Be kind, be determined, be gracious and oh, meet your hero two… too…

As far as I am concerned, life is all about the connections you make. I don’t mean “knowing someone” in an industry who will put in a good word for you or having an “in” with someone at a company who will help land you a job. I mean the deep, personal connections you make with the people who are always there to help and support you on your journey.

Earlier this year I finally met my industry mentor, Benét Wilson (Aviation Queen). I first reached out to her almost two years ago, and today I’m lucky to call her my friend. We have a solid, trusting relationship and I certainly wouldn’t be where I am without her—I consider her “Hero One” in the story of my journey.

With Benét’s ongoing support and by working hard toward my goal of becoming an aviation journalist, I was brought on as contributing editor at Airways Magazine. That’s how I met “Hero Two” AKA Chris Sloan, Airways’ Managing Editor. Finally, more than a year after starting that gig, I met Chris in “real life” here in Chicago.

It’s funny, I first connected with both Benét AND Chris while living in Minneapolis… the city in which I lived for nearly all of my 31 years on this planet. However, I first met each of them in person here in Chicago as an employee of The Boeing Company—the company I’d long dreamed of working for and a place I’d never be without their help.

Yesterday, I met Chris in the lobby of Chicago’s iconic Sears—I mean WILLIS… (ugh)—Tower, where he and I toured the United Airlines National Operations Center.

It.

Was.

Awesome.

Seriously, the combination of meeting Chris AND seeing the ins and outs of how United keeps their (mostly Boeing!) fleet flying was ridiculously cool. I loved it. My favorite part? Chris and I were in the social media/de-escalation area where they had huge screens displaying real-time social data, and one of the screens had on it incoming conversations that were considered “positive” interactions on Twitter.

Chris: Hey it’s you!

Me: What?

Chris: @thegreatplanes – that’s you!

Me: Como se WHAT!? Whoa!

I looked at the screen and saw my very tweet ABOUT this tour, and the subsequent response from Ben Bearup saying I was living my “best life” (SO TRUE!). It was pretty awesome.

Aside from that, I saw firsthand the many people who are hard at work 24/7 to keep the airline up and running… air traffic controllers, meteorologists, pilots (yes, pilots!), the Airbus team and the Boeing team, among others. I also saw more pie charts, bar graphs, numbers and maps than my geeking-out brain could even handle.

All in all, my biggest take away from that tour was that even though it is extremely frustrating if your flight gets delayed or canceled, just know that whenever something isn’t 100 percent perfect in terms of an airline’s operations (so essentially… always), there are hundreds of dedicated people working to make things right.

Yesterday was a truly great day. I’m so happy to have finally met Chris, and I so much enjoyed spending my lunch hour with the kind folks over at United. The icing on the cake was doing some work from home later that evening as the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds zipped past my apartment window over, and over, and over again in preparation for this weekend’s Chicago Air and Water Show.

This year’s two-day event will include parachutists, fighter jets, a C-130 and even an AMERICAN AIRLINES DREAMLINER (pinch me, please). I’ll be attending the show both days, one of them on behalf of Boeing, and as I look forward to that… I think my teammate Jane best captured my excitement in her own words:

“Annie, you’re going to lose your mind.”

Working at the world’s most admired aerospace company is pretty rad

I’m back!

As you all know, at least in terms of this blog, I’ve been MIA for the last two months. And… I’m pretty sure most of you know why.

I’m weird in that I’m equally as terrified as I am thrilled by change. These days, however, change is really all I’m about. And picking up and leaving your entire life behind to move to a new city all by yourself… that’s one heck of a change.

I’ve worked for the greatest aerospace company in the world for seven weeks tomorrow. I’ve been a Chicagoan… an Illini for a solid two months.

My two cats and I live in a sweet little loft in the South Loop neighborhood of downtown Chicago. I don’t have a car. I walk one mile to work each morning, and reverse that same mile home each night.

Sometimes I feel lonely, but somehow this all feels right. I knew this would be hard… but without the love and support of my family and friends — especially my amazing husband Scott — none of this would have been possible.

Honestly, I can’t even begin to tell you how exciting it is to work for a company that lives and breathes innovation, and one that is so loved… so respected. Just last week, Boeing was named the 25th most admired company on the planet by FORTUNE. Moreover, is it any surprise it was named THE most admired aerospace company?

I WORK for this company, and I support these dreamers, these creators and these passionate, imaginative people. I am so, so proud to be able to help tell the stories of the awesome things we are up to… here on the ground, up in the air, underwater and in the depths of outerspace.

You may be wondering exactly what I do for Boeing… Well, simply put, I’m on a team of four people (including my boss) who provide communications support to Boeing’s Chairman, President and CEO. Whether it’s producing web content, writing and editing letters, or drafting talking points in preparation for a meeting or a presentation… I’ve done it all and I’ve loved it all.

Last week I had the pleasure of meeting our leader, Dennis Muilenburg, and talk about an amazing story and an inspiring person. He started at Boeing as an intern in aerospace engineering in the 80s and worked his way up to the top spot. He is incredibly kind, employee-focused, and I am honored and humbled to work for him.

Next week, I’ll take my first business trip out to Seattle. And… ready for this? I’m taking a VIP Tour of the Everett Factory. That’s the world’s largest building. It’s where the 747, 767, 777 and 787 are built. I’m getting all tingly inside just thinking about it.

