“I don’t know nothin’ ‘bout birthin’ no babies,” but taking home a 737 MAX 8 aircraft with Sunwing Airlines might come close.
A few weeks ago, my dear friend Johnathan told me that he was asked to come to Seattle to pick up his airline’s new bird. As is customary for most deliveries, employees are asked to attend— frontline and corporate employees, pilots, flight attendants, you name it. It is, after all, an empty airplane that needs to get back to base.
I looked forward to his visit, because he lives in Canada and across the continent at that. But to my surprise and complete honor, he asked if I would be able to accompany him on the actual delivery flight. After a quick check of my schedule, as if it actually mattered, I gave him a resounding, “YAAAAAS!” I’ve done a few interesting things in my budding aviation career, like flown a Caravan with only 11 hours on it— but this tops everything.
And yet, I also had no idea what was in store. The night before the flight, I went to a cocktail reception with representatives from both Boeing and Sunwing. I met Johnathan’s coworkers and the people who made the entire event happen. As I was stand
ing in line to get a Manhattan, naturally, a man named Mark introduced himself to me. He asked what I did, and I responded that I’m a pilot for SkyWest, joining the flight with Johnathan— “Oh, I know SkyWest. Jerry Atkin’s airline, yes?” Formerly, I responded, but yes. (It’s not often that people know of SkyWest, let alone the old president.) We exchanged pleasantries, and that’s when Johnathan told me that Mark is, actually, the president of Sunwing. I was floored, because he was the most approachable, nonchalant, and charming guy— which, as I’m told, is the case in the office as well.
Fast forward to the next morning, meeting everyone in the lobby of the Fairmont Olympic hotel— bright eyed and bushy tailed, we loaded the bus and headed off to Boeing’s Seattle Delivery Facility. We were both confused at the verbiage of our host, in that they wanted us to put our luggage on carts to be loaded on to the plane. Thinking that it would be checked underneath, and not wanting to part with our carry ons (because we’re experienced nonrevvers, people! We know what happens when you lose sight of your bags!), we carried them up the stairs despite the furrowed brows of the Boeing employees. It turns out, however, that they would have given us our baggage later— they were just being extremely generous.
The schedule was as follows: quality time with Maxine, a ribbon cutting ceremony, a luncheon, and departure. As we twirled about the exterior, it was photoshoot time— both of Maxine and us, of course. It was in this moment that I reveled in Seattle’s rich aviation history, probably since I’ve moved there. Over the years, I’ve been to the Museum of Flight, the Future of Flight Aviation Center, Boeing’s production lines and the like— but as Boeing after Boeing formed the conga line to SeaTac overhead, I had an existential I-can’t-believe-I-live-here moment.
After the luncheon, which had details down to the Sunwing-inspired orange tablecloths and cookies, we proceeded through security; although not required, it’s a Boeing protocol due to those pesky and uncertain Canadian characters.
We boarded up and oohed and ahhhed at the interior. The intoxicating new airplane smell and the relaxing mood lights set the scene for our four-hour journey across the continent. As we perused the cabin, noting the new features. All four homosexuals present attempted to get in the lav, and, surprisingly, we mostly fit! President Mark was there to document such a historic event. Happy Pride?!
It was then time to take our seats and make preparations for getting underway. Despite claiming to be an aisle person, Johnathan sat behind me for the takeoff and promised to return upon reaching 10,000 feet. We departed runway 14R at KBFI for the promised land of the Great White North. Maxine revved up, and off we went! Cruising by SeaTac and making a pass at Mt. Rainier, I was distracted by the views not to notice how incredibly quiet she is! And as someone who flies every week, whether for work or pleasure, noise is fatiguing.
We made our way eastbound, loaded up and truckin’. Given my excellent aviator skills and sense of direction, I felt the presence of my homeland beneath me— it was then that I looked out the window to see the entire Flathead Valley in Montana, where I learned to fly. Clear as day, the Mission Mountains bathed in an afternoon glow, and I shared with Johnathan the incredible views, regaling him with my epiphany of exactly when and where I knew I wanted to be a pilot. Pictures will never do this justice.
