In the movie, Up In the Air, George Clooney’s character spends 322 days a year on the road and lives out of his Travelpro 22″ roller.
My, ahem, superior Samsonite Black Label roller has quick-access laptop and toiletries recesses in front for quicker security screening, but George Clooney’s character and I snap-twist our bags the same way, and use the same tactics to clear security fast.
The only difference between Clooney and me is a good casting agent 😛 I flew nearly a hundred international airline flights last year, doing internationally what George did domestically. Spend a lot of days away, I mean.
But a few weekends ago, I flew an international flight that was not in an airliner.
I felt like a star! My room at One Degree 15 overlooked a fleet of ritzy battleships. I kept looking for sheiks and Larry Ellison.
During cocktails, Yeow Meng, the founder of Wings Over Asia, gathered the pilots and aircraft owners who would fly to Tioman Island the next day.
For Tioman, Wings Over Asia assembled an eclectic mix of equipment and people.
Cirrus SR22, Diamond DA40s, Piper Cherokee Six, Robinson R-22 helicopter, Socata TB-9.
Among us were an advertising executive, airline pilot, surgeon, CEOs of media and travel companies, aircraft dealers, and entrepreneurs.
Yeow Meng matched princes and carriages, and we were set for the next day’s adventure.
We embarked from Seletar airport, the general aviation hub of Singapore.
I had never been to Seletar, an historic Royal Air Force base. RAF Seletar hosted Catalinas and Beaufighters in World War II, and Mosquitos and Spitfires during the Malayan Emergency.
Today, the airport is dedicated to general aviation and flight training.
I was assigned to Anthony’s and Jeffrey’s Piper Cherokee Six, sleek transportation with lots of reclining seats and baggage room.
Another difference between George Clooney and me is that I didn’t need to earn 10 million miles for the Chief Pilot of my airplane to greet me at the gate.
And I could walk out to the airplane without shedding my laced up Cole Haans or carrying my toothpaste in a ridiculous plastic baggie.
I also didn’t need an AA Concierge Key for the flight to wait on me as I caught up on a few phone calls.
Kinda leaves you up in the air, huh George? Of course, I didn’t need a bag for this fun flight, too.
Anthony generously asked me to take the right cockpit seat, which of course is one of the best seats in the house. Jeffrey would fly us into Tioman from the Captain’s chair.
I had never packed my passport with my pilot license before. Flying international in a private airplane!
Anthony sat in the back, with the Economy passenger 🙂
This was a rare treat for Shirl too, flying in a light airplane with more than a couple of seats in it.
The Cherokee Six is fast! Three minutes out of Seletar, climbing out on crosswind, we were in Malaysian airspace. It was not the Philippines — even outside aerodrome traffic control zones, we still stayed in touch with Air Traffic Control. Essentially there is no uncontrolled airspace.
We crossed the southern Malaysian peninsula and flew out across a beautiful turquoise sea, passing several islands.
Jeffrey let me fly the airplane, and I gingerly tried some turns. It was solid, not heavy. The cockpit was well stocked — reliable King avionics, dual nav/comms, stormscope, those high-end sunshades.
Descending to Tioman, I tried to maintain ATC’s altitude clearance for that route segment (do you call it a ‘clearance’ if you’re on a VFR flight plan?) even as Jeffrey pulled the power back.
When I felt him push the yoke as we slowed down to 80 knots, I let him have the airplane. We were nearly 100 nautical miles from Singapore.
Out there, at our two o’clock, was Pulau Tioman. We were there, it was time for one of the most exciting landing approaches I’ve ever witnessed. Down there, right on the beach, parallel to the shore, was a short runway, surrounded by mountains.
Posted from Bangkok, March 1, 2010
Next: Tiptoeing Into Tioman