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July 9, 2014

Prepping to Relive the Greatest Week of Geek

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At the time of writing this, I am at 35,000ft on a westbound flight from New York to Los Angeles. I love going to LA, and it is a frequent destination for me to visit, hang with good friends, enjoy the weather, and of course, get in some quality planespotting in a city with few avgeek parallels.

This trip, however, is special. There’s additional excitement in that I am unrealistically looking to relive an experience from a decade ago.  This very week in 2004 brought the Airliners International show to LA. An annual convention of avgeekdom that appears in different cities headed to the City of Angels, and I had to be there. And now, the Airliners International show is back in Los Angeles for the first time since then, and it is an absolute must for me to attend.

That week 10 years ago was easily the best aviation week of my life. Massive attendance from enthusiasts around the world, for nonstop planespotting, eating In-N-Out burgers, looking through the convention halls at the various collectibles you can purchase, and talking shop with fellow plane nerds.

I was in LA for 8 days, and I left the airport only twice, one of which was to go to the airplane graveyard at Mojave, which is one of the tours that they offered. Filling up a couple charter buses and being escorted around these old, retired airframes sitting lonely in the desert. Windows, ports and engine inlets covered in foil, the quiet desert offered an eerie look into the airlines of yesteryear. This year, they are offering a similar tour for Victorville’s boneyard.

The convention hall tables were always interesting. Various vendors selling a plethora of items that quench the thirst of passion for any enthusiast. If you like diecast models, there are thousands to choose from, offering a fun hunt that is a much more satisfying experience and thrill than doing a search on the internet. If you love airlines of the past, especially of those extinct ones (I’m a sucker for Eastern myself), you will be able to find everything from old timetables, inflight silverware, decks of cards, clothing and much, much more. Some love to collect safety cards (guilty as charged), and sifting through the tables filled with them to find a nice crisp one that you are looking for could easily force you into a victory cheer.

20140708_184626Slide collecting is another aspect of planespotting that we unfortunately do not see much of these days. Before digital photography, photograph-shooting spotters used slides to develop their camera talents. Creating with the official/unofficial requirements of having a perfect 50mm side-on shot, the slides would become quite the collectible. Having a physical photo in such a way made it the equivalent of an aviation baseball card, and a decade ago I found myself paging through binders to get slides of all of my favorite aircraft. My collection is small, but I’m proud of my set.

As for the planespotting itself, it doesn’t get much better. L.A. already has a leg up with its gorgeous weather, close-up locations and wild variety of international traffic. Add to that the 30-50 spotters out there from sunrise to sunset taking it all in and you’re having a good time. Planespotting rocks the body that rocks the party.

The evenings were filled with a few drinks at the hotel bar or poolside, talking with our fellow geeks about your day’s collectible buys or showing off the photos you snagged. Feeling beat from the beating sun all day, then retiring to bed early so you could get up at 6am and do it again. And that’s not easy, because the beds at the Sheraton Gateway are pretty darn comfy.

As is always the case with planespotting, the absolute best part is the people. The amount of fellow enthusiasts I met out there a decade ago was huge, but the friendships formed through our hobby were immense and invaluable. None of this pastime would be as remotely enjoyable if we didn’t get to enjoy it with such great people by our sides. Sharing our passion with hundreds and even thousands of people that get it, and get us, is what makes it all worthwhile. There are a few people that I haven’t seen since that week in 2004, and as I sit in a chair in the sky over Missouri, my gleeful excitement is for the handshakes and bro-hugs that await me.

Phil Derner founded NYCAviation in 2003. A lifetime aviation enthusiast that grew up across the water from La Guardia Airport, Phil has a background in online advertising and airline experience as a Loadmaster, Operations Controller and Flight Dispatcher. You can reach him by email or follow him on Twitter.


  • Daveabbey

    All the best Phil! Have a great trip to AI LA