Anyways, I’m glad to be back here in the blogosphere… and I’ll leave you by explaining why I was out of the mix for so long.

Of course, coming into this job, Boeing knew about my personal interest in the aerospace industry… from my work for Airways Magazine to my social media accounts where I showcase my photography and, of course, this very blog.

I wanted to be 110 percent sure that I was not doing anything that could affect my job, so I was in the midst of a “Conflict of Interest” case through our Ethics Department. Yesterday I received the verdict, and lo and behold, they determined that because what I write about is public information, I’m in the clear. No COI.

So there you have it folks, I’m back and that makes me incredibly happy. I sure miss MSP, but let me tell you… a HECK of a lot of heavies fly into ORD. And as someone who is unhealthily obsessed with the Queen of the Skies, it’s HEAVEN.

Thanks for taking part in this journey with me and look for more updates soon!

 

Lights will guide you home…

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Lights will guide you home
And ignite your bones
And I will try to fix you

I have always loved the song “Fix You” by Coldplay. It’s one of those songs that speaks to me, but I never really knew why – am I trying to fix someone? Is someone trying to fix me? I didn’t know, but it’s becoming a lot clearer these days.

I started singing the song in my head while my dad and I were sitting in a plane out on the tarmac at Chicago O’Hare Airport, getting ready to fly back to Minneapolis after a 10-day trip through Europe.

It was dark out, and the bright runway lights enticed me as they always do. And in that moment, just as the song popped into my head, I realized I was home. And I wasn’t just “home” as in back in the states, I was home in Chicago.

When you try your best but you don’t succeed
When you get what you want, but not what you need
When you feel so tired, but you can’t sleep
Stuck in reverse

My life, just like everyone else’s, has been filled with ups and downs. There have been tough times and feelings of hopelessness; there have been good times and lights at the ends of many tunnels.

During college, living with a toxic combination of depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder and disordered eating took its toll on me. My body and my mind were always tired, but I pressed on and did my best to power through class, homework and exams. I was working hard, but I didn’t know what exactly it was I was working toward.

After graduation, the future of my career always felt uncertain. I had met the love of my life, which brought so much needed happiness into my world, but I still didn’t know what I was doing – I didn’t know what my purpose was here on planet Earth.

I worked in newsrooms, I did communications for a nonprofit, I did website work at an energy company and most recently I found myself writing for the Minnesota Department of Health – where I currently still work. All these jobs had profound impacts on me and helped shape me into a better person, but I had no idea what my end goal was, and I didn’t know what these experiences were preparing me for.

High up above or down below
When you’re too in love to let it go
If you never try, you’ll never know
Just what you’re worth

A few years back, I fell madly in love… and in case you’re wondering, my husband and I met more than seven years ago, so no, it wasn’t with him. Don’t worry guys, it’s not scandalous… I was out for a run near Minneapolis-St. Paul Airport, and was blown away when and airplane lifted off right over my head. I was hooked. I quickly realized how “right” this all felt though… I mean, my parents met as flight attendants, my dad was in the Air Force… aviation was in my blood from the start.

I began reading about the physics of flight and watching documentaries on airplanes. I found myself out at MSP multiple times a week taking photos of the planes, and before I knew it, I was identifying many of them from decently far away. I was learning a lot and, more importantly, this was bringing me joy.

Almost a year ago, I had an “aha” moment… “Why can’t I combine my passion for aviation with my journalism degree and my love of writing?” Simple answer: I can. I reached out to Aviation Queen Benét Wilson, an aviation journalist who has inspired me in so many ways. And that decision to ask someone for help, proved to be so worth it.

Benét critiqued my writing and helped me to develop my skills and get my name out there. She also introduced me to Chris Sloan, the managing editor at Airways Magazine. Chris, too, helped me in more ways than one, he suggested topics for me to research and write about that I never would have thought of on my own. As a contributor to Airways, I was improving my industry knowledge, becoming a better writer and making connections out the wazoo.

I was so, so glad I found something that brought me so much joy. It was that one piece in my “happy life” pie that was missing, and now it was there. I kept working and learning, traveling and exploring… just trying to figure out what I was going to make of all of this. I knew that someday I wanted to find a full-time job in the aviation industry, whether at an airline or a manufacturer… I just didn’t know.

Another thing I didn’t know, was that the opportunity to work full time doing writing and communications in the aviation industry was about to present itself… a lot sooner than I had ever expected.

Tears stream down your face
I promise you I will learn from mistakes

After years of uncertainty… years of ups and downs and years filled with (yes) plenty of mistakes, I learned, I grew and I found my passion. On day one of the trip I just took with my dad, I accepted an offer to work in communications at BOEING.

Wait… did I just say that? Someone pinch me, please.

YES. It’s true… in December I’ll be setting up shop in Chicago to begin this new journey. It’s amazing. Of course, there will be hurdles… as my husband will be up here in Minnesota finishing his last year of school, before joining me in the Windy City. Our love is rock solid though… so I know we’ll be fine. He is over the moon knowing that I have this opportunity, and his love is truly what helped me to realize that I was (and still am) capable of anything. So… I finally know why that song speaks to me. No one was trying to fix me, and I wasn’t trying to fix someone else – I was trying to fix myself, and I think I’m slowly but surely doing just that.

