Look up into the skies, then look it up on the web

Derrick Stuckly
Gene Deason

Several of us who have been fortunate enough to take an overseas vacation trip in our lifetimes were discussing air travel recently. It seems that “getting there is half the fun” no longer applies.

That was the slogan decades ago for Cunard Line cruise ships when trans-Atlantic voyages were common. Cunard still offers ocean passage on the Queen Mary 2, and other cruise lines offer such travel too, but these trips aren’t for people in a rush. This is luxurious, unhurried passage.

These days, travelers have a faster option, but they must shell out several thousand dollars to fly first class to enjoy some semblance of indulgence. Travelers working with a more restrictive budget find themselves in cramped quarters in the “main cabin” of the aircraft, making do with a limited menu of food and drink. If you want more than the complimentary items, produce your credit card.

The marvel of air travel is one of many technological advances we enjoy, and such a list could be a column by itself. But today, I’m focused on passenger airlines.

Perhaps there are many ways that residents of rural areas give themselves away when they find themselves in the big city. If it’s not our accent as we speak, it might be how we dress more casually than the locals. I’ve learned that one of the ways I give myself away is when I look up whenever I hear a jet airplane overhead.

Once, while visiting our mother’s home in a metropolitan area of North Carolina, my sister noticed my attention to the conversation we were having had been distracted by an airliner passing overhead. “It seems we’re on the airport’s approach pattern whenever the weather’s cloudy,” she explained.

I wasn’t worried that the airliner was going to crash, even though it did seem to be flying much lower than usual. I just don’t see this very often where I live.

Our skies do get their share of military jets, and occasionally they announce themselves with a sonic boom. That doesn’t happen all that often, but when it does, our china cabinet gets a pretty good rattling.

Another item high on my list of advantages people living today enjoy is the internet, although many of us enjoy it a bit too often and a bit too long. There’s yet another column for another day.

I find myself sometimes wondering when I hear a jet airplane flying overhead, where is that plane going? And where did it come from? Thanks to the internet, and several specialized web pages and apps, such information is readily available to the public.

Many frequent flyers are familiar with apps that alert them to flight delays and flight arrival times, and they are indeed helpful. In my own experience, an overnight alert to my phone informed me that a scheduled 6 a.m. flight had been delayed two hours, which gave me a couple extra hours of sleep. Without that, I would have been sitting in the airport terminal waiting much earlier.

The web sites and apps I’m talking about present a world map with thousands of little images of airplanes, tracking every major airliner, cargo plane, and general aviation aircraft in the air at any given moment of the day. There are thousands of them, and they don’t include any military aircraft because — well — national security could be compromised.

It’s a crowded scene, but things become clearer when the viewer zooms in close on specific areas. I’d recommend viewing on a laptop or desk computer in order to have a larger image.

In my spare time, of which I’ve have a considerable amount recently, I often consult these sites whenever I hear a jet overhead. Each little airplane provides an airline name, flight number, and route information. It’s interesting to know, after I look up, that this airplane took off from New York City, for example, and is bound for Mexico City.

This is how retired, rural residents entertain themselves sometimes.

Gene Deason is editor emeritus of the Brownwood Bulletin. His column appears on Fridays. He may be contacted at tgifcolumn@yahoo.com.