A trip long in the making, is finally here…

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KLM 747 courtesy of the KLM Blog

I am an only child. My parents divorced when I was five years old. Throughout my childhood and into young adulthood, aside from spending every other weekend together and going out to dinner once a week, my dad and I traveled – that was our thing.

We took the Empire Builder from St. Paul all the way out to Seattle, we went to Hawaii, we went to the 1996 Olympics in my hometown of Atlanta, we cruised, we drove… we did it all.

Into high school and throughout college, there was a bit of a hiatus… my dad was remarried to my dear stepmom Carolyn, and I… I mean – I was an adult! What more is there to say? We saw each other as often as we could, but we certainly weren’t vacationing together anymore. I was busy with school and my dad was (expectedly) traveling with his wife.

Upon graduating from the University of Minnesota School of Journalism in 2009, my dad told me that my graduation gift would be another trip. I was ecstatic! The following spring, we went to Germany, Austria and Italy. It was a different kind of trip – I was old enough to drink beer! Suddenly we weren’t just a dad and daughter duo, we were friends.

Just weeks after returning to the states, I met the second of the “two main men” in my life – my now husband Scott. My life changed forever… in the best possible way.

Just a year after meeting and upon finding my first job in journalism, Scott and I moved to Kansas City together. Ultimately, our journey brought us back to Minnesota just a couple years later. Once we got back to the Twin Cities, Scott decided to go back to school and after a few more years in television news, I decided to switch career paths and went into public relations and communications.

Scott and I got engaged in September 2013, and just months later in December, my stepmom Carolyn was diagnosed with stage four breast cancer. It was devastating and it was scary. She and my dad lived in Nashville (she was from Tennessee and both of her children, along with her sister still live down there), though she and my dad had a second home in Florida. I didn’t see them as often as I’d have liked to, but we were fortunate enough to visit at least a couple times each year, whether it was in Tennessee, Florida or up here in Minnesota.

About a year and a half ago, I thought back to all the trips my dad and I had taken, and I went out on a limb – I asked him if we could take another trip together… we were both married, he was supporting Carolyn as she battled the beast that is cancer, and I was supporting Scott as he attended college full time and worked part time – a challenge in and of itself.

I was surprised, but now that I think about it, maybe I shouldn’t have been so surprised… just a week or so after my request, my dad told me he had booked a special trip for us. He told me that in October 2017 he and I would fly to Switzerland and take a cruise from Basel to Amsterdam on the Rhine River. I could not believe it. I was so, SO excited.

Throughout winter 2016-2017, the thought of that trip understandably took a backseat to my stepmom’s deteriorating health. It was a difficult time for our whole family. Scott and I flew down to celebrate her 70th birthday in March of this year – it was quite the occasion, but it was bittersweet as I feared it would be the last time I’d see her.

In June, she wasn’t doing too well. I told my dad I wanted to be down there with him and the rest of the family. He booked me a flight down to Nashville toward the end of June, but something inside me told me I needed to get down there sooner. My dad switched my ticket to the next day. I flew from Minneapolis to St. Louis, where I connected to Nashville.

I exited the airport in Tennessee and immediately saw my dad. He hugged me really tight and whispered in my ear, “Carolyn died.” My heart sank into my stomach. I hadn’t made it in time. I didn’t know what to think.

Needless to say, the months following her passing were difficult for everyone. There was sadness, there was frustration… but we all stuck together and supported one another. I was so happy to have been there for my dad in his greatest time of need. And, as October neared, I realized that this trip – a trip that I had at one time doubted would even happen – would not only happen, it needed to happen. This trip would be so meaningful for both my dad and for me… I felt more thankful than I ever had that this adventure was becoming a reality.

Tomorrow, my dad is flying into Minneapolis, and Thursday we’ll fly to Amsterdam together. From there we’ll head to Zurich, and ultimately Basel before embarking on a trip that will bring us through France, Germany and the Netherlands. I’ve been waiting for this trip for what feels like my whole life.

There is something else about this trip that is so incredibly special. When my dad booked our trip, I was just getting into aviation… photography, journalism, anything and everything flight. He knew how much I had dreamed of flying on a Boeing 747… the beautiful, iconic Queen of the Skies that undoubtedly would retire in the years to come.

Not only did my dad choose a flight back to the states simply because it was on a KLM 747 (a combi at that!), he even adjusted our schedule by jumping through a number of hoops when he found out our flight was switched and we would no longer be on the Queen – that just wasn’t acceptable to him! This trip means so much to me, but knowing that he wanted that experience so badly for me, makes it that much more special.