It was more than 10 years ago that I first began dealing with mental health issues and constantly feeling hopeless for what the future may hold. Who would have thought that in my upper twenties I’d fall so in love with these huge, flying machines, and that in the end, those guiding lights would be runway approach lights, and home would be this city that’s always held a special place in my heart.

Lights will guide you home
And ignite your bones
And I will try to fix you

See you soon, Chicago.

Here’s how the people of Turkey helped me to “widen my world” in the most literal sense

“I loved the hills and all of the reddish-orange roofs… the small winding streets. I loved seeing how similar life is over there yet also so different. But, it was really just the people like you, and the pure kindness and willingness to take care of someone you didn’t even know. And… just the history and the culture. I love it so much.”

I struggled to come up with the first word, much less the first sentence or even the first paragraph I wanted to write about my time in Istanbul. Then I remembered a conversation I had only hours earlier with someone who has quickly become so dear to me, just like a sister.

I typed to her as I floated through the clouds 32,000 feet above the Atlantic Ocean… I told her that I could not stop crying. I felt a pain and a sadness about leaving a place I had fallen in love with – it was unlike anything I’d ever felt before.

She asked me what led to my attachment with the city of Istanbul and the country of Turkey. I responded with those opening words above. You see, I left on this trip with a plan, I had a mission… but what I planned for and what actually happened were two very different things.

I’m so excited and I just can’t hide it… but should I be scared?

I found out only about a week and a half in advance of my trip that I’d have the opportunity to cover a Turkish Airlines event for Airways Magazine… I was so over the moon that I couldn’t even comprehend the adventure that was to be had.

I told my family. I told my friends. I told my coworkers. While everyone was thrilled for me, some expressed concern over whether or not Turkey was in fact a safe place to travel to.

I get it. The U.S. Department of State is warning people to carefully consider whether or not they actually need to travel to Turkey, but the heaviest restrictions are on the Southeastern portion of the country. This comes after several terrorist attacks occurred in the country over the past few years, many in and around Istanbul, the very city in which I was going to travel to.

Attack at Atatürk

In June 2016, 45 people died and more than 230 others were injured at Istanbul’s Atatürk Airport in a terrorist attack involving shootings and suicide bombers. Turkish officials said the attackers were affiliated with the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIL), but no one claimed credit for the event.

Post-trip update: Last week I spent significant time at Atatürk Airport on two separate occasions. While the airport itself will permanently close in roughly a year and a half (it is being replaced by what will become Europe’s largest airport), Atatürk was by far one of the neatest airports I’ve ever been to. It was beautiful and bustling.

Bombings at Vodafone Arena

In December 2016, car bombings and suicide bombings outside Istanbul’s Vodafone Arena killed 48 people and injured more than 150 others. Most of the casualties were police officers and the Kurdistan Freedom Hawks claimed responsibility for the attacks.

Post-trip update: The arena was less than two miles from the hotel I stayed in. And if there would have been a football game that I was able to get tickets to, you can bet I would have been there… happy as a clam.

Nightclub Shooting

On the first of this year, Abdulkadir Masharipov shot and killed at least 39 people in an Istanbul nightclub. More than 70 others were injured. ISIL claimed credit for the gunman’s actions.

Post-trip update: On Friday night I ate dinner directly across the Bosphorus Strait from where this occurred. The view was breathtaking and I wouldn’t trade that experience for anything in the world. The nightclub has since permanently closed.

I knew it would be humbling to put myself in the middle of an unfamiliar city, surrounded by unfamiliar people who speak an unfamiliar language. I knew it might be a little bit scary, but I knew that more than anything, it would be humbling.

I wanted it though. And even more than that, I needed that experience. I was ready.

The night before I left, I couldn’t sleep. I was so incredibly excited and still didn’t quite understand how or why of all people it was me who was chosen to do this. My aviation journalism career is in its infancy, so naturally I felt as though I didn’t deserve this. Surely I didn’t.

I woke up the next morning, tired from the lack of sleep, but still with a spring in my step, knowing I was about to travel further from home than I had ever been in my life, and I was doing it alone.

Widening my world

My dad happened to be in town visiting from his home in Florida, so he, my mom and my husband were able to see me off at the airport. My first flight would bring me to Washington-Dulles, and from there I’d board a Turkish Airlines Airbus A330 to Atatürk Airport in Istanbul – a 5,500-mile journey in total.

This flight would mark my first time flying business class (a perk that came along with attending this event). Anything above and beyond standard economy is a luxury that I simply never thought I’d be able to experience… as it is something I just could never afford, at least not in a practical sense. It was amazing and the crewmembers were so genuinely kind. I was pampered like a princess. I felt like I must have been dreaming.

The view coming in to land in Istanbul was unlike anything I had ever seen. The crisp blue sky and the deep blue ocean sandwiched hills filled with beautiful red-roofed buildings… the Mediterranean color palate has always been so pleasing to my eyes, and it was even more so in real life.

After deplaning, I easily found my way to where I needed to board a bus to my hotel. While the traffic was awful, the commute seemed quick… probably due to the complete and utter newness of every single thing we passed.

