Cape Air - An Uplifting Experience

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Cape Girardeau is really breathtaking just before dawn, especially from an altitude of 4,000 feet.

I recently had the pleasure of flying Cape Air from Cape Girardeau to St. Louis, one Saturday at 6:50 am. I then had connecting flights to Dallas and Reno. No gambling, no romantic get-a-way, just a conference for work.

While I've flown 'puddle jumpers' before, I know now that I've never actually been aware of the true definition of the term. To me, prior to this Saturday morning, a 'puddle jumper' was one of those small planes that seated two on one side, and one on the other, for a total of about 100 passengers. That to me was a small plane.

My first clue this Saturday morning as to the size of the Cape Air plane should have been when I was checked in a by an extremely friendly gentleman at the counter...who also happened to be the baggage guy and the lot attendant I found out later. After asking my name and confirming my reservation, he asked me for my weight. When I gave him a blank stare, he said, "It's for safety reasons, so we can balance the weight in the plane."

OMG! I cried in my head, at least I think it was in my head. In the time span of about two seconds I thought "Do I lie? This isn't like the DMV where no one really cares. If I lie, people's lives could be at stake. Will I be the only person on one side of the plane to 'balance it out'? Will I even fit on this plane?" And then I gave him my actual weight and whispered it. Thinking that I bet no one has ever whispered their weight to him before today.

Myself and five others stood quietly in the 10 x 10 glassed area to wait for the plane to taxi around. I still wondered how Cape Air could afford to fly a 100 passenger plane with only 5 people on it. "It must be full of passengers from somewhere else, and they are just stopping in Cape to pick us up," I thought.

As the automatic doors opened and we were being led out onto the back patio my confusion began to clear. The confusion cleared, but the nerves started jumping. You see, I live in a trailer, a mobile home. This plane was not even as big as my living room. In fact, I believe this plane could land in my mobile home's living room with room to spare! Another kind gentleman stowed our luggage away in the wings (OMG?) and escorted us onto the plane, in assigned seating order.

As I stared at the 10 seats, and meandered the one-step up to the front where I was told to sit, I wondered just how high something this small could really go. I then began to stare at the back of the shaved heads of the pilot and co-pilot. Both turned around when everyone was inside, and greeted us in a soothing tone, promising to have us to Lambert Airport in about 45-50 minutes.

My nervousness began to subside because the pilots seemed not to be worried. As the two handsome men taxied us down the Cape Air runway, the Garmin navigation screen popped up, and several lights came on. The PIT (Pilot in Training, from all appearances) began flipping pages in his notebook, snapped some levers, turned a little reading light on and off a couple of times, and flipped though some more pages on a clipboard another time or two. "Really," I thought. "A Garmin and a clipboard are supposed to get us safely to St. Louis?"

A few more taps on the instruments, some revving of the engines (reminding me that maybe this was maybe like the PIT's first muscle car when he was 16) and off we flew in probably the smoothest take off I've ever experienced in any size plane.

At 7 am, on a 29 degree morning, Cape Girardeau below looked like a giant Christmas display. Breathtaking barely describes it. As the sun began to rise, the PIT finally stopped flipping through his notebook, and I was grateful that at least he wasn't using Post-It notes! He did have one index card, though, slotted on the steering wheel that he would pick up occasionally. This index card was much like those cards you might leave yourself laying on your purse saying "Get Milk" or "Pick up Billy at soccer practice at 6:30".

I wondered what his note card said? "Check tires." "Get gas on the way home." Then I relaxed. I figured if the Apollo space shuttle could make it to the moon in a craft that had less computer capability than my iPhone 4, then I should trust that Cape Air would get me safely to St. Louis.

And they did, before 8 am as promised. The landing was as smooth as the takeoff. It too was probably the smoothest, quietest landing I have ever experienced. Thanks Cape Air, I wouldn't hesitate to fly with you all again!

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