In just 48 hours my dad and I will be high in the sky, nearing the Atlantic where we will drift to sleep and wake up in Amsterdam. There, we’ll spend a half-day exploring Schipol Airport (a one-on-one behind-the-scenes tour a year in the making!). We will then fly to Zurich, spend the night, and take a train to Basel the next morning, where we’ll board our ship later that evening.

We’ll stop in various German, French and Dutch cities before ending back in Amsterdam, where we’ll spend an additional two days. A week from next Monday, we’ll board a KLM 747-400 mixed configuration aircraft (half passenger, half cargo) that will bring us to Chicago where we’ll catch our final flight back to Minnesota.

Honestly… this trip, and the memories that will be made, means the world to me. I am so grateful for the opportunity to spend this time with my dad, and I cannot wait to share the experience with you all through photos and through writing.

To blue skies and tailwinds… and smooth sailing!

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.

Through Security in the Blink of an Eye

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

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New biometric screening option offers predictability and convenience, but is it right for you?

It may sound unreal… like something straight out of a sci-fi movie, but for $179 a year you can simply blink your eye or swipe your finger to verify who you are, all while significantly reducing the time it takes you to go through airport security.

Biometric screening is becoming more and more commonplace at airports across the country thanks to New York-based CLEAR. In February, Minneapolis-St. Paul International became the 21st U.S. airport to employ the technology, joining the likes of Hartsfield-Jackson, LaGuardia, JFK and Washington Dulles, among others.

CLEAR eliminates the need for a Transportation Security Administration (TSA) agent to manually check boarding passes and identification. Instead, CLEAR subscribers step up to a station where they blink their eye or swipe their finger to prove their identity. From there, it’s on to the standard TSA physical screening or TSA PreCheck for members of the government program.

CLEAR CEO Caryn Seidman-Becker says members love the service because it provides them with a consistently fast and predictable experience at the airport. “They know they’re going to get through security in five minutes or less every time,” she said.

Enrollment in CLEAR is processed onsite at participating airports. CLEAR will digitally authenticate your driver’s license or passport, confirm your identity, and create your account all in roughly five minutes. After signing up, your membership is effective immediately.

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You may be wondering… “Is it really worth it?” In short, it all depends on your travel habits and how much money you’re willing to spend.

If you’re a frequent traveler and often find yourself rushed at the airport, it’s probably worth it to give CLEAR a try. It’s quick and predictable, and you’ll no longer need to juggle your ID and your boarding pass in that stop-and-go line waiting for a TSA agent to check them.

“I signed up because I value my time,” Shane Rixom said. Rixom, a civil engineer living in Abingdon, Va., enrolled in CLEAR three years ago at Orlando International Airport. He travels roughly three weeks each month.

He says that while sometimes his membership hasn’t had much of an impact on his experience going through security, there have been a few times where CLEAR has made a huge difference.

In addition to CLEAR, Rixom is enrolled in TSA PreCheck. The two services complement each other nicely and together will almost certainly make the time between your arrival at the airport and your arrival at your gate a whole lot quicker and a lot less hectic.

A five-year TSA PreCheck membership costs $85, which breaks down to $17 annually. PreCheck speeds up the physical security screening process by allowing you to keep on shoes, belts, and light jackets. Another perk? You don’t need to rummage through your bags – laptops and liquids don’t need to be unpacked.

A CLEAR membership will set you back $179 a year, with the ability to add additional family members for $50 and add children for free. Delta SkyMiles members who want to enroll will receive a special rate, bringing an annual CLEAR membership down to $79 or $99 depending on your membership status; Diamond Medallion members can enroll in CLEAR for free.

When Rixom signed up, he was paying a discounted fee through a credit card deal outside of Delta, but has since earned Diamond Medallion status with the airline, so his CLEAR membership is now free.

But again, whether or not CLEAR makes sense for you depends on how often you travel and how much you’re willing to spend – it’s not for everyone.

Brett Snyder runs the popular Cranky Flier blog and flies once or twice a month on average, but doesn’t see enough value in CLEAR to justify signing up. “I would be interested if it truly meant a faster, quicker screening experience, but for now, this is just a pass to cut to the front of the line,” he said. “I have PreCheck and while there can sometimes be lines, it’s never all that bad.”

But as an incentive to at least try it out, CLEAR offers a one-month free trial. When that month is up, you can choose to cancel the membership, or continue it and pay the $179.

Currently, CLEAR has roughly one million members. And although they have plans to launch at a number of new airports this year, CLEAR isn’t limiting the technology to air travel alone, as they expect to announce expanding to different types of facilities in the near future. The biometric service can already be found at a handful of sports venues. Learn more at clearme.com.