When I entered my hotel in Istanbul’s Bomonti neighborhood, I first noticed a distinct floral-like aroma. It was a very particular scent that I couldn’t quite place my finger (or better yet, my nose) on. Check-in was also a lengthy process, but that too seemed to fly by as I made conversation with other conference-goers from around the globe.

Upon entering my room, I knew that after 21 hours of traveling I wouldn’t be good for much more than changing into my pajamas, ordering room service, snuggling into my bed and falling asleep to the quiet murmur of the television. But when I first drew my blinds, the sun hadn’t yet set, and the view before me was nothing short of breathtaking.

I should have known I’d be a bit awestruck, as I was staying on the 18th floor of a hotel in a densely populated neighborhood in a densely populated city. But the view was so gorgeous that I had to just stand there and look out the floor to ceiling windows that overlooked this picturesque city. I was in love. But alas, I was tired, and within two hours I was out.

“I’m sick.”

I awoke sometime between 6 and 7 the next morning, and I wasn’t feeling too hot. I had an unusually painful stomachache, but I’d say I tend to have more tummy troubles than the average person, so I wasn’t terribly alarmed.

After an hour or so, the pain hadn’t subsided. I really didn’t know what to do. I had woken up alone in a strange place, and to make matters worse, it was the middle of the night back home in Minnesota… I wasn’t about to wake my husband or parents just to whine to them.

But after awhile, I just couldn’t take it anymore. I was scared.

I tried to reach my husband, Scott, knowing he has his phone set to ring if one of his close contacts calls in the middle of the night.

He didn’t answer though.

I tried calling again…

Nothing.

I called my mom, knowing she was merely two to three hours from waking up for work. I knew she would answer, and she did.

“I’m sick,” I told her.

By this point I had polished off three of the four bottles of water in my room, and I lay in bed curled in the fetal position, pouting to my mom whenever the pain subsided enough that I felt I could bring myself to speak.

I was convinced I had food poisoning. How I got it from the grilled vegetable sandwich and french fries I had eaten the night before, I wasn’t sure, but my mom agreed with my self diagnosis.

And then it happened. “I think I’m going to throw up,” I said to her as she tried her best to console me. And the funny thing was, I was so incredibly excited to throw up. I just wanted this to end. I sat cross legged in front of the toilet, with my phone and a bottle of water sitting next to me.

I knew it was coming. And it did.

I cried. And then I cried more. I was soaking wet and freezing cold all at once, a combination I knew couldn’t be good.

I wished my mom was there with me, rubbing my neck and holding back my hair, but instead she was just a voice coming out of my phone’s speaker. She talked me through it though.

The next time I had to throw up, she talked me through it again. And all the times thereafter. At that point it really was as if she was sitting right there with me.

I felt better. I thanked my mom, we said our goodbyes and we hung up our phones. I knew she needed sleep, and I knew I needed rest. My gut told me I was unfortunately not going to be able to partake in the Bosphorus Tour that afternoon, no pun intended.

Maybe 30 minutes later, I realized I wasn’t in the clear. The pain was back and this time it was worse. I called my mom and she told me to call the front desk and ask if the hotel had a doctor on hand. I did that, and the gentleman’s answer was unfortunately “No.” He did tell me, however, that he could call an ambulance.

I couldn’t afford that. And, quite frankly, I didn’t really think I needed that.

I had been given contact information for a local Turkish Airlines communications team member, whom I had already connected with via text the night before. I asked him if he knew of any nearby doctor’s offices or urgent care clinics. And to be perfectly honest, that’s when the whirlwind began.

Why me?

I kept thinking to myself… “Why me?”

Selfishly I felt like this was my trip… this was my time to shine. I didn’t even know what was happening, or what would come of all of this, but I knew it wouldn’t be good.

I was having trouble walking and I nearly passed out twice. I was almost folded in two when I answered the door to grab the extra waters I had requested from guest services.

I already had Lira, but only huge bills. “Do you even tip someone who delivers bottled water to your room?” I thought to myself. I gave the woman American money… three bucks. She looked at me like I was crazy and said, “Water is free.” I thanked her and shut the door.

I somehow made it downstairs to the lobby with the help of hotel staff. I was donning my airplane patterned leggings and a bright pink T-shirt. I had bedhead. I was in too much pain to be embarrassed about how I looked though.

As I lay pathetically limp on the lobby sofa, I could tell all of the Turkish Airlines conference workers were looking at me, and I figured they were talking about me too. After all, I did stand out like a sore thumb amongst the other vacationers around me, but I didn’t even care.

Before I knew it, a cab had arrived. Two gentlemen and I got into the “Taksi” with one sitting up front and the other in back with me – both worked for Turkish Airlines.

My head fell back onto the headrest behind me, I opened my window and shut my eyes. I could feel the cab driver hastily speeding up and down Istanbul’s steep, narrow hills, but the breeze felt nice.

Hastanesi: The first Turkish word I learned

After what felt like a lifetime, we arrived at the hospital – more specifically, the Emergency Room entrance of Amerikan Hastanesi. I was helped into a wheelchair, brought into a room and placed on a bed.

A doctor soon visited me and asked about my symptoms. She poked, pressed and prodded… trying to remember those moments is difficult as it was all such a blur. Shortly thereafter, a nurse came in and inserted an IV to administer pain medication. It helped. It helped a lot.

