It has been awhile since my travels have warranted a trip report. Most of my flights over the past year have been routine jaunts with major airlines on widely-travelled routes in the U.S.—in other words, nothing special. However, I just completed a trip that was fun and refreshing, and I felt compelled to share my experiences. This report describes a flight from Vancouver, Canada to Portland, Oregon (USA) on the excellent regional carrier Horizon Air; the second half of the report is more unique, highlighting the small, Portland-based carrier SeaPort Airlines and the Pilatus PC-12. I have not been able to find any other SeaPort trip reports in this forum, so as far as I know, this is the first account. I hope you enjoy and, as always, questions and feedback are most welcome.
For those interested in the reason for my journeys, here is a little background. If you’d prefer to get right to the flights, just scroll down a paragraph!
These flights were part of a larger road- and air-trip over the past month. My girlfriend and I had been living (quite restlessly) in Washington, DC for the past four years and were finally able to make our escape when she accepted a job in Brussels, Belgium in mid-May. As her new position would not start until July, however, we took the opportunity to drive across the U.S., visiting friends and family over the course of three weeks in June. After 5,500 miles (8,850 km) on the road from DC, and after visiting many points off the beaten path, we coasted into Vancouver, Canada on June 21. My girl’s parents live in Vancouver and agreed to let us leave our car in their custody for as long as we are overseas. After a short visit in Vancouver, my girl flew to Brussels on June 24. Meanwhile, later that afternoon, I turbopropped off to Portland to visit a friend, and the next day continued to Seattle to visit my sister. I will join my girl in Brussels later in July. And while I have your attention—if any readers in Brussels are looking to hire a politics/policy person with deep knowledge of how both Washington, DC and the EU operate, let me know!
Date: June 24, 2010
Flight #: QX 2435
Aircraft Type: Bombardier DHC-8-402
Aircraft Registration: N405QX / Serial Number 4047 / Manufactured 2001
Scheduled Departure: 15:20 PDT
Scheduled Arrival: 16:35 PDT
Actual Takeoff: 15:42 PDT
Actual Landing: 16:32 PDT
Flight Time: 0:50
Distance: 250 miles direct / 276 miles actual (402 km / 444 km)
My Logbook: 5th flight on Horizon Air / 4th flight on the DH4 / 255th airline flight overall
Airfare: USD $158.52 (including taxes; one-way fare purchased three weeks in advance)
My girl and I arrived at YVR at 06:30 on June 24, and we checked her in at the United counter for her flight to Brussels. I had checked in online with Horizon the night before and, although my flight would not depart for another nine hours, I had my boarding pass and we proceeded through security and U.S. immigration together. Once inside the U.S. departures terminal, we had some breakfast. At 08:30, I walked my girl to her gate and said farewell. While she jetted off to Chicago and onward to Brussels, I spent the next few hours working on my own applications for jobs in Brussels. After a quick lunch, I then made my way over to the Horizon Air gates around 14:30. Parked next to Horizon was this Air Canada Jazz DHC-8-300.
My inbound Horizon flight from PDX was running a tad behind schedule and finally pulled up to the gate around 15:10.
The agents turned the plane very quickly and I was soon on my way downstairs and out onto the ramp. After dropping my bag on the valet cart, I boarded through the front door and found my seat at 4A on the left side. Legroom was sufficient and the seat was comfortable; although this is a turboprop, the -400 model certainly does not have a small airplane feel, in my opinion. To make matters even better, the seat next to mine remained empty, even though the flight was nearly full.
I love the view out the window of that massive prop!
At about 15:30, the blades started spinning, the engines spooled to power, and we made a hard right turn off the stand (no pushback). While taxiing to the runway, we passed this British Airways 744 awaiting departure to Heathrow.
At 15:42, we straightened out on the centerline of RWY 08R and quickly accelerated down the runway. Following a smooth rotation, the twin props carried us out over the city of Richmond. It was a gorgeous day for flying, and the skyline of Vancouver and the coastal mountains towered in the distance.
We soon made a right turn to the south before leveling the wings on a course for the U.S. boarder, and Seattle thereafter. The Alex Fraser Bridge over the Fraser River popped into view.
A few minutes later, the San Juan Islands appeared below, along with the town of Bellingham, Washington in the background.
Another few miles down the airway, we passed near Anacortes, Washington, as seen in the photo below.
Given the relatively short duration of the flight, the cabin crew quickly sprang into action and distributed drinks and peanuts to the nearly-full flight. One of the great things about Horizon is that it offers free, Pacific Northwest microbrew and wine—very unique for a U.S. carrier! I decided to get an early taste of Portland’s flavor by selecting the Summer Grifter IPA beer from local brewer Mactarnhahan's. I don’t always like IPA, but this one hit the spot. Meanwhile, the urban landscape of Seattle came into view with Lake Washington dominating the center of the photo just east of the city.
A minute later, Renton Municipal Airport and the adjacent Boeing facility came into view at the southern end of Lake Washington. This is the birthplace of every new Boeing 737 and, according to the company’s website, the birthplace of 42 percent of the world’s jetliner fleet as of 2008.
