3 December 2005
AIRLINE: USAirways Express (MidAtlantic Airlines)
, & EYW
A/C: N802MD (all legs)
Six o'clock in the morning, alarm blaring & my left arm more soundly asleep than the rest of my body. Is today a Saturday? It's still dark outside as I untangle myself from my warm bed and rush around readying for my upcoming journey. It seemed like a dream only yesterday that I checked-in on usairways.com. No dream, as my boarding passes glowed brightly from across the dark room. I knew exactly what had to be done. I had to fly.
A 30-minute drive through the murky early-morning, Central Florida fog deposits me at Orlando International's Long Term Parking "Blue Lot"… where for a mere USD$7 I can park my car on airport property for up to 24-hours. As I take my parking ticket from the automated vendor, welcoming signs remind me that under no circumstances will the airport OR
the parking conglomerate have any responsibility for the safe keeping of my vehicle or its contents. Feeling safe and secure, I quickly parked and ran towards bus stop "A" where the waiting omnibus eventually dropped myself and the other bleary-eyed travelers on OIA's doorstep.
At just past 7:15am, I bypass the check-in counters and head directly to the security checkpoint for gates 1-59, camera bag in tow. A middle-aged, female New Yor-Rican crowd control agent was screaming and waving wildly in an attempt to queue the businessmen and tourists towards the TSA
screening areas: "Yo' must have yo' tee'kets and yo' ID
ab'ailable fo' thee agents ahead!" At this point, I had only 2 normal thoughts going through my head:
1.) "How did I work in this environment for so long…?"
(I worked at OIA for 6 years)
2.) "God, I still hate the TSA
15-minutes later, and after I had put my shoes back on, I was being whisked towards USAirway's gate #54 on OIA's people mover.
I arrived at Gate #54 in time to witness America West's "Battleborn" Arizona 757 being pushed off stand, departing on-time to PHX
with a full load of passengers. The now empty boarding lounge allowed me to belly-up to the window, commandeering 2-seats for myself and my camera equipment. Let the spotting begin!! In only the time it took me unzip my camera case, Alaska 737-800 w/winglets managed to land on 36R, catching me unprepared. Naturally, this led a steady stream of Turrets-like verbal obscenities to come flying from my mouth.
I rechecked my boarding pass to confirm Gate #54 was correct and that boarding would begin at 8:45am, for a 9:15am departure. My mobile phone confirms the time was now 8:30am. Everything seemed correct as the boarding lounge slowly filled. But wait! I did a quick count of USAirways aircraft currently attached to adjacent stands… a 757 to PHL
, a 757 to PIT
, a 737-300 to CLT
and an A-321 to DCA
. But I can't be fooled… gate #54 stood empty and there was no cute little EMB170 anywhere to be seen.
9:00am… a lone USAirways customer service rep limped (literally, must have just gotten a buy-out package notification) feebly up to the desk where he announced the flight would be delayed 1-hour & 20-minutes because the aircraft was delayed leaving DCA
enroute to MCO
. Naturally, this led a steady stream of Turrets-like verbal obscenities to come flying from my mouth. The only way I could see getting past this minor setback was to get a Café con Leche and a guava con queso pastillete from Pepe's Cuban Café… a Starbuck's-like competitor who won the minority business contract for OIA's airside 3.
Resigned to my fate, I returned to gate #54, coffee in hand. Some spotting later, and a change of runway direction to the "Eighteens", N802MD, operated my MidAtlantic Airlines, came zipping around the corner and onto stand. My heart skipped a beat as my camera clicked away. I inherently knew this was the only aircraft currently on the ground in Orlando that I wanted to fly… and it's a nice feeling to know the boarding pass was burning a hole in the left-ass pocket of my jeans.
US1633 was scheduled MCO
. My portion of this journey was MCO
(as I had purposefully scheduled a 3-hour layover in FLL
to accommodate yet another spotting fix). I bounded down the jetway like a fruity spidermonkey and was greeted with an overly-anxious "Haaaay!" from the lead flight attendant (who was obviously ready to hit the Key West Beaches wearing nothing more than a rainbow-coloured thong). Nevermind, I managed a brief smile as I began to take-in the aesthetic beauty: recessed lighting, grey leather seats, and HUGE windows within the EMB170 cabin. I took my assigned seat, 6A
, in the 2 x 2 arrangement. Optimistic that the "C" seat next to me would remain empty, I made a quick grab for the Emergency Information card from that seatback pocket and tucked it into my camera case. I was thrilled to find that the legroom was more than ample and I could not only cross my legs comfortably, but I could also fully stretch my legs under the seat in front. Fantastic!
Loaded with about 30 passengers, pushback was at half-past-ten. We quickly taxied out to 18L for a southerly departure. The Cabin Boys did a quick safety demo as we followed baby brother Delta Connection EMB135 to the runway. We positioned and held at the end of the runway as the captain did the requisite stand-up check (50% power, at first, to check for normal engine function). I thought: "Wow, this is weak performance for a new aircraft…" I didn't have time to finish that thought before full power was applied and I found myself straining to remain bent forward, peering out the window.
"Oh yeah, baaa'beee"… hands up, hair blowing wildly under the direct flow of the air vent… this is how take-off was meant to be!! With a light load and after a 2500-foot take-off roll, we were turning east towards the Melbourne, FL
coast in seconds.