By that time, there were several Turkish Airlines staff either outside my hospital room or sitting inside the room by my bedside. The nurse returned shortly to draw blood, and while I anxiously awaited the results, I expected they’d find nothing, since I was certain I was suffering from food poisoning.

While I so much appreciated the kindness of everyone who was present at the hospital even for just a few minutes, one special person, who I now consider my sister, spent upwards of 10 hours with me.

She held my hand and told me everything would be OK. She was with me when I had my IV put in, she was with me when my blood was drawn, she was with me when I was wheeled into the imaging room and she was with me when the radiologist performed my ultrasound and said, “Aha… you have appendicitis.”

And that was it, I knew what appendicitis meant. I knew I was going to have surgery and I knew I was going to have surgery in that very hospital in Istanbul on that very same day.

Ready to go under the knife

Seriously… I couldn’t even comprehend that this was happening to me. “How? Why?” I asked myself.

Back in my room, the nurse and my sweet new friend helped the highly-medicated me to change into a hospital gown. Of course, during that process, I accidentally ripped out my IV – spraying blood all over the place and setting off a chain reaction of panicked hospital staff.

Soon a surgeon came in to examine me and explain to me in more detail the radiologist’s findings and what they would need to do. I remember feeling tired and weak. I had mustered up enough energy to send a text message to my mom, telling her that I had been diagnosed with appendicitis. I asked her to tell my dad, and to also tell Scott, who at this point still was not answering his phone.

I didn’t want to be alone. Of course it was so nice to be in the presence of such kind hospital staff and such caring people from Turkish Airlines, but it still would be nice to see a familiar face at such a scary time.

After countless attempts, Scott finally woke up and returned our calls. I knew he would be scared and I hated knowing he would awaken to such a flurry of missed calls, voicemails and text messages. Hearing his voice was so comforting. And before I knew it, he was working with the staff at Turkish Airlines to fly out (for free) that very night.

My immediate family and friends were in the loop. My sweet family at Airways Magazine was in the loop. Now all that was left to do was to loop me up and put me under.

My sweet friend held my hand all the way as hospital staff wheeled me into the prep room. She prayed for me at my bedside and I felt those prayers… they filled the room and they filled my soul. I knew I would be OK.

I left my appendix in Istanbul

“All done,” I heard a voice say. I squinted, looking up at the bright lights… I couldn’t see anything clearly without my glasses, but I could make out a sea of people in blue scrubs moving about the room.

A women propped open my mouth and stuck something inside. I realized it was a lozenge of some sort, and until my pain medication first started to wear off, I didn’t know why she had given me that lozenge. My breathing tube must have really done a number on me… my throat felt raw and my top lip was swollen.

I noticed that my right shoulder hurt, and found out later it was due to the process of pumping air into my stomach pre-surgery. My stomach was stiff and puffy for hours following the operation.

I was rolled into a new room where I was greeted by familiar faces. The room was beautiful… state of the art. I was in a comfy bed and a few feet away sat a couch in front of a big window that let in lots of natural light. There was a large television in front of me turned to a news channel.

A number of people surrounding my bed, both hospital and Turkish Airlines staff, asked me how I was doing. It was then that I met for the first time the sweet guy who I had texted with earlier in my hotel room… the local Turkish Airlines contact who had helped facilitate my being brought to the hospital in the first place.

I was told that he’d be staying the night with me in my room. I felt incredibly lucky to be surrounded by such love and comfort in this strange new place. I was able to eat a little broth and drink some juice later that evening before turning in for the night.

I felt so thankful to have someone staying with me. I felt so much less scared. The evening seemed to last for a very long time. I couldn’t pass on much news to family and friends back in the states, as it was the middle of the night their time. And before I knew it, it was bedtime for me as well.

The night was odd, as I drifted in and out of sleep and received frequent visits from hospital staff to check my vitals and assist me to the restroom. It was difficult and painful to walk, but the nurses did all that they could to make it as painless as possible.

There was one period of time where I had several hours of uninterrupted sleep… and when I awoke from that, it was morning. My sweet roommate helped me as I was waking up. He poured me some water and made some tea too. I can’t explain what a difference it made to have a friend by my side.

When I was ready to eat, he helped to prop me up and brought me the food that the hospital staff had delivered to the room. It was a traditional Turkish breakfast consisting of a couple pieces of cheese, some olives and sliced cucumber. It tasted great.

When lunchtime rolled around, I was able to eat a few bites of tomato soup and some noodles. It felt good to be able to nourish my body as I hadn’t really eaten since I had my room service dinner the night before this all began.

During the early afternoon hours I heard some talking outside the door of my room… I even heard someone say my name. Shortly thereafter the door slowly creaked open and a sweet gentleman accompanied by a woman and an older man entered. He explained that he was a friend of Enrique’s (the Editor-in-Chief of Airways).

He came to wish me well and also to deliver two model aircraft to me, both Turkish Airlines planes. I was speechless and I smiled so big… we took photos together, holding my new prized possessions, and he invited me to visit his model aircraft museum later in the week – an invite that I quickly accepted.

Before I knew it, the plane that Scott was on was only a few hundred miles from where I was. That brought me great comfort. The surgeon visited me one last time before letting me know he thought I was ready to be released.