As we continued southward, the snowy massif of Mount Rainer appeared in my window. What a beauty!
The next photo, I think, is a quintessential Horizon Air shot—a big turboprop churning away with Rainier in the background.
Roughly abeam Rainier, we began our descent into Portland. I soon spied the blown-out volcanic crater of Mount St. Helens. This was the first time I had seen the mountain from the air on a clear day and I eagerly snapped a series of pictures.
As we descended the final miles toward Portland, Mount Hood came into view—another magnificent mountain in the Cascade Range.
We then made a left turn to start the downwind leg of the approach for an eventual landing to the west.
After another turn back to the west, we stabilized on final for RWY 28R.
We hit the runway with a strong jolt and quickly decelerated; I have heard that, from a pilot’s standpoint, making a glassy-smooth landing in the Q400 is difficult. We exited the runway to the left and taxied around the west end of the terminal building before backtracking to the A Concourse. Below is a final shot as we pulled into the gate next to a company CRJ-700.
Upon exiting the aircraft, I grabbed my bag off the valet cart and headed into the terminal. A few minutes later I was curbside and my friend arrived shortly thereafter to pick me up.
Date: June 25, 2010
Flight #: K5 3110
Aircraft Type: Pilatus PC-12/45
Aircraft Registration: N933SP / Serial Number 240 / Manufactured 1998
Scheduled Departure: 17:50
Scheduled Arrival: 18:45
Actual Takeoff: 17:56
Actual Landing: 18:31
Flight Time: 0:35
Distance: 135 miles direct / 166 miles actual (217 km / 267 km)
Altitude: 16,000 feet
Seat: Row 2 / Right Window
Load: 8/9 seats occupied
My Logbook: 1st flight on SeaPort / 1st flight on the PC-12 / 1st flight into BFI airport
Airfare: USD $151.70 (including taxes; one-way fare purchased two weeks in advance)
After a great 24 hours visiting friends in Portland, it was time to head back north to Seattle to visit my sister and her husband. My friend dropped me off at the Business Aviation section of PDX at 17:20—plenty of time to catch my 17:50 flight on SeaPort. As a small carrier operating small aircraft, SeaPort operates out of an FBO-like setting at all of its locations, including Portland. As such, there is no security screening (no TSA), no waiting lines and no other bureaucratic procedures. There aren’t even boarding passes. I simply entered SeaPort’s small, private “terminal” and approached the front desk. After saying my name and quickly showing my driver’s license, I handed over my suitcase, which was affixed with a bright “BFI” tag indicating its destination as Boeing Field. The SeaPort employee then placed my bag on the scale, which revealed a weight of 37 pounds. Although the airline’s policy restricts each passenger to a single piece of checked luggage weighing no more than 35 pounds (or else a $35 fee is charged), the friendly agent didn’t mention it. This was just one example of how wonderful it can be to deal with a small company that allows its employees to make a judgment call about whether to charge an extra fee to a passenger because of two measly pounds. I cannot say the same about United Airlines (or Delta, or U.S. Airways, or any of the others, for that matter), when I was recently asked to repack a suitcase in the midst of the check-in process because it weighed a pound above the limit. Already, SeaPort had won my good graces.
After the quick and easy check-in I took a seat in the lounge to await boarding. Again, SeaPort operates a very FBO-style terminal, and the surroundings reminded me more of my childhood hanging out at the local airport, and less of the modern airline experience. In addition to comfortable leather couches, SeaPort offered free WiFi and a good selection of reading material. I spent the few minutes before boarding reading several local newspaper clippings about SeaPort that had been tacked to the bulletin board. Below is a photo of the waiting room.
I also snapped a photo out the window of the ramp and several business jets.
About ten minutes prior to the scheduled departure time, the inbound aircraft arrived on the tarmac. This would be my first flight on this unique aircraft and I was excited; until now, I had always viewed the PC-12 as a workhorse for the relatively wealthy. As a lowly airline passenger, I felt privileged to be moments away from stepping aboard such a rugged but beautiful little aircraft.
After a very quick turnaround of no more than seven or eight minutes, the two SeaPort pilots entered the building and made an informal, verbal announcement that we were free to board. The First Officer read off the first name of each passenger and indicated in which row that person should sit for weight and balance purposes (passengers are asked to provide their weight when booking); I was told to sit in the second row. The eight passengers and two pilots then proceeded outside to the waiting Pilatus. After climbing aboard, I took my second row seat on the right side of the aircraft (I chose the right side in anticipation of again viewing the Cascade volcanoes en route). I was very impressed with the interior of the plane; each seat had a sizeable and well-positioned window, the legroom was sufficient and the leather seats were comfortable. Yes, this is a small aircraft, but even in a non-luxury configuration, the interior was more than accommodating. I snapped a couple photos of the safety card and SeaPort’s very own in-flight magazine perched in the seat pocket.
