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I flew home for a week on Saturday, taking full advantage of my ability to sleep in my own room in nothing but underwear (nice image, huh?). They say getting there is half the fun, and that's twice as true for me. I love flying. I get the pre-flight jitters (doesn't everyone?), but I absolutely love flying.

I also like taking pictures and videos of stuff, so when these two come together, you can expect one happy weatherdude.

Jump the Soros Squiggle for photos and Youtube videos, as well as some stories to go with the pics (most pics have the ability for the usual "click to enlarge").

I had my flight from Mobile, AL to Charlotte, NC schedule months in advance, and I started counting the days until takeoff. That day finally came, and I was thrilled.

I got to the airport and went to security. The TSA agent with a thick Bronx accent asked me about my last name ("are you from France?" is the usual question), and I laughed and said no. I got up to the conveyor belt and played the how-fast-can-you-undress-for-old-security-guards game. After I sped through security at the speed of light, disrobing and unpacking to please our mighty TSA overlords, I got dressed again and put everything away. I started walking through the terminal, and decided at that moment that I was going to freaking enjoy this trip, dang it. I don't have any connections to worry about, I don't have to worry about missing an important meeting, I don't have to worry about a hot date (LOLyeahrightdating), so why rush? I put my stuff down, grabbed my camera, and took a picture I've always wanted to take -- the long stretch of terminal that leads down to the little airport grill/newsstand:

Mobile Regional Airport
This photo endorsed by the Ugly Carpet Enthusiasts of West Mobile.

As I made my way further down the long stretch of terminal, I kept peeking out the windows to see what kind of shots I could get. I was able to snap this one next to Gate 2 (Delta's gate for flights to/from Memphis):

Gate 2
Fun (True) Fact: The white Coast Guard hangar on the center-right of the picture is where Dubya gave his infamous "Heckuva job, Brownie" speech after Katrina.

I stopped off at the airport grill, and got a good breakfast. Hey, US Airways doesn't serve snacks for free anymore, and a half a cup of Diet Coke won't fill me up, a guy's gotta eat. I had a nice breakfast for only $4.50, which is amazing seeing that airports charge twice as much as Disney World, for less fun and more hassle. After I ate, I went over to my gate and staked out a nice seat with a clear view of the NWS radar and a few of the gates.

Of course, a guy has his priorities...

Paint me!

I called my mom to let her know I was at the airport, listened to the lady next to me scream at the top of her lungs whilst disowning her son over the phone (not kidding...airport drama, gotta love it), and ESPN whine about football players not getting a fair shake. All of a sudden, the dead tarmac sprang to life in a flurry of gas trucks, pushback vehicles, luggage trams, and all sorts of people and parts moving about at a furious pace. The first flight to pull up to the gates was a Delta flight arriving from Atlanta:

Delta Connection
Filling up the jet with Hell fuel. I knew I heard demonic laughter during takeoff.

The next was a Delta flight from Memphis, and about a minute later, my plane fresh in from Charlotte rolled up to the gate and released its grumpy passengers.

US Airways Express
Let's hope the fact that this plane's registration sounds like "Oops" if you say it out loud isn't an omen.

After waiting for them to clean and restock the plane with all sorts of foody and fuely goodness, they let us board. Sitting on the tarmac with a clear view of the runway action (yes, a small airport in Mobile is surprisingly hopping) makes for some great pictures.

Control Tower
Incoming message from the Big Giant Head.

The control tower (above) was busy directing traffic to and fro. This American Eagle flight had just arrived from Dallas...

American Eagle
Not to be confused with Canadian Goose Airlines.

...when the Delta flight from Atlanta turned around and headed right back for the Georgia capital:

This Delta Connection flight operated by Squiggly Air Express.

After the American flight was at the gate, and the Delta flight made its ascent, we were next in line. We started our slow taxi, listening to a garbled safety tape with a less-than-peppy flight attendant running up and down the aisle making sure the children were behaving

There's a man on the wing!

As we finished our taxi, I threw my camera into video mode and recorded our takeoff:

We'd like to thank our Supreme Super Duper Members, and to the rest of you, get off our lawn.

As we made our ascent from Runway 14, and made our sharp turn off to the northeast, I was able to get these breathtaking views of the City of Mobile and Mobile Bay. I've always wanted pictures like this.