Even though I was moving at a snail’s pace, I packed my things, changed into a loose-fitting dress and began the journey back to the hotel.

Turkish Airlines had a car sent to the hospital to pick me up, and when I arrived at the hotel, I found my husband standing next to my new Turkish sister. There were lots of (gentle) hugs, and there was a whole lot of relief and happiness.

Three days after arriving, I finally saw the city

Thanks especially to my amazing friends at Turkish Airlines and Airways, I was able to extend my trip a bit, both so that I could have extra time to recover before such a long flight home and also so that I could actually see a bit of the city that I had looked so forward to exploring.

I moved slowly, but walking felt good. It was amazing and humbling to walk the streets of a city with so much diversity, history and culture. The language is beautiful and the people are beautiful. So much about Turkey was so different, yet so much was the same.

The streets are all narrow and the hills are steep. There are textile shops and cafes lining the sidewalks, and the car horns echo in and around the buildings. Shop owners stand outside and greet you and smile warmly at you. You’ll find at least one bowl of cat food on every block as hundreds of “kediler” fill the streets and the parks. These are not your typical feral stray cats either, they are happy street cats who get love and attention from the good people of Istanbul.

We saw some lovely sights in old Istanbul, like the Hagia Sophia, Blue Mosque, Topkapi Palace and the cistern – all so beautiful, each in their own way. Though the soreness of my stomach made it difficult to do as much walking as I’d have liked to, it was still so magical to be able to get out into the middle of this beautiful city and take in at least some of its history.

Now I was even more glad that I had gone

It makes me sad to think that some people will never visit the beautiful and idyllic city of Istanbul, and they’ll never see the rolling hills and gorgeous scenery of Turkey. But that sadness is slowly turning to frustration, because so many people will never make that trip, not because they can’t, but because they don’t want to. They’re scared.

Let me tell you something… terrorism doesn’t discriminate by country. Terrorism doesn’t happen in “this type of city” or “that type of state.” Terrorism doesn’t happen at a certain time of year and it doesn’t only occur at large, widely-attended events like sports games and concerts.

At the same time, terrorists don’t all dress alike and they come in all shapes, sizes and colors. They identify with a wide array of religions, political parties and/or militant groups. Sometimes they don’t identify with any group at all. They act alone and they act in groups. Sometimes they’re sick with a mental illness, other times they’re perfectly sane and healthy.

Here in the U.S. we’ve seen our fair share of horrifying and unspeakable acts of terrorism in all corners of our country and everywhere inbetween. They’ve been committed by terrorist groups from other countries and by mentally ill or purely evil U.S. citizens of all colors.

Just this past Sunday night, at least 59 people were killed and another 500-plus injured in our country’s largest mass shooting in modern history. It’s unfathomable. These concert goers were expecting nothing more than a fun evening of rocking out to country music… instead, they saw a completely different type of show.

Despite the sadness and grief, let me ask you this:

Why isn’t there a travel warning to the U.S.?

Should I never attend a sporting event or concert again? Should I constantly spin in circles surveying what’s going on around and above me? Maybe I could bring my binoculars with me everywhere I go so that I could see into all the windows of nearby buildings and possibly spot a gunman before he opens fire… would that work?

Seriously. This is awful and depressing and has most of us wondering what in the world our dear planet Earth and its people are coming to… but, as tough as it is to come to terms with, life must go on. We need to love and support one another, and put our prejudices aside for good… for the greater good. Easier said than done, right?

We are all in this together. Let’s start behaving that way. I feel like the events that transpired over the last week so perfectly serve as an example of why not to succumb to fear… I travel to Turkey, despite the U.S. Department of State explicitly warning me not to, I come back home and within one day the Las Vegas massacre happens. So where would I have been in greater danger? Istanbul or Las Vegas?

There is beauty all across the globe, and at the same time, there is evil. Of course there are countries and cities that are known to be more dangerous than others, that’s fine. But do yourself a favor, before completely writing off a potential travel destination, learn a little more about its people and its history, and if you must read about all of the awful things that have ever happened there, at least do some reading on the same type of awful things that have taken place right here on U.S. soil – you may be surprised.

Inspired to learn, love and give back

I have fallen so deeply in love with the city of Istanbul and the country of Turkey… I wouldn’t trade what happened to me for anything. I was supposed to be there exactly when I was. My appendix was supposed to start failing me at the very moment that it began to… because if it hadn’t, I would not have formed the special, magical, lifelong relationships and friendships that I did.

I have never met people more kind, selfless and welcoming than the people of Turkey. When I boarded my last Turkish Airlines flight with my husband, a big Boeing 777 headed to Chicago, I felt a sense of loss. I didn’t want to leave. And as soon as the wheels left the ground, I lost it.

I cried for so long and I cried so hard. I have never felt an attachment to a city and its people in the way I feel attached to Istanbul. I know that I will be back. I hope that it’s soon and I hope that it’s for more than just a vacation. Because I left more than just my appendix there, I left my heart there too.

Flying to Pass the Time

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Time really does fly… but come this weekend, you’d think I was flying just to pass the time. Something big, something HUGE, something SO exciting is happening. BUT.. I’m keeping my lips sealed for now. I’ll just tell you this – two days, four states, five flights. That’s all you get for now. You’ll hear more from me Monday or Tuesday.