With all eight passengers and two pilots aboard, the ground agent closed the door. The young-looking Captain then turned around from his seat and introduced himself. He also provided a quick safety briefing, indicated our flight to Boeing Field would last about 40 minutes and that we could expect some light turbulence during takeoff and landing, and finally, asked if anyone had any questions. No one did, and with that, the Captain donned his headset and started the engine. One of the many great things about this aircraft was the direct view into the flight deck, with no door between the pilots and the passengers. Of course, I also had a great view out my window at the bright blue wing, smoothly tipped with the weather radar characteristic of the PC-12.
With the prop spinning, we made a left-hand turn off the stand and began the short taxi out to RWY 28R.
Along the way, we passed these fighters. I know the Oregon Air National Guard operates a base at PDX, but I thought it was located south of the main terminal building (not the northeast side of the airport, where this photo was taken). Anyone have any insights about these aircraft and what they were doing near the Business Aviation area?
At 17:56 the little Pilatus lined up on RWY 28R and the Captain pushed the single throttle forward. The noise from the big turboprop was surprisingly quiet and we accelerated smoothly and with very little vibration.
After a short takeoff roll, we gently rotated; in fact, the rotation itself was barely perceptible as the aircraft left the runway and climbed out with very little nose-up attitude. This was certainly not a kick-in-the-pants blastoff, but rather a graceful climb-out with the Columbia River slipping away gradually under the right wing.
A minute after takeoff, we banked right to a heading of 350 degrees and climbed out over the city of Vancouver, Washington on the north bank of the river.
Below is a zoomed-in shot of the small winglet and the weather radar while climbing out to the north.
Before long, the cratered rim of Mount St. Helens appeared in the distance off to the east.
As we climbed through 12,000 feet, I snapped a couple photos of the front office. Although not visible in these pictures, from my seat I had a clear view of the altimeter and vertical speed indicator on the Captain’s panel. At this point we were climbing at about 1,000 feet per minute. I could get used to views like this of the flight-deck! Too bad regular airline flights do not afford this luxury for us aviation enthusiasts.
We soon leveled off at 16,000 feet, just as Mount Saint Helens began to migrate off the trailing edge of the right wing.
As we left one volcano behind, another—this time Rainier—came into view. The day was every bit as spectacular as the day before when I flew southbound on Horizon past these snow-covered giants.
While we smoothly cruised along, I played around with the camera and grabbed a couple photos of the window across the aisle. This seat was the only unoccupied seat on the aircraft.
After about five minutes at 16,000 feet, we started our descent while making a gentle right-hand turn to heading 040.
Unfortunately, the weather in Seattle was not as lovely as in Portland, and a thick layer of undercast developed beneath the aircraft. After leveling off briefly at 10,000 feet, we turned left back to heading 360 and continued our descent into the clouds below. I would imagine the next photo shows a scene all too common on SeaPort flights around the Pacific Northwest.
I kept my eye on the altimeter up front, and at about 2,000 feet, we broke out of the clouds over the Puget Sound northwest of Seattle.
We then turned to the southeast back toward Seattle. I believe the foreground in the next photo is Bainbridge Island; the skyline of Seattle is barely visible in the center-top portion of the frame.
A minute later, Seattle came into focus in my two o’clock position.
While the Bainbridge-Seattle ferry takes 35 minutes to cross the Puget Sound, we traversed a similar distance in just two minutes. It was a fast and fun sensation as we zipped ever lower over the water toward Boeing Field.
We then passed over the busy Port of Seattle while setting up on short final for RWY 13R.
As we dove over the perimeter fence at BFI, I spied this Boeing 747-8 parked on the west side of the field.
The Captain guided the little Pilatus toward a smooth touchdown at 18:31 after a 35-minute flight. More newborn Boeings appeared off the right wing as we decelerated down the runway.
We exited the runway to the left and began the short taxi to the small terminal that SeaPort shares with Kenmore Air. Along the way we passed a variety of business jets and cargo aircraft.
We reached our parking position and the Captain cut the engine. He then turned around and advised us that we would wait for another minute to let the propeller stop spinning; after that, we were told, we should go directly into the terminal building to wait for the luggage cart. I snapped one final photo looking west across the field just before leaving my seat.
It was a short walk into the terminal and the luggage cart with my bag arrived within two minutes of leaving the aircraft. I then proceeded outside to the curb in front of the terminal to wait for my sister to pick me up. It took her a few minutes to arrive, so I grabbed several pictures of the nice-looking terminal and surrounding areas at Boeing Field.
Overall, I was very pleased with both Horizon and SeaPort. Horizon has been consistently good in my experience and this time was no different. SeaPort offered a pleasant experience, too, and I hope the airline has found its niche and will survive and thrive for years to come. The experience with both airlines was better than average (at least for U.S. airlines), the employees at both carriers seemed to take pride in their work, both flights were on time and comfortable, and the weather even cooperated and allowed spectacular views of the Cascade volcanoes.
Thanks for reading this report; I hope you enjoyed it. As always, comments, questions or suggestions for improvement are most welcome and appreciated!