Hello, it’s me…

It’s bizarre… I am coming up on eight months in my role here at Boeing in Chicago. It has been fun and awe-inspiring at times, busy and stressful at others—but I wouldn’t change a thing.

I’ve made mistakes.

I’ve celebrated successes.

I’ve made friends.

I’ve made enemies.

(just kidding… I haven’t made any enemies)

Anyways…while life and work have been busy, I’ve tried my best to keep up with The Great Planes—both the social media and the blog. And even though my posts may not be as frequent, I still do write as often as I can, and do my best to make sure my stories are meaningful.

A couple weeks back, I was up in the Twin Cities for my father-in-law’s wedding, which took place Saturday. On Sunday, my mom and I spent the morning out at the dog park next to MSP Airport—obsessing over fuzzy friends and watching the big birds fly in. We were waiting around for the KLM A330 to fly in when I noticed two people walking toward us on the gravel path. Before long I heard, “Excuse me,” and I swiftly turned around. Two men stood there, one appeared to be college-aged, the other looked to be my mom’s age. The younger one asked me, “Are you The Great Planes?”

“Como se what?” I asked myself inside my head before quickly answering (aloud), “Yes!”

The younger of the two introduced himself as Max—he was with his dad. They were both incredibly sweet, passionate people… another parent-child duo that share a love of aviation is always fun to come by.

Fast forward a couple weeks, and as I was walking into our Boeing headquarters, a woman approached me in the hallway. “Excuse me,” she said as she slowed in her steps. “Are you the blogger?”

Somewhat taken aback, I said, “I mean, I blog…?”

“But you run the aviation blog, right? And the Instagram?” she asked.

“Oh YES, I run The Great Planes!”

After chatting for a few minutes, I learned her name: Grace. She, too, works for Boeing and said she recognized my face from the few photos that I’m actually in on my account.

It was such a great interaction and a great feeling, similar to how I felt at MSP after meeting Max and his dad. Just knowing that my stories are read (if only by a few people) and that my pictures are seen, really means a lot.

It’s not often that this blog or my social accounts are my top priority, but I still have tried pretty dang hard to build out The Great Planes as its own brand of sorts… and to get that sort of validation and recognition from people who enjoy my posts, was just about the greatest feeling in the world.

Meeting Max and Grace really inspired me to ramp up the writing and to try to post here more often. Life is way too short to spend time doing things you aren’t passionate about. I am glad I learned that early on, and hope that through my stories, my photos and my transparency—someone else will get inspired to follow their dreams too.

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

Whoever said, “Never meet your hero,” clearly never met Benét Wilson.

Honestly, I feel like it was in the stars for her to be my mentor. It was December 2016 when a little light bulb turned on in my head… “Maybe I can combine my love of planes with my passion for writing,” I thought. I needed to find a professional, someone who was actually doing what I hoped to do… and a few simple Google searches led me to the Aviation Queen website.

I reached out to Benét via email, and before I knew it we were talking on the phone and she gave me some crazy awesome news: she wanted me to contribute to her blog. A few posts in, she saw enough potential in me to recommend me to Airways Magazine’s Chris Sloan, who promptly brought me on as a contributing author. I wrote on a variety of topics and even got to take some pretty awesome trips—I was having the time of my life and was so incredibly gracious (and still am) for the complete and utter selflessness that both Benét and Chris showed in taking me under their wings and helping me as I learned to fly (no pun intended).

You all know how this story ends… I left the nest. Just a few months after this journey began, I was offered a job with the greatest aerospace company in the world: Boeing. My husband Scott is finishing up his last two semesters at the University of Minnesota, so for now it’s just me and our two cats down in Chitown. It is certainly hard to move to a new, big city by yourself… but I wouldn’t trade what I have now for anything.

Each morning I bid farewell to my sweet, fuzzy friends, and I begin my one-mile walk to work. And each and every time I approach my office building, I stop briefly to look up at the big Boeing logo amidst all the other skyscrapers, and each and every time I just can’t help but crack a smile. I do the same each evening as I head home, except the sun is usually setting and the big logo is glowing against the dusky sky. Now I truly feel like I have more than just aviation in my blood—I have Boeing in my blood. I am proud, honored and humbled to say that I bleed Boeing blue.

Meeting Benét couldn’t have come at a more appropriate time either, as just yesterday FIRST—an international nonprofit that inspires K-12 students to develop STEM skills—announced that Boeing had donated $1.5 million to support young innovators. Another thing that makes FIRST awesome? Their focus on mentorship… showcasing firsthand the important role mentors play in learning, dreaming and doing. It wasn’t until my own journey began almost a year-and-a-half ago that I realized what a crucial role a mentor could play in my own life… Benét helped me to learn, she supported my dream and she cheered me on as I chased that dream.

