I had to go to Hong Kong on business one day and then from there on to India for an exploratory session with the new service team my company had installed at Delhi. Was I up for it, they asked? I kept telling them they didn't need to ask twice much less the first time. And I even sweetened the pot by offering to schedule a longish layover in London on the way back to do a drop-in on our offices there. I was going around the world, from Chicago to Chicago, for the first time in my life. This time the journey itself was the destination.
It would be 747s all the way as the first great bird lifted off the runway for Tokyo. Changing from there to Hong Kong we came down over southern Japan where I noticed a very large and active volcano softly belching white steam in to the atmosphere, a major city built up in every direction around it. The AirMap informed me that this was Kagoshima at the very southern tip of Kyushu Island and a "Sister City" to Miami. Mt. Sakurajima pops off with almost boring regularity, apparently, as evidenced by the densely packed villages all around the island on which it sits in the middle of the bay.
Leaving out of Hong Kong was disappointing in that the service operated in the evening with an arrival in to Delhi along the order of Midnight. Still, I hoped for a moonlit sky that might offer a unique view of Mt. Everest directly on our flight path in to the Indian capital city. No such luck. It fogged up around the mountains to the point that I was hoping the instruments would keep us well abeam the mountain and not heading directly for it. We landed safely in Delhi without further adieu.
Mosquitoes in baggage claim, mosquitoes at the check-in counter a few days later, mosquitoes in the boarding lounge and one or two brave ones actually on the plane sums up the experience at Indira Ghandi International Airport. We closed the door, the flight attendants hit the aisles with bug spray and we launched in to the night sky for London at around 3AM. The captain informed us of our flying route that would deliberately avoid Iraqi airspace, news we all accepted with relief. He went on to explain we would be flying over the heart of Iran instead.
I hoped to sleep all the way to London considering the hour of the night and the eight hours of flying time. I woke some three hours out right over downtown Tehran, noticed how brown absolutely everything was and dozed off for the hop over Turkey and across the Black Sea in to Bulgarian air space and central Europe on a beeline to London Heathrow.
Seven hours on the ground in London and back in the air again I was, now headed home for Chicago on the fifth 747 of the journey. This time there was something spectacular to capture the moment following the view of Mt. Sakurajima in southern Japan. I wish pilots would call out traffic in the area even if it is a competitor's airplane. If I hadn't been seated on the left side of my plane I would have missed this. We were bigger, higher and faster but that just made it perfect to capture the ice floes and bergs all around this magnificent moment in time.
Pan Am used to fly a Round the World Service offering the same flight number in each direction though sometimes there might have been a change of aircraft for scheduling reasons. After Pan Am folded United Airlines tried it a couple of times only to discontinue the service for the last time shortly after September 11, 2001. I was able to make the trip twice, once in each direction before it was all over.
I'd do it all over again tomorrow.