Flying On Up
Part One: A Change is Due
As a pilot, my life was pretty bland. Not in a bad way, but when your soaring at FL320 with the most picturesque view of the Canadian Rockies, its hard to justify putting things in your home. Ever since I had been a child I had wanted to be a pilot, and now the dream was a reality. My parents insisted that I try real school first, so after secondary school I went to the University of British Columbia and got a bachelors in Urban Studies. Well that and my private pilots license.
I spent most of my time not at the UBC campus on Point Grey, but at Boundary Bay airport practicing my patterns and touch and go - and Ive got the love life to prove it. Did I miss out on the best of college? Maybe. But I found a career that I love, and I followed my dream. Its not as if there was no one in my life. I made some friends in flight school, and I did have a fling or two at UBC.
Aviation is unfortunately a male dominated industry, and with my particular tastes I just never found the right girl. There were a few younger women in flight school. Some could even be considered attractive in a traditional definition. But to me, they looked like sticks that could snap in half at the slightest move. I was beyond uninterested. Its not as if I couldnt have if I wanted to - I got more than a few comments about my bright green eyes.
After graduating, I got a job flying small charter flights to the interior of British Columbia. It wasnt a bad gig - I would take tourists out to the mountain airports and lead them on hikes. Sort of a complete wilderness exploration. It paid the bills, introduced me to new people, and to top it off was a good workout. Of course, Id rather be flying over the mountains at 30 thousand feet than hiking up them. As much as I love the outdoors, Id rather be perched above the vast expanse of British Columbias forests than on a path looking at one tree.
Thats not to say that Im lazy. Since graduating Ive kept a reasonably trim physique. Im 6 feet tall and about 170. Eventually Id paid the charter gig enough lip service to have a decent shot at the big leagues: Air Canada. My dream job. I applied, went through training and got the job on my 23rd birthday. I was beyond excited - I even got to keep Vancouver as my home base.
With the added income from my new job I moved out of my crappy college apartment and got a place in Yaletown, walking distance to the Skytrain station. I figured that if I wasnt leading 10 mile nature hikes every day I should probably try and work some amount of exercise into my daily routine to stay in shape. And what a routine it was. I mostly flew Vancouver to Calgary or Edmonton, spending untold hours staring at the grandeur of the Rockies.
For about six months my life continued that way: Wake up, jump in the shower, put on my suit, and catch the first train the YVR. Then Id check the plane, find out who I was flying with, and who was on the crew. Wed fly to Calgary, take a breather and fly back. Wed usually do two round trips. Then back onto Skytrain, maybe have a drink with the crew, and be in bed by 10 to get ready to do it again the next day.
I never really clicked with any of my coworkers. During those six months I did have some good times and I got to know a few people. But the short haul flights are populated by the rookies in the company, and its a bit of a rotating door. Just when you have another pilot and cabin crew that you get into a comfortable groove with, someone either decides its not for them or manages to snag a longer more consistent route. I cant really blame them - that was my goal too.
I had a few flight attendants express some interest in me, but I couldnt see anything serious with them ever developing. Id usually just try and ignore the situation until one of us ended up on a different flight. And, that whole time I never had a female pilot on the flight deck with me.
Its important to understand that in this day and age, planes mostly fly themselves. The pilots program the auto pilot, take off, and put their feet up while making sure that nothing goes wrong. Theres another part of it too - you are locked in a room with the other pilot for the entire duration of your flight. Its amazing how long or short the hour and a half from Vancouver to Calgary can feel depending on who is imprisoned in that flight deck with you.
Needless to say, I didnt like some of my coworkers. On the other hand, some of the people I met in those six months continue to be some of my closest friends. Take James for example. He was in his early 30s, and had retired from the Canadian Forces as a CF-18 pilot. We all called him by his callsign, Womp Rat. Story has it he had nailed a few targets and some of his buddies painted his fighter to look like a T-16 from StarWars.