ANYWAYS… those who know me well, know I stress out pretty easily. But oddly enough, since I’ve started to really hone in on my aviation journalism and photography, I’ve gotten a heck of a lot busier AND a heck of a lot happier. Who’d have thought there’d be a positive correlation between the two? Not me. Not in a million years.

June brought a lot of changes in my life… I hit the big 3-0, we moved from Minneapolis to St. Paul and I lost my dear, sweet stepmom. With that being said, my apologies for being MIA in the blogging world, but I’m sure you can understand why I was.

However, my love of planes helped keep me sane and grounded throughout that time. And, over the last month I’ve hit a couple milestones that were quite exciting for me:

1. On my birthday, June 16, I hit one THOUSAND Instagram followers on @thegreatplanes (currently, I’m creeping up on 1,300 – it’s a good feeling).

2. I’ve had my third and fourth stories published on Airways Magazine’s website, both of which feature several of my own photos (and even one of my husband’s):

Where Planes Go, They Follow: The Rise of Plane Spotting and How Airports Are Embracing Their Biggest Fans

Fight For The Skies: The Air Traffic Control Debate

3. My Instagram friends, @jfkspotting, hit 7,000 followers and in doing so, named my page the ninth best of all those followers. Thanks guys!

4. I found that there is a bus that takes me directly from my new apartment to my favorite spotting location at MSP – the gold parking ramp. I was asked to leave by airport police, which I calmly and apologetically did. BUT, after a few days I didn’t feel quite right about it. I reached out to a contact of mine at the airport who in turn spoke with the police chief who confirmed I CAN be up there. The chief passed the message along to his officers and now I go three to four times a week. Now THAT’S a “great planes” win!

Thank you all for the love and support. To think that six months ago I went out on a whim and just thought I’d “take a shot” at pursuing something that I love… and seeing where I am now – it’s pretty incredible. The things I’m learning, the people I’m meeting, the stories I’m writing and the places I’m going… I’m very thankful and cannot wait to see where this love takes me in the years to come.

Striving to keep an open mind, a full heart and thick skin

I’ve been quite happy lately. “Why?” you ask? Because I’ve actually been chasing and fulfilling a dream, and have found along the way how good it really feels to accomplish something, especially when you’re very passionate about that something.

“The Great Planes” on Instagram has well over 600 followers – something I never thought I’d see just five months into it. Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport (MSP), my home away from home, has shared TWO of my photos on their Instagram account – and just yesterday, Sun Country Airlines posted one of my photos on theirs. These may seem like very minute successes, but they’re actually huge for me.

It wasn’t terribly long ago that I was relaying this dream of becoming an aviation journalist to my husband Scott… thinking nothing would ever come of it. I can even remember SO vividly a time that we were walking through Loring Park and talking about this very subject. Scott said to me, “Why don’t you just write something up and submit it to newspapers or something?” It got me sort of excited, but I didn’t really think I could do something like that. I didn’t think I had the will and the drive to TRY to do something like that.

But lo and behold, just months later, here I am with my second piece published on the Airways Magazine website, thanks once again to the immense kindness of THE Aviation Queen: Benét Wilson.

If you remember, my first piece was about how smaller manufacturers, specifically Embraer and Bombardier, are stepping up to the plate to compete with the big guys: Boeing and Airbus. It was fun to see my family and friends react to my work being published. And it was equally as fun to see the comments and likes on Facebook, and the retweets and favorites on Twitter.

My second piece, though, was a bit different. This one was more of an Op-Ed on a topic that I knew had the potential to cause a bit of controversy. Even though it happened well over a month ago, I didn’t think people had quite gotten over the “dragged doctor” incident on United Flight 3411…

I was right.

It seemed that the popular opinion following the incident was that United Airlines is truly, utterly awful. BELIEVE me, I do think United really messed up. I think what happened was awful and that the airline is ultimately at fault. I also think there are two sides to every story. I really just wanted to try to get people to look at what happened in a different light. Trust me, I HATE what happened to Dr. David Dao, as most people do. At the same time, however, I do NOT think it is fair that the lasting impression following flight 3411 has been United = Bad, Doctor = Good. Because it’s just not that cut and dry.

For my story “Is Ignorance Bliss? United Flight 3411 is Part of a Larger Story that Isn’t Being Told” I had the pleasure of interviewing Anthony Roman, president of Roman and Associates, a risk management and investigation firm. Roman, a former commercial pilot himself, noted that even though United was ultimately the catalyst behind this unfortunate incident, Dr. Dao was still at fault to some extent, namely for not obeying the commands of law enforcement personnel. I also spoke with Jamie Horwitz of the Association Professional Flight Attendants (APFA) who provided some background information on the recent congressional hearing on flight 3411 that he attended. Jamie also directed me to the recent Op-Ed written by Bob Ross, president of the APFA, that shed light on bigger issues in the airline industry, including constant pressure from Wall Street to please investors.

I knew some angry people would voice their disagreement after reading my piece, and they didn’t disappoint. Some people respectfully disagreed (thank you), and others said things that were slightly hurtful, including:

“Airways Magazine is known for its interesting and very professional writing about aviation. But this article is totally nonsense. Please, put it offline and save at least your reputation.”

“What a load of absolute bullshit! Sometimes I simply cannot believe the crap you Americans come up with!”