Waving goodbye to the Rockies and hello to the high plains, it was time to get our party on. We went to the forward galley for some refreshments of the bubbly sort. The first popped bottle erupted with delight, indicating that Boeing wanted to shake up the party. Seeing this as a moment to take command, Mark assured us that he could open a bottle without the fizz. This was partially true, and things were going well until just a tiny portion of the cork made way for the contents under pressure— but all the champs took aim at a flight attendant cornered in the galley with nowhere to run. Johnathan and I both watched this in slow motion while she was drenched in booze. We all got a good giggle out of it!
And then we were fed. Although they were out of the steak by the time they got to us in the back (which, by the way, no one really spread out and mostly concentrated near the front of the plane. We, however, enjoyed our space with the random artwork sitting in the aft rows). We weren’t disappointed. Beef can be cooked a number of ways, but only one and not to order on an aircraft (I’m looking at you, United, on my recent Polaris excursion). We opted for the salmon, keeping with the aesthetic of the Pacific Northwest, paired with a lovely white wine. Feeling quite divine, we traipsed to the flight deck for a sunset tour.
At this point, we were over northern Minnesota. I asked the captain if we would celebrate penetrating Canadian airspace by blasting Celine Dion over the PA. This didn’t happen, sadly. Meanwhile, I was geeking out over the big displays, gleaning pertinent information of the plane. A senior captain paired with a badass junior FO, the flight crew recounted to me how impressed they were with Maxine.
We returned to our seats and got comfortable for the descent— this time switching sides of the aircraft. According to the arrival procedure, this would be the most advantageous side of the aircraft to see the skyline of Toronto. Again, pictures don’t do it justice. We landed, captured by an #avgeek friend of Johnathan, and made our way through customs. Johnathan had Nexus, and I went through the flight crew line, because, well, I am flight crew…just not on that flight. At any rate, the Canadians warmly welcomed me into their fine country, and we made our way into the city.
Johnathan’s apartment is in an absolutely stunning location just off Church street. To my Queer as Folk fans, we were in the thick of things— and I actually went to Woody’s! Meeting his friends, some avgeeks some not, I was enveloped in the hospitality of Canadian culture. We could take several notes here in ‘Murica.
Following a darling brunch, we headed to Billy Bishop Toronto City airport for Doors Open. Air Canada and Porter represented the airline delegation, and we twirled around the premises.
Disclaimer on Canada in general: I think it’s fake— but not in a disingenuous way. It seems like most things are in order, in a way that the United States cannot compare. This isn’t to say that they don’t have their fair share of problems (especially considering the recent election in Ontario with a Trumpian candidate winning the ticket). But there’s a general air of prosperity and ease of life, rooted in courtesy and respect. Perhaps I’m dwelling in a utopic daydream as a form of escapism. I am and always will be a proud American, but we could do so much better— and Canada proves that to me with each visit, regardless of the coast.
I’m a big hippie at heart, and I’m always attempting to “live in the present moment.” And I can say with complete certainty that I cherished every moment of the weekend. As I’ve told him in private and publicly as well, I’m honored that Johnathan invited me. This was a big deal for not only him— a bucket list item— but his airline in general. Everyone, and I mean everyone, was so happy to have this plane come home. We all have our opinions regarding the 737: that it’s tired, that it’s old hat, that Boeing needs to revamp its midsize narrow body fleet. I don’t disagree. For humans and airplanes, one can only be stretched so much. But Maxine will be a great fit for Sunwing, and this entire event was incredible and profound.
I can’t speak for Johnathan, other than what I saw on his cute face, but I sure as hell didn’t wipe off the cheesy grin until I landed back in Seattle, flying right over from whence we came. And no sooner than I had left to go back to work, Maxine made her first revenue flight that Sunday morning to Punta Cana, mere hours after we had parked— I guess Mark wanted her to make money right away!
Smooth was the entire weekend— the people, the airplane, and the flight (one of the smoother flights I’ve been on in a while, I might add!). Perhaps I’ll see her again in the skies sometime. But in the meantime, she’s busy reclaiming her time!
Soundtrack, because it wasn’t played: