I’m currently recovering from some minor surgery, and out of the cockpit for a few months. During this time, I’m digging up some memorable flying experiences from the past. Don’t worry… multiple paragraphs contemplating the ocean from 40,000 feet will be back soon!
Silver streaks of moonlight reflect on the waters of the James River below us, as the gear thumps out into the night air. In the darkness off the left wing, ghost ships in the Navy Reserve Fleet swing at their anchors, blocky shadows of gray, endlessly pulled by the currents and tides. I move my attention back inside the cockpit and double-check that we are ready to land. We are making position reports on the common traffic frequency because it’s after-hours at Newport News, Virginia and the tower is closed. However, there won’t be many people listening—today is Thanksgiving and most other airlines stopped their schedules in the early afternoon for the holiday, so it’s just us and the empty boats out here right now.
Our moonlight-driven shadow swoops low over Interstate 64 and seconds later the FO touches down on the bumpy runway. The airport is as deserted as the airspace, and as we taxi towards the ramp, the only other thing moving is an airport Ops car patrolling a fence line in the distance, its spotlight bouncing and flickering across the trees. The gate area is slightly more lively however, as three rampers are waiting to marshal us in, and the jetway cab is lit up, with a gate agent standing ready to drive it to the airplane as soon as we stop and open the door.
We shut down and then follow the last of our passengers as they head for the exit, passing by the closed airport restaurant and gift store. It’s only 6pm, but the sun set over an hour ago, and after a long day of flying and a relatively early report time tomorrow morning, I am looking forward to eating dinner and getting some sleep. The Company, perhaps in a fit of holiday-induced kindness, has promised all the crews working in the system today that the hotel they overnight at will have some kind of special meal for them. Last year they did a similar thing, with mixed results at the various layover locations. Not so for me and that crew though. By pure happenstance we were on a Newport News layover last year as well and were treated to a massive buffet at a country club near the hotel.
I have spent every chance I’ve had today telling the crew about just how epic the meal was, and now we have high hopes for a repeat. As the hotel van winds its way through the side streets of Newport News, under dark trees full of Spanish moss, I casually ask the van driver about dinner. He tells us that the buffet at the country club is finished for the day but that they went over earlier and got to-go containers for us and they are in our rooms’ refrigerators. With visions of a turkey dinner with all the fixings dancing in my head, we pull up to the hotel and unload our bags.
After grabbing my room key and confirming our morning van time with the rest of the crew, I head for the elevator and my room beyond, my mouth salivating at the thought of my upcoming dinner. I open the heavy room door and quickly find the mini fridge. Inside is a small plastic-wrapped plate. I pull it out and try to hold back my disappointment. On the plate are a few pieces of iceberg lettuce, a slice of what looks like deli turkey but later discover to be tuna salad, a dollop of what might be mashed potatoes, and a very stale piece of white bread.
My first thought is that I will not be eating dinner tonight. My second thought is that my crew is never going to let me hear the end of this tomorrow.