James taught me a bunch of what I know about the industry. I ended up getting to know his family, in a way that only pilots understand. First you hear about them for hours in the air, and then you finally meet them and have to pretend you dont know any of the embarrassing things you cant push out of your mind.
James has two kids and a lovely wife, Jen. They lived in Richmond and James would frequently invite me for dinner after our flights on my way home. The college kid in me is strong and free food is still pretty hard to turn down. Besides, James was a great cook, and looking at Jen you could tell she enjoyed his cooking.
Jen is about 52, and when I first met her she was pushing about 170. I never really saw her in public, but at their house she wore yoga pants and a too short tank top that left very little to the imagination, her bloated gut spilling out of the gap between her shirt and her pants. And the rolls oh the rolls. When Jen sat down she had three solid rolls of fat that just stuck out there for the world to see. While I would never do anything with one of my best friends wives, Jen could certainly put that to the test.
James talked to me about Jens weight once. Well, not exactly, but the conversation turned in that direction and we reached a somewhat unspoken understanding about our mutual preferences. We had been talking about my bachelor status and I mentioned that I just needed to find the right woman. He tried to suggest that I ask out Christina, one of the flight attendants who was a regular on our route. Now Christina is very beautiful but just not for me. She's blond, blue eyed, 54 and probably about 120. When I told James she wasnt my type, he pushed me a little on it.
See, when its up to you and one other person to keep a tin can full of people suspended in the air, theres a level of trust that you develop with your copilot. So even though I dont talk about my preferences with anyone, I told James that I preferred a girl with a little more meat on her bones. James nodded, and told me that Jen was once about Christinas size when they started dating. We both looked at each other knowingly, smirked, and changed the subject. That was the cementing of our friendship. After that we always tried to schedule ourselves on the same flights.
After six months what happened? Well, James ended up getting transferred to Toronto to fly long distance to Europe. I hated the crew revolving door of the short haul flights. I needed a new co-pilot and I longed for a consistent flight crew. I still remember texting with James asking for advice on how to find a co-pilot I could stand. He told me its like finding a wife and then reminded me that Im a bachelor whose been looking for love in all the wrong places. Little did he know how right he was.
So I put in to change my route. I still didnt have enough seniority to get a reliable run on an international flight, or even a good transcon to a place like Toronto or Montreal. However, I found that I could get my pick of the routes on the Vancouver to Winnipeg run. I went for it.
Ill be honest. The first run sucked. I ended up stuck on the flight deck with Bill, a 50 year old washed up pilot who reeked of cigarettes and jet fuel. I was not impressed, and when we got back to Vancouver I sprinted towards our managers office to try and get my old route back.
I never made it. Instead my life took a sudden change.
In my mad dash for sanity, I wasnt looking where I was going and ran into another pilot, sending all of our things to the ground. As I was picking my things up off the ground I looked up to apologize. At first nothing came out.
Im sorry. I eventually stammered. I couldnt believe it. In front of me was a beautiful woman wearing an Air Canada pilots uniform. She was a pilot. and beautiful. and I had just made an ass of myself right in front of her. She was about 5'3, and had all the right curves in all the right places. Personally I could have used a few more curves, but I thought about what James said about Jen when he first met her. And her smile. It was utterly radiant.
She laughed. Its okay. Were always rushing in this business.
Yeah, I shouldnt have run into you. I wasnt looking where I was going. Im so sorry. Where are my manners - I don't think weve met. Im Michael. I replied. I looked down at the papers I had picked up off the floor and realized I had her manifest and flight plan. The flight plan had ACA 296 written on it - my next flight. Shit. My mind raced - I had just ran into the most beautiful pilot Ive ever seen, made an ass of myself, and now I was going to be sitting next to her awkwardly for 2 hours and 35 minutes.
Uhh so this is awkward, but I think we're on the same flight. I added sheepishly. She giggled and looked straight at me with her brilliant blue eyes.
Lets start over. Hi, Im Ashley. she said with a smile that melted my heart.
To Be Continued in Part 2(and more)