This trip report is a bit outdated as the trip was taken almost 4 years ago but it is still fresh in my mind for 2 reasons; it was the first trip for me in over 9 years and
it was then that I became so interested in aviation, which led to many turning points in my life including joining this website.
So the story goes that after living in New York for 9 years (at that time) I was finally paying a visit to my home town of Riga, Latvia.
Part 1 - JFK-HEL-RIX
I still remember the date, July 8th, 2002. It was a Monday and I was looking forward to the whole trip which would last 10 days. I arrived at the long-term parking lot at the JFK
from which I took a bus to Terminal 8. Back in 2002, the Airtrain was not in service yet. I remember going into the terminal with a suitcase and feeling proud that this time I was using the airport as a passenger and that I would be flying away. After checking in, I had about two and a half hours left before the flight. I wonder why they make you arrive at the airport three hours in advance. So I went to the gate area and it being Terminal 8 all I could see were AA
jets. For some reason, the window shades were done and our plane wasn't visible, just its silhoutte. When boarding finally started, a big line had formed and people were randomly taking off the line to be searched. The searching part did not affect me and I was able to board.
Seat Assignment: 57D
Upon boarding, each passenger was given a small sized bottle of Poland Spring Water, which looked very small but was a nice touch on the part of Finnair crew. In each seat, there was a pillow, a blanket, and a set of headphones, but the seat felt very cramped.
A scheduled departure time was at 17:55 with arrival at HEL
scheduled at 8:45. This seemed fine in terms of a connecting flight which was scheduled to leave HEL
at 9:25. We pushed back on time, taxied, and took off from what appears to be runway 13L. We went over Long Island and then made a left turn north. At this time we were still climbing, but the drink service had already began. The Finnish crew were very friendly and polite, and what caught my attention, they were all blonde. After 9 years in New York, that fact really caught my attention.
I don't remember which movie was playing that time, but the audio selection was decent, even including a channel playing Russian music. The dinner was served soon after the drink service and at that time we were flying over eastern Canada by Nova Scotia. After a while I fell asleep and awoke in the middle of the night somewhere over North Atlantic. I remember that when I woke up, the flight was so smooth that I couldn't believe we were flying. It was more like standing still with a soft monotonous noise somewhere in the background produced by the three GE
We passed just south of Iceland into Norway and, at that time, the breakfast was served. We were soon approaching HEL
and I realized that it was already 9 o'clock. At this time I started worrying that I might not be able to make the 9:25 connecting flight. I was calming myself down that, according to AY
schedule, there is another flight to RIX
in the afternoon. But at the time, I was hoping to make the 9:25 flight.
As we approached HEL
, I was amazed by the number of lakes that could be seen on the ground. Everything looked so nice and peaceful. Finally, we landed with a soft thump and as usual everyone started applauding. At this time it was already past 9 o'clock and I wanted to get to the gate faster to make it to the other flight. We taxied to the gate and being in the 57th row, I realized that it would take forever to deplane. Everyone in the front got up and instead of moving forward, they all started gathering their belongings like they had all day to do so. I thought that even if I do make a connecting flight, the baggage probably would not. But through the window, I saw that the ground crew were already unloading our plane.
I deplaned and realized that the flight to RIX
was departing from the gate nearby but on the lower level. When I got there, it looked like your regular airport gate. But instead of a jetbridge, there was simply an exit to the street where the bus saying "Riga" was parked. And I thought we'd be flying... Anyway, after boarding our bus, we drove on the tarmac until we arrived to the lonely looking plane which appeared very small compared to our MD
-11 which was still unloading nearby. Our bus drove up to it and we were boarding through the stairs.
Seat Assignment: can't remember, but on the right side toward the end.
The flight was almost empty, with about maybe 15 passengers in total. Too few in my opinion to be profitable. There was a friendly "good morning" from the cabin crew, eventhough I felt like it was 1 o'clock at night (according to time in New York).
We taxied to the runway and the pilot came on saying that there's a ground delay and we were number 4 for takeoff. However, that didn't take long at all and we were on our way. Soon after take off, there was nothing to see at all due to clouds, only the wing was visible. While we were still climbing, breakfast was served, again. As a matter of fact, that was the same breakfast served a couple of hours earlier on the previous flight, but I still ate the whole thing. There was no IFE of any kind on that flight, but considering the flight being only 40 minutes long, that didn't matter at all.