Lucky for me, Benét is still on my team today—she is someone I can talk to, someone I can depend on and someone who supports me. I am so proud to call her my friend.

So here’s to you, Benét. You are an amazing person. Your smile is infectious. You make me want to be a better person. And as I hard as I try, I could never truly repay you for the ways in which you’ve helped me. In my opinion, no one deserves a lifetime full of blue skies and tailwinds more than you do.

To blue skies and tailwinds

It’s been nearly a month since I’ve posted, and this post will be slightly more personal than past entries.

About two months ago I started a new job with the State of Minnesota AND was brought on as a writer for Airways Magazine – two milestones that were pretty big in and of themselves. However, this week alone has brought about (and will continue to bring about) a number of changes… all important and all very different.

On Sunday, we will officially move into our new loft in downtown St. Paul, something I’ve been looking forward to for months. On Friday, I will turn 30 … boy does that sound old! But … nothing compares to having lost my dear, sweet stepmom Carolyn, who passed away Sunday after a long, courageous battle with cancer. We will honor her and her amazing life and legacy this afternoon at a service here in Nashville, Tenn.

To say that Carolyn touched a lot of lives is an understatement. If you had the pleasure of meeting her, I take comfort in knowing you’ll never forget her, because trust me – you couldn’t.

She was one of the most selfless people I’ve ever known, and if I had to think of one word to describe her personality it would be “sparkly” – her presence could be felt the minute she entered a room… it was almost as though she carried sunshine and happiness in her purse with her everywhere she went. She always seemed to radiate a rainbow of colors.

Carolyn and I certainly disagreed on some things… but that’s just what happens when you grow up in different regions and different eras. But I can honestly say that in the nearly 15 years she was a part of my life, I can’t ever remember us being upset with one another. She made me smile … and she will continue to make me smile for years to come.

Carolyn was aptly nicknamed “GoGo” because she and my dad were always traveling. If they weren’t abroad in Japan or Israel or somewhere in Europe, they were going back and forth, and back and forth, and back and forth between their two homes: Nashville and and Indialantic, Fla.

And, she even took her selflessness to a whole new level in opening up her own family practice clinic here in Nashville: Hope Health. She found great pride and joy in her job as a nurse practitioner … showing that even at “work” all she wanted to do was help others.

Those who know me will not be at all surprised by this, but just the other day while sitting on the couch here at my dad and Carolyn’s house in Nashville, I saw a package all sealed up that said “aviator bottle opener” – so I (obviously) tore into it without question, just out of curiosity. 

I asked my dad, “Did you buy this?” and he replied, “No, Carolyn bought that for you … for your birthday.” I’m actually tearing up a bit writing this, but that little bottle opener will hold a special place in my heart forever… she knew me so well.

For those who didn’t get to meet her, I’m so sorry. She was a truly remarkable human being who will be sorely missed, but whose spirit will live on for a long, long time.

I love and miss you Carolyn.

Speedbird, Dynasty, Redwood… Oh my!

“Speedbird” flight 178 progresses on its way from JFK to LHR

I have a lot to learn.

I listen to the Minneapolis Air Traffic Control (ATC) tower feed quite often, and have been doing so for the last couple years. I love spotting out at MSP, but you don’t see a whole lot of heavies out there. And despite how much I wish… how much I pray… how hard I cross my little fingers… it never ends up being a 747 flying in over the river, and it’s never an A380 being pushed back from its gate.

So what’s a girl to do?

OF COURSE! Listen to the ATC tower feed out of JFK, close my eyes, and try with all my might to pretend I’m out there watching it live. I’ve been doing this for about a week now on my 45-minute bus rides to and from work. It’s amazing. There is never a dull moment and I’m actually surprised at how well I can picture all the action in my head.

However, I’ve realized as I’ve listened to the feed that I have a lot of learning to do. Nearly every other flight that has been cleared for departure or landing has left me dumbfounded because I have NO clue what airline it is. I knew I’d hear a lot of unfamiliar names… but some were more than unfamiliar, they were simply NOT airlines. What gives?

My “Aha!” moment came this morning… this is what I heard amidst the radio fuzz: “Ee-er 178.”

Excuse me?

