if I wanted my picture in the captain’s chair; quintessential pilot cap included. I get this offer often in my visits to the front office, and almost always pass it up in an attempt to act my age. But the cap; the cap was rare. I couldn’t recall the last time I was offered to wear the cap. And this was my first flight on a 747. The weight of the offer, which I figured may never have happened again, became too much. So just this one time, I caved.
I stepped into the left seat, sliding it forward until my feet reached the pedals with ease. My right hand reached out for the throttle, with all four fingers slipping onto their own lever. My left hand took hold of the yoke, and I glanced out the windshield imagining the view our crew would see shortly. Our pilot handed me his cap, snapping me out of my av-geek induced haze. I put it on—instantly feeling the same age as the kids who just visited—turned to the camera, and smiled.
I chatted with the crew for a little while longer before reluctantly wandering back to my seat for departure. Settling in for the long flight ahead, I couldn’t control the excitement anymore. The smile that started on the flight deck had extended from ear to ear by now, and wouldn’t go away. I looked excitedly around the cabin, soaking in every detail and likely scaring fellow passengers who wondered why I was smiling so widely. My eyes transfixed on a wing with two engines out the window, we climbed out of Tokyo and headed east into the night.
I felt like a kid again; occasionally laughing quietly to myself all the way up to cruise. The last time I was this excited to be on an airplane had to have been many years ago. Truth be told, it felt great. It felt great to let go and enjoy it for all it was worth. It felt great to remember why I love to fly. It felt great to live out a dream.