“How much is the writer getting from this?”

“This definitely comes off as a shill piece.”

But, you know what, there were some people who either agreed with the article, or respected and supported the thoughts presented in it. My favorite was:

“Finally someone calls out the fact that the passenger failed to comply with law enforcement. Thank you!”

Those who know me well, know how incredibly sensitive I am. I cry fairly easily, and simply put, I hate to be hated. But… upon reading these comments, both the good and the bad, I realized how much I’ve toughened up. Not only did I not even flinch at the bad comments, I actually giggled and was weirdly thrilled by it. To think that something I wrote and ideas I shared could affect people in a way that compels them to say something, that right there is enough motivation for me to keep doing what I’m doing, and keep doing it with a smile on my face.

I’d like to think I am a good person. In the past, however, I may have been what some people would consider a “pushover” … well, not anymore. Thick-skinned Annie is here to stay. I’ll defend myself, hold true to my words and stand up for what I believe is right. And, as this post’s title alluded to, I’ll keep an open mind and a full heart while I am at it. At least I’ll try my best to. 😉

The phrase “Never meet your hero” is a lie… a big, big lie

AirwaysI read about airplanes and I’m happy. I write about airplanes and I’m happy. But when someone else reads what I write about airplanes… that’s the ultimate – an indescribable feeling of satisfaction and success.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: aviation is in my blood. With parents who met as flight attendants on Eastern Airlines and a dad who spent more than 30 years in the U.S. Air Force, I was bound to love planes… right?

Well, sort of.

I was fortunate to travel quite often as a child, and boy did I love it. But it honestly wasn’t until I was 28 years old that I actually caught the “aviation bug.”

I had been out walking near Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport on a crisp fall day, not really realizing how close I was to runway 17/35. I heard a bit of a rumble… and the sound was very obviously getting closer, and closer. Before I knew it, a plane departing on runway 17 was lifting off the ground directly above me – it seemed so huge and it felt so close… like I could reach up and touch it.

I was hooked.

I found myself out at the airport constantly just to watch the planes come and go. My heart pitter-pattered with each departure. And landings? Don’t even get me started. I’d watch ever-so carefully until those back wheels hit the runway and the puffs of smoke dissipated in the plane’s trail… I’d feel this strange sense of satisfaction.

Nothing in my life had made me feel more like a child than the miracle of flight. It instilled in me a sheer sense of wonder – I constantly found myself in awe that something so huge could fly so high. I wanted to learn more.

I began to study the makes and models… big and small. I listened to air traffic control feeds and began to understand their lingo. I started to pick up on the approach and departure paths for the various runways. Heck, I learned the phonetic alphabet: Alpha, Bravo, Charlie, Delta, Echo, Foxtrot … well, you get the picture.

I wanted more though… and I felt stuck.

It was last December when I decided to go out on a limb and reach out to someone who seemed to be doing exactly what I hoped to be doing myself someday. Benét Wilson is a well-respected aviation journalist with a wealth of knowledge on the industry. She is affectionately known as the “Aviation Queen” and runs an aviation/travel consulting firm by the same name.

I felt like it was a longshot, but it couldn’t hurt… I sent her an email. I told her how much I loved aviation and I told her about my educational and professional background. I said I didn’t know where to start but that I too wanted to write about planes… simply put, I needed help.

And to my surprise, within a couple weeks she had written back to me and wanted to speak to me on the phone. She wanted to help me. Benét Wilson, THE Aviation Queen, wanted to help ME. I kind of pinched myself and wondered what good deed I had done to deserve this.

Before I knew it, she was reading my work and offering edits and suggestions. I even got to contribute to her blog. I was ON “Team Aviation Queen” – seriously… I was starting to think that the big guy upstairs had me confused with someone else because I KNEW I hadn’t done anything to deserve this kind of help and support.

And after a month or two of working with Benét, she suggested submitting a story of mine to Airways Magazine on my behalf. I pitched an idea – how smaller aircraft manufacturers are “competing” with the big guys: Boeing and Airbus. She liked it, so I wrote it.

I was a little skeptical… I mean – how could Airways possibly consider running one of MY stories? The only published work on the topic of aviation that I even HAD was my own blog and the few stories that were up on the Aviation Queen blog.

Benét submitted my story to their editor on a Tuesday morning, and the next day she called me to tell me that they loved it and would be publishing it.

I died. I went to heaven. I came back to earth and then died and went to heaven all over again.

That Thursday afternoon my story was published – one of the top stories on the front page of the Airways Magazine website. It felt amazing to know that people who are really engrained in this industry were reading my work. I can’t explain how happy I was to know that I actually had a shot in this industry.

I won’t lie – chasing your dream really is a lot of work. I have a full time job (a great one) that has NOTHING to do with aviation, which means I spend a lot of my free time reading about the aviation industry to grow my knowledge base and work toward becoming a true “industry expert.”

But I love it. I wouldn’t trade this for ANYTHING. I really feel like this hard work and dedication will pay off in the end and that I will find a career in aviation journalism someday.

They often say “never meet your hero” – but my story is a perfect example of why that advice doesn’t always hold true. Now Benét isn’t just a hero to me because of what she does for a living, but because of the kindness and selflessness she showed (and continues to show) by taking a chance on me.

I could never thank her enough.