I pondered and pondered. Then I picked up on the pilot’s British accent. Still… I was clueless. I then tried to figure out what flight I was hearing simply by its number and knowing it was getting ready to depart JFK. And… BOOM! British Airways 178. I found it.

But I still didn’t understand what the heck I had heard. Believe me… it was NOT “British Airways 178.” And then… it clicked. I thought, “Oh my gosh… Oh my gosh… OH. MY. GOSH.”

SPEEDBIRD!

I remembered that my dad had once told me the British Airways call sign was Speedbird. I was equally as excited as I was proud of myself for solving the mystery. And having figured that out, I wondered if there were any other flights that I was unable to decipher due to not understanding what airline the pilot (or even the controller) had said.

Well, there was one that I knew was getting ready to land, but all I heard through the static was something like, “Ine-see 5322 heavy.” Of course I was intrigued knowing it was a heavy, so I paid closer attention… but I still couldn’t figure it out. Similar to what happened with good old Speedbird, however, something clicked. “Were they saying ‘dynasty’?” I asked myself. Sure enough… China Airlines flight 5322, a Boeing 747-400, had just landed at JFK. And… the call sign for China Airlines? You guessed it. Dynasty.

Bam.

Then I remembered that even earlier I had heard a “Redwood” flight… and after searching and searching, I had given up. But after my epiphany, I did some digging to find out that Redwood = Virgin America.

Sure, this was great. This was incredibly exciting. But… I said it before and I’ll say it again: this all just helped me to realize that I have a lot to learn. I’ve found some interesting forums on the topic of airline call signs, and I even found this helpful list that lays out some of the more common ones: Top 10 Coolest Airline Callsigns.

I’ll never be as knowledgeable as the controllers. Heck, I’ll never even be able to speak as quickly and as effortlessly as they do. But… I think reading up on call signs and studying airport runway and approach maps will really help me to paint an even more vivid picture in my head each time I listen to that bustling hub’s feed.

Sun Country just won my heart

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I’ll admit, I’ve NEVER flown on Sun Country Airlines. I mainly attribute it to the fact that I prefer visiting urban meccas like New York City or London over tropical escapes like Mazatlan or Puerto Vallarta — the warm, sunny destinations they’re most known for flying into and out of. But that’s about to change. I booked my first Sun Country flight for this October  — MSP to DFW for a good friend’s wedding. And with Sun Country recently announcing their Hometown Lakes Project, I have a feeling I may start making a bit more of an effort to fly with them.

Does the name Mark Herman ring a bell to you? If not, I’m willing to bet you’d recognize the Minneapolis-based artist’s work the second you saw it. Minnesotans like myself are likely most familiar with his modern, yet vintage graphic art depicting landmarks and other notable places around the state. And Sun Country recently announced they’d be naming each plane in their fleet after one of our state’s 10,000-plus lakes, and displaying Herman’s depiction of that lake on the aircraft’s interior. How cool is that?

I think with Sun Country’s focus on “summer vacation” type destinations, it’s easy to forget that the airline is actually based here in the Twin Cities. But Sun Country hasn’t forgotten where they came from, and they don’t want you to forget that either. By staying true to their Minnesota roots (as we Minnesotans pride ourselves on doing), Sun Country really won me over.

The Hometown Lakes Project will kick off this spring. And in addition to Herman’s artwork inside the plane, the name of the featured lake will be painted on the exterior of the aircraft under either side of the cockpit, and outside the front boarding door.

Cheers to you Sun Country… for staying true to your Minnesota Roots and for showcasing your love of our beautiful state. I can’t wait to see which lake will be featured on my plane this fall!

All images courtesy of Sun Country Airlines. Learn more on their website, where you can also view all of Herman’s work to be featured in the project.

MSP: The Great Airport

MSP

On March 6, Airports Council International (ACI) announced the winners of the 2016 Airport Service Quality (ASQ) Awards, an award that recognizes airports around the globe, both big and small, that dedicate themselves to delivering an excellent customer experience.

Winners are determined based on customer surveys that are given to roughly 600,000 travelers in 84 countries. The survey covers airport access, check-in, security, restrooms, shopping, and dining.

I should have known right off the bat that my home away from home, Minneapolis- St. Paul International Airport (MSP), would have been recognized. I mean… “Minnesota nice,” right?

And lo and behold – they were!

MSP was named Best Airport in North America for its size category (25-40 million passengers per year). A few notable competitors in this size category include Orlando International Airport, Boston’s Logan International Airport, and New York’s LaGuardia International Airport.