We were soon descending and I was able to make out the landscape based on what I remembered from my childhood. I could see where Lielupe River was flowing into the Gulf of Riga and where Bullupe River was flowing into Daugava River. We made a circle and I saw some houses and 3-story apartment buildings which brought back a lot of childhood memories. We soon landed on runway 36 at RIX
and taxied to the gate. I was a little surprised by that because when I left from that same airport back in 1993 there were no gates.
We deplaned, went through the passport control, collected the luggage, went through customs and left. I had 9 days left to enjoy my hometown. It felt like a time machine because I was back to the place I left a long time ago and wasn't sure if I'll ever be able to visit again. But the fun didn't last as long as I might have wanted and it was soon time to go back.
Part 2 - RIX-HEL-JFK
The date was now July 18th 2002. With a nice sun tan from the beaches of Jurmala, I arrived at RIX
for my morning flight to HEL
. After painless check in and passport control, I was asked by a policeman who wanted to search me. Up until that time I never thought that I looked like a terrorist. He even asked me to take off my shoes, but did not bother checking them. He then asked me where I was heading to. After I said Helsinki he asked if that was my final destination, to which I replied that I was actually going to New York. After that incident, I arrived at the gate, where I saw our plane being loaded with mail and baggage. The finally called for boarding mentioning both, AY
, as it turned out that AA
code shared on the RIX
flight as well.
Seat Assignment: can't remember, but on the left side somewhere in the middle.
We taxied to and took off from runway 36 from which we flew straight to the north. The sky was clear on that day and I could really see the geography of the Gulf of Riga which clearly looked like it resembled the map, or vice versa. I could see the point (I think it's called Kolka) where Gulf of Riga meets Baltic Sea.
A breakfast was served and as before we were able to finish, we were already descending. I could see the city of Tallinn clearly and we landed at HEL
35 minutes after departure from RIX
. There was about two and a half hours in between flights, which I spent talking to some girl in the terminal. Turned out she was also a Riga native and lived in New Jersey. All of a sudden I saw a plane appear in the gate and boarding was called. I guess time goes by fast when you're having fun.
Seat Assignment: 58D
This time there was no complimentary Poland Spring, but everything else was similar. The plane looked just the same as on the way there, same blue interior. There were pillows in every seat, but the blankets were stored in the overhead bins.
We took off on time, at 14:30 and flew west over Sweden and Norway. At the beginning, the flight was uneventful. I just noticed that unlike on the way there, this time we flew right through the middle of Iceland toward the southern tip of Greenland. I even remember a movie being shown, Summer Catch.
Then, all of a sudden, the wobbling began. The whole plane starting shaking in every possible way that it could. The seat belt sign came on and I tried to concentrate on the movie being shown. When I took my eyes of the TV
I noticed that flight attendance who were walking up the aisle were falling on the floor, shaking their heads sideways. That fact did not bring any reassurance to the situation. All of a sudden, the movie turned off and a map was shown. We were flying about halfway between Greendland and Canada. Then the pilot went on the PA system and was talking for about 10 minutes in Finnish, repeating the word "turbulencia" every now and then. Then, after he finished talking in Finnish he addressed us in English. That sounded something similar to "Ladies and Gentelmen, this is your captain speaking. We're experiencing moderate turbulence. Please remain seated and have your seat belts fastened." The turbulence was rocking our plane for the next couple of hours. The fact that I saw the wings flex up and down did not calm me down at all. Then I looked at the map and saw that we were near Halifax. For some reason at that time, the turbulence has caused me to associate our flight with Titanic. But the weather smoothened out a bit as we were nearing Boston. We were soon descending into JFK
and came in on runway 31R. I would assume that there was a great crosswind because when we were about to touch down, the plane was tilting a lot on its left side. After hitting the runway, we went airborne again and came down again, this time tilting on the right side. As we went airborne, AGAIN, we came down AGAIN, this time flat and even and after such a flight, I sincerely joined the rest of the passengers applauding.
As we deplaned, when I was walking throught the jetbridge I saw pilots in the cockpit. I waved to the captain and he waved back to me. So that made me feel special. I also thought what the pilots had to go through in that turbulence and I have not blamed them for a hard landing because of that.
After I came home, I went to do some research as to what MD
-11 was and linking through various websites I came accross this one. And I had been a proud member ever since. I guess it all comes down to this particular trip. This might explain why I still remember it 4 years later like it was yesterday. And if you got this far, I want to thank you for reading my report. It only took me about 2 hours to write it.
Sorry for not including any pictures, but that was before I had a digital camera and I wasn't much into aviation until I got home that day.
Thank you for reading and I'm looking forward to your comments.
A mile of runway takes you to the world. A mile of highway takes you a mile.