Thursday, January 10, 2019

Airport Scrabble? SFO to LAX to SCL to PHD(?)

Over the weekend, the New York Times Magazine published an amusing column on airport codes as literature, and it coincides with a southbound trip I’ll be making to from San Francisco to Los Angeles to Santiago de Chile and beyond next month. The rest of the trip from Chile’s capital will be mostly overland, with an exact itinerary to be determined.
Outside the international terminal at SCL
Flying used to be a pleasure but today, for the most part, it’s an experience to be endured. On my upcoming trip, though, I at least have the benefit of an overnight non-stop from LAX to SCL, though a potential LIM (Lima) stopover would at least have offered the option of a pisco sour (which, however, will be abundant if rather different in Chile). Still, I can’t help but put in a word for favorite airline and, by extension, my all-time favorite airport code.
On the tarmac at Stanley
The FIGAS pilot checks with the passengers.
That would be the Falkland Islands Government Air Service (FIGAS), which connects the Islands’ capital of Stanley with outlying airports and settlements. In fact, there’s only one other true airport, Mount Pleasant Airport (MPN), where intercontinental flights arrive from the United Kingdom (via Ascension Island) and South America (via Chile and, occasionally, Argentina). The other destinations have grass airstrips which serve relatively small settlements and some single-family farms.
The Royal Air Force manages Mount Pleasant Airport, which explains - at least in part - its utilitarian aspect.
In the mid-1980s, when I spent a year-plus in the Islands under a Fulbright-Hays Doctoral Dissertation Research Abroad fellowship, I had the opportunity to visit many of those outer destinations, occasionally by sea—hitching a lift on the vessel that gathered the wool clip—but also by air. In fact, the introductory chapter of my dissertation was a round-the-Islands itinerary in the form of a FIGAS flight, with observations on their natural and cultural landscape.
A FIGAS flight arrives at Carcass Island, in the archipelago's northwestern corner.
While my own itinerary was an amalgam of flights that I had actually done, I recently learned that visitors to the Falklands can do this in the form of a “round-robin flight” that depends on seat availability—if a given day’s flights are not full, it’s possible to arrange the trip for £55 (East and West islands only) to £88 (including outer islands). In fact I have done this de facto, without paying any premium, because the day’s itinerary just worked out that way (FIGAS itineraries depend on individual demand for any given day).
Island settlements have grass airstrips, such as this one at Port Howard. The flowering bushes surrounding it are gorse.
Most visitors to the Islands are cruise ship passengers, for whom this not really an alternative, but for land-based passengers it’s something I’d highly recommend. Given that there are only weekly flights to the Islands from Chile, there’s no guarantee it’ll be possible to arrange it on short notice, but it’s worth consideration.
Port Howard settlement from the air
Referring to the beginning of this post, I'll return to the theme of my all-time favorite airport code, which is Port Howard’s “PHD,” as depicted among others in the photograph here.
FIGAS airport codes, including Port Howard at the lower left.
Missing Malbec?
Leaving California at this time, even for a relatively short two-month trip, is bittersweet—an epiphany that came to me as I read an article in the Buenos Aires daily La Nación about a Mar del Plata family that located its missing Alaskan malamute after six years, thanks to a Facebook page that they had persistently maintained. Chornyk had been stolen but then found—now 16 years old—in the western Buenos Aires suburb of Caseros, nearly 400 km to the north.
Chornyk disappeared six years ago from the beach resort of Mar del Plata.
This strikes home because my own beloved malamute Malbec is approaching his 15th birthday and, for a dog his size, that’s elderly. He still has a healthy appetite and surprising strength and stamina, but he’s increasingly arthritic—walking around our block, which is about half a mile in distance, is pretty much his limit. At his advanced age, there’s always a chance he won’t be here when I get back, but Chornyk’s longevity at least gives me cause for optimism.
In his retirement, Malbec no longer participates in backyard squirrel patrol.
An Addendum
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