Gear Up: Life on the Road

Living and working out of a suitcase.

Gear Up Hotels

Gear Up Hotels

** From hotels and restaurants in exotic locales
to less-than-stellar accommodations, Life as
a paid pilot has many twists and turns.**

Oh, brother, it is cold. I just can’t get this wall unit heater to warm up the place. It is dark and forbidding outside. I see the flat rooftop of the garage and not much else. It is white with snow. Is this the Holiday Inn in Secaucus, New Jersey, or the Embassy Suites in Boston?

Since I began flying for JetSuite in the CJ3, I’ve been away from home about 12 nights a month. I’ve been everywhere, man, as the Johnny Cash song says. Some nights have been memorable for the good conversation and good food with my captain or, sometimes, with my captain and another crew member or two. Some nights have been late arrivals with few food choices and nothing more than a nice bed.

That Holiday Inn near Teterboro Airport in New Jersey is a regular. Sometimes we check out in the morning and check back in later that night. In the meantime, we may have been to Florida and back. Our loyalty programs are getting a good workout, and they come with welcome perks, such as free breakfast. The Secaucus establishment gives us access to good restaurants and friendly shuttle service to the airport that is surprisingly far away compared to many others. It is common to see other airplane crews haunting the lobby, the small gym and the restaurant in the hotel.

White Plains, New York, is another frequent stop. If we’re lucky, we’re put up in the Crowne Plaza. The breakfast there is remarkable: Omelets are made to order. We see NetJets crews there all the time. The Cheesecake Factory and a good burger joint are short walks away — manageable even in the cold depths of winter.

Since I am based in West Palm Beach, Florida, (KPBI) but live in Tampa, a three and a half hour drive away, it is bad luck when we have an overnight in KPBI. The company assumes I live there, and I therefore have to find and pay for my own hotel. The FBO, Galaxy, has a great arrangement with the airport Hilton, but finding space in the high season can be dicey and expensive. One night, I could only find a room at the La Quinta, yet when I got there, they told me they were full. “This happens a lot,” said the completely disinterested desk clerk as she watched me saddle up and head out the door.

Trips out West are always an adventure for East Coast-based crews. The Hilton by our headquarters in Orange County, California, is a great place, with its sunny views, clear air and excellent breakfast. Staying there allows us to visit headquarters — a commonplace treat for West Coast crews who fly the Phenom 100 but a rare extravagance for Floridians. Often, we get a chance to buttonhole our leaders; CEO Alex Wilcox has an uncanny ability to remember our names and always seems eager to tell us how the company is expanding.

When we pulled into Carlsbad, ­California, I said with some self-­satisfaction that we were staying at the “Carlsbad Resort by the Sea.” To which the lineman said, “You mean JetSuite by the Interstate.” He was right. My room was so close to the highway, I swore I saw a Chevy Malibu go through the bathroom.

Our hotel in Salt Lake City was a stone’s throw from a large shopping mall with surprisingly little in the way of restaurant choices, but Utah has loosened up on the availability of alcohol in eating establishments. A cold night sent us scurrying back to our nests.

When we arrived in Centennial Airport in Denver, there was a drink trolley right in the FBO, but I couldn’t imagine availing myself of it. We headed to the DoubleTree, which was right next to an excellent Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse, but the free lasagna trumped the costly fillet. Next time, though.

After my first landing at Eagle, ­Colorado, we were quartered at the AmericInn. As we checked into the rustic lobby, a pair of 8-year-olds slid down the bannister in high shriek mode. Since we had flown from New Orleans to Texas to Orange County to Scottsdale, Arizona, to Eagle that day, I was fairly confident that I could sleep through any noise. We had a good Italian dinner nearby and fell happily asleep.

Pampa, Texas, is decidedly in the middle of nowhere. We drove for miles before finding the Holiday Inn Express. When I inquired about local restaurants, the desk clerk opined, “We’ve got some really good ones — not as good as Bennigan’s but good.” Sure enough, we had some decent barbecue among a bevy of Texans who ate in their cowboy hats. Sleeping was iffy though. The prevailing 35-knot westerly wind made a buzzing sound on the window. It was like sleeping in a kazoo.

JetSuite has a really nice tradition of buying dinner for crews that are on the road for holidays. As a junior FO, I found myself in Boston for Thanksgiving; Oxford, Connecticut, for Christmas; and Boston for New Year’s. Finding a place to eat on those occasions was a little difficult, as many restaurants were closed. Hotels offer the best choices but can be expensive. Thanksgiving found me paired with the delightful Courtney Crain. Our table for two was in a restaurant better suited to celebrating a birthday or anniversary than two pilots who had just met that day. The maitre d’ made a big deal out of our seating and a flower vendor came buy to offer me the chance to buy a rose, much to my discomfiture. Courtney was good about it, though, thank goodness. We had a nice dinner with refreshments and crank-called John and Martha King for amusement. They were their usual genial selves.

Christmas in Connecticut was special because my wife, Cathy, and our Labrador retriever, Corbett, were at our cottage in New Hampshire and drove down for Christmas Eve. We ate at the splendid Carmen Anthony with Capt. Andy Lemons, my Tampa friend and the man who recommended me for JetSuite. To say that I am indebted to him is an understatement. The dinner was fabulous — the restaurant a real old-style original steakhouse packed with locals.

On Christmas, Andy and I found ourselves in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, looking for a place to eat. We finally got into a W Hotel’s restaurant after a false start at a place I found on Trip Advisor. At first, we couldn’t find the place. When we did, there were only a few outside tables buffeted by a strong, warm onshore breeze. There was no kitchen in sight. The owner acknowledged the unusual surroundings and suggested we could eat indoors at a neighboring establishment that he also owned. We demurred and landed at the W.

New Year’s Eve provided no such excitement: Steve McDougal and I were slated to fly passengers from Bedford, Massachusetts, to Teterboro at 2:15 a.m. — no dinner for us. We got to bed about 4:30 a.m.

Of all the overnights, the most meaningful have been visits to airports that have figured prominently in my private flying life. I learned to fly in Oakland, California, so returning there as a working pilot was a great thrill. It didn’t hurt that we rolled in late after the Raiders had lost a football game nearby. The bar was packed, and I was suffused with satisfaction.

Years ago, I based an airplane at Midway for a while, and coming back there, especially since it has become a happening place again, is always exciting. The music downtown is superb, and my captain compatriots have been eager to get out for a night. There seem to be more runways and taxiways than I remember, though.

An overnight in Lebanon, New Hampshire, got me back home in my own bed at our mountain cottage and gave the line guys a start when I showed up in uniform to get in a jet rather than muscle our Cheyenne out of the hangar.

I went to school in Ithaca, New York, and have regularly visited there in a variety of privately owned airplanes, so coming back in the CJ3 has a certain Walter Mitty feel to it. The winter weather there is pretty much just how I remembered it.

My wife and I weren’t sure how we would adapt to being apart for four nights at a time after a 45-year profession that got me home every night, even if it was spectacularly late. The happenstance to meet up while on a trip is another excitement that has added intrigue and softened the separations. Christmas Eve was excellent, and we’ve had another night when Cathy drove and I flew — this one in Laconia, New Hampshire.

The most exotic stay so far has been at the Melia Hotel in Nassau, Bahamas. We arrived very late one night only to find that there was no record of a reservation for Capt. Chris Windau and me. After an hour wait, we were given rooms, but the keying system was down, so we had to wait for security to let us in. The view the next morning was spectacular, but we were up and out before a cup of coffee could be savored.

Life on the road? All in all, not bad. Not bad at all.

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