Wednesday, October 17, 2007

There and Back

About two weeks before I went on my trip, I read an article about regional jets. Sure, jumbo jets are getting jumbo-er, but apparently airlines are taking to regional jets in a big way as well. In fact, the article promised that you too, reader, would be flying on one before long.

Sure enough, only weeks later I was on an ERJ-145, a regional jet built by Brazilian aircraft maker Embraer, for an American Airlines direct flight from O'Hare to Ft. Walton Beach, Florida. It is the smallest jet I've ever been on, so small that while entering I had to duck my head. After that, the ceiling of the aisle was barely tall enough to accommodate my full six feet. There were single seats on the left side of the aircraft -- I don't know that that qualifies as a "row," since you'd need at least two seats to make a row -- which is what the rows on the right side had, two seats. I sat in one of the single seats. In terms of take off, flight, and landing, the ERJ-145 might have been small, but the flight experience didn't really feel that much different than that of larger jets.

When checking in at O'Hare, the counter clerk said, "Ft. Walton Beach? I didn't know we flew there. Now what's the airport code?" It was a rhetorical question, since she was looking it up when she asked. The answer: VPS, which must have originated with Valparaiso, Florida, another town near the airport -- which is actually called the Okaloosa County Airport.

You have to like an airport with a name like that, and one at which you get off the plane using a steps down to the tarmac. Eglin Air Force Base is nearby, and various Air Force jets, which I took to be trainers, were parked here and there within sight as we taxied toward the Okaloosa County Airport terminal. It is a new terminal -- 2004, a sign told me -- and refreshingly small. There were only two conveyor belts for baggage, which didn't mean that I couldn't wait for about five minutes next to the wrong one.

The aircraft and the airports weren't so novel on my return, which took me from Tallahassee to Atlanta to Chicago, though I did note that it's not the Tallahassee International Airport, but the Tallahassee Regional Airport (TLH). Nice to know that they're not putting on international airs, but I bet if Cuba ever opens again to US commercial air traffic, "international" might be right. (Then again, there's no reason flights couldn't go from Tallahassee to Mexico right now, and earn that coveted international status.) I liked Tallahassee's airport, because it reminded me of the former, simpler configuration of the San Antonio airport -- or the old Midway, for that matter -- to which you could just drive up to, get out of the car, and check in.



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