In a Metropolitan Airports Commission (MAC) release, MAC executive director and CEO Brian Ryks said the following:

“Our vision is ‘providing your best airport experience,’ and that is something we can only achieve with the support of the entire Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport community. It is very gratifying to know our customers recognize the tremendous efforts made each day by so many, and our focus to provide a personal touch in order to exceed travelers’ expectations.”

While I don’t get to frequent the airport as much as I’d like to (no, plane spotting doesn’t count), I completely understand why MSP was recognized. I’ve never encountered awfully long lines in security, and I always know that I’ll find something great to eat or a good store to kill some time in if I find myself overly early for my flight.

And again, there’s the “Minnesota nice” factor… the airport is chock-full of kind, helpful employees… from the check-in counter, to the coffee shop, to the gate.

MSP is Delta Air Line’s second largest hub, and is served by 14 airlines, offering service to 155 destinations. More than 37.5 million passengers flew through MSP in 2016.

So here’s to you, MSP. You done good!

View more ASQ award recipients on the ACI website.

Where Luxury Lacks, Savings Abound with “Basic Economy” Fares; United to Test Low-Cost Option at MSP

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Photo Courtesy of United Airlines

Note: This was originally published on the Aviation Queen blog, where I was fortunate enough to post as a guest contributor thanks to the immense kindness of Benét Wilson.

As one of three major U.S. airlines committed to offering travelers low-cost tickets with fewer amenities, United will soon test its basic economy fares in Minneapolis.

And while signs point toward these fares becoming a regular fixture in commercial aviation – mainly as a way for larger airlines to compete with low-cost carriers like Spirit and Frontier – flying has certainly transformed over the last several decades.

Having worked as a flight attendant for Eastern Airlines in the 1970s and 1980s, when donning more fashion-forward uniforms and serving meals on china in first class were the norm, my mom says flying was more “glamorous” back then.

But now, she says, plane rides almost feel more like bus trips, which isn’t too surprising with the rise of discount airlines, and more recently with these low-cost fares. Delta is already offering the no-frills option, and recently American announced that they’ll begin offering basic economy fares in 10 select markets starting this month.

United first announced plans to offer basic economy fares last November, and in mid-January, President Scott Kirby said they would debut at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport. “When you think of the number of flights coming in, the number of customers choosing United, and the airports… MSP was a great market to test this in,” United Spokesman Jonathan Guerin said.

United basic economy fares provide the same onboard experience as standard economy with a few exceptions, most notably: you can’t choose your seat and full-sized carry-on bags are not permitted. But you are allowed one personal item that you must store underneath the seat in front of you.

Brett Snyder, who runs the popular Cranky Flier blog, sees basic economy as a good way for legacy airlines to offer low fares while stripping out amenities for those who don’t need them. “While this might mean an increase in the lowest selling fare that allows for carry-on bags and advance seat assignments, those fares aren’t really sustainable today,” he said.

And it’s no surprise that basic economy has received some pushback. Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) recently voiced his concerns in a press release, citing the cheap fares as just another way for very profitable airlines to nickel and dime passengers. Through an upcoming FAA bill, he’ll push for new customer protections that “undo unfair policies” such as “banning” the free use of overhead bins.

The only issue is – the major airlines aren’t banning the free bin space because they’re not making you purchase a basic economy fare… it’s simply another option. These days, customers want choice and they want control, and that’s exactly what these fares are providing.

“There will always be pushback anytime the airlines do anything, even if it’s not bad,” Snyder said. “The reality is that you really shouldn’t buy these fares if you want a carry-on or a seat assignment, and the airlines will tell you that multiple times before you buy the ticket,” he added. “But people will still make that mistake and then complain.”

Another concern has been how airlines will keep track of those flying on basic economy fares. For United, Guerin said it shouldn’t be difficult, as it will be noted on your boarding pass and you’ll be in the last boarding group. This provides several opportunities for airport employees and gate agents to see if you have a full-sized carry-on, which will need to be checked and will be subject to the standard checked-bag fee. For domestic flights, you’ll pay $25 for your first checked bag and $35 for your second. But basic economy passengers who arrive at the gate with a full-sized carry-on will also need to pay a $25 gate handling fee.

United’s basic economy fares will go on sale during the first quarter of 2017, for travel during the second quarter. They’ll be available for routes between MSP and the airline’s seven U.S. hubs, eventually rolling out into other domestic markets.

Ultimately, while flying may not be the lavish experience it once was, it’s clear that the airlines have done their research in targeting this price-sensitive niche. Many people are just looking to get from point A to point B on the cheap, and now they have options outside of simply choosing a low-cost carrier.