The climbout and cruise were smooth and uneventful – just like the cabin service. The Boys were not visible once for the duration of the 35-minute flight. Our coastal flight passed West Palm Beach then turned west (downwind to FLL
's runway 9R
) and began an eager descent into FLL
. The final approach was smooth, although frequent engine thrusting seemed necessary to maintain our velocity.
Touchdown and a very quick deceleration, followed by a right-turn directly into gate E-5 and my first EMB170 came to a quick end. "Not bad", I thought as I walked up the jetway into the crowded E-concourse at FLL
. My intention was to spend 2 hours atop the new car park. However once inside the terminal, I realized that another pass through TSA
would only increase my risk of a full-body cavity search. I opted to take my chances at the window adjacent to gate E-7. Mt first shot of an American MD
-80 was so crisp and clear that I quickly gave-up any feelings of disappointment my 1-hour delay and decision not to scale the car park were causing.
I wedged myself against the picture window, and between seats. The boarding lounge at E-7 was chocked full of passengers awaiting a US 757 to CLT
. I felt that I was being watched by a thousand pairs of eyes as I happily clicked away at passing aircraft. I could hear comments like "What the hell is that freak doing?", "What is he taking photographs of anyways?" and "He has a sweet ass!" coming from the mixed crowd around the window. That did not stop me! 2-hours later and feeling slightly eye-raped, I made my way back to gate E-5 for the continuation of my journey to EYW
. I was slightly surprised to see N802MD back at the gate. Seems this lone EMB170, and its all-boy crew were turning FLL
all day long. Just my luck as the lead f/a greeted me with a familiar "Haaaaay!" and a long stare (you could tell he recognized me, but could not place from where). To the flight attendant's delight, I walked erect through the cabin to seat 17A, as the height of the interior is more than ample to accommodate the tallest traveler.
A short taxi back to 9L
and with about 30 passengers we followed an AirTran 717 into the bluest Florida sky. Turning south (right) after departure, we tracked the coast again before turning southwest bound, and passing directly over the downtown CBD of Miami and to the southeast of MIA
airport. Off the southern tip of Florida, the flight basically followed the progression of the Florida Keys to our southernmost destination in the USA, the Conch Republic of Key West. 25-minutes later, and after the same stellar no-inflight-service, we were turning final over the blue/green waters of the Carribbean. After whizzing over cruise ships and the art-deco homes of this southern paradise, we touched down and screamed to a halt on the ultra-short (about 4000 usable feet of sandy concrete) runway 9. Right turn at the end, and directly onto stand at EYW
International(?) Airport. Out the cabin door into the humid air, down the airstairs and across the tarmac, my second arrival was complete. The EMB170 dwarfed the gaggle of CO
1900Ds and DL
135s sharing the ramp. Some "regular" passengers even commented that this is the biggest, nicest plane they've ever flown into EYW
. Once outside of the aircraft, it was no wonder why everyone who worked at the airport was standing around staring at the "large" dark-blue (black) Embraer giant that had just fallen from the sky. Perhaps they were mesmerized by the sheer size of the craft… or maybe, like me, they wonder how it managed to land AND
stop in such a short amount of space!! (something I'm still trying to recreate on Flight Simulator).
I had 2 hours in EYW
before my return to FLL
and ultimately MCO
. I walked through the very, very small "terminal" building and followed the roadway around the airport buildings intent on finding and photographing the Cubana AN
-24 (CU-T1294). As rumor has it, this aircraft diverted to EYW
a few years ago and the pilots claimed asylum in America. They abandoned the aircraft at Key West where it has sat ever since. A private owner purchased the Antonov from the Florida Government, but is currently seeking funding to overhaul the plane.
After snapping away at my personal Russian/Cuban goldmine over a chainlink fence, I strolled across the street to sit alongside the Carribbean and soak in the sun. I spent a little over an hour on the coast before walking back to the terminal. I had a beer and a basket of conch fritters (only in Key West! Yeah baby, yeah!) and jumped up when I heard my flight being called. US1642 was again N802MD and was about to make up the last 3 legs of its daily journey: EYW
. I only had 2 more chances to show this beautiful aircraft who its daddy was, and I could not wait.
Thankfully the flight crew had changed, and I was greeted by a hot-ass girly with a pierced nose. "Oh Miss Jackson, be as nasty as you wanna be…" I thought as I matched smiles with this freakish airtramp. I sauntered back to seat 6A
(my old friend) and contemplated a chance meeting with this naughty diva: "Yeah, I'd do her…"
But I didn't.
22 passengers later, we taxied to the end of runway 9 and spent 15 minutes waiting departure behind a CO
1900D and the arrival of 2 Cessna 152s & a Steerman Bi-Plane (again, only in Key West, baby). We cleared the opposite end of the runway with a few feet to spare and were rocketing back to Ft. Liquordale pointed away from the most amazing sunset you'd ever want to see. By the time we had flown northeast and inland over the Florida Everglades, we turned final to FLL
in savage darkness.
The same aircraft and flight crew were MCO
-bound, so a very quick ground time in LaLaDale ensued. After disgorging 20 of 22 passengers in FLL
, and gaining about 3 more destined to MCO
, our EMB170 was again airbourne with an eastern departure and a northern coastal routing back to Orlando.
N802MD touched down on 18L @ MCO
and taxied to gate #58, where we finally parted ways. Here ends my short love afair with this Brazilian gem.... "Adios, my little Brazilian friend. We will meet again!"
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