City of Mobile
Bonus points if you can spot Waldo.

Mobile Bay
Is that the Loch Ne...oh, never mind. Just Cthulhu.

A bonus photo for me was getting the Mobile River Bridge in the same picture with the Mobile-Tensaw Delta Bridges. This stretch of I-65 is amazing to drive over, and it's even more amazing to fly over. The Mobile River Bridge seems so damn high when you're on it, but in this picture, it looks like a toy.

Mobile River Bridge
Here gator gator gator...

As we leveled off and made our way to Charlotte, I noticed small plumes of smoke rising up from farmland and woodlands as we got deeper into Alabama and Georgia. I had a nice conversation with the girl next to me on the plane, and we figured that it was leaf burns that were the source of the smoke. Some of the smoke wasn't so innocent, however.

We ran across two major burns, both of which seemed, from the air, at least, to be out of control. The first one was somewhere in Georgia, and beautifully illustrated the inversion in the atmosphere on this sunny and hazy March day:

The white streak in the sky is a contrail from a jet much larger and much higher than the one in which I took these pics.

The second one we encountered was somewhere over South Carolina as we began our descent into the airport. Everyone on the right side of the plane was shocked to see smoke that thick coming from the woods, and we all knew that whatever was going on, it wasn't good.

Forest Fire
Pot finally legalized.

Our initial descent was otherwise uneventful, save for the occasional bump in the sky from the day's brisk winds. As the captain announced that we were on the downwind approach, the folks on the right side of the plane were in for a treat. Not only were we able to see the City of Charlotte in all her glory...

City of Charlotte
"Charlotte" is an ancient English term for "The City with a Big Dildo"

...but we also got to see the entire airport at which we were about to land!

Charlotte Airport
Pilots are too busy talking about J-wow to care that the runway is three miles that way.

Talk about a red letter day for an airplane/photography enthusiast, if ever one existed.

For all the breathtaking views this flight produced, it had its downside. Our landing in Charlotte was one of the worst I've experience in my 30+ flights. We kept getting jolted by wind shear every thousand feet or so, and the actual touchdown was insanely hard. As you can hear in the video (skip to 2:50), I notice as we get closer to the ground that we're going kinda fast. About 100 feet off the runway, I know that it's not going to end well, and I said "Oh this is going to be hard." No sooner did I say that, we smacked into the runway. The jolt was enough to make me and the other 50 passengers slam down in our seats, and it jarred me enough that I grunted rather loudly (you can hear it if you listen over the crunch of the landing gear's suspension).

It wasn't a hard landing, you just exhausted a gravity surplus, is all.

The taxi to the gate was uneventful, and gave me the opportunity to snap random pictures of airplanes taking off and landing.

Oh, it's a big pretty white plane with red stripes, curtains in the windows and wheels and it looks like a big Tylenol.

After we parked at the gate, I was ready to get out and start sleeping for the week. I made the incredibly long walk from Concourse E to the baggage claim area, not passing up a chance for a photo op along the way:

Or, alternatively, "Spend your money and GTFO."

I get to baggage claim and greet my mom, as we've both been waiting 2 months for my coming home. We stand at the behemoth luggage carousel and wait. And wait. And wait.

Where depression and boredom flourish.

My flight from Mobile scrolls on the board, then just as quickly scrolls away. No sign of my luggage to be seen. Well, isn't this just wonderful. I go to baggage services, and they tell me "oh well it was offloaded so it'll be here shortly." 20 minutes later, I go back and they say "well sarrrr, we're on shift chaaaange, so it'll be a fewwwww, mmmkay?" Grrr, okay. Another 20 minutes goes by, I go up to the desk and ask them flat out if they lost my bag. She said another load came through the carousel and to go look. I searched through all 3 bags on the carousel, went back and said it wasn't there.

So I'm calm and collected, because what use is getting angry? It's only 90% of all of my clothes in the suitcase, is all. No biggie. They go through the unclaimed bags and it doesn't turn up. The lady is about to go file a claim report "and there's not much they can do after that until it turns up," when she suddenly ducks in a back office. She comes back with my suitcase, or what's left of it. The fabric is torn up, the plastic is all scratched up like they dropped it on the tarmac and a few planes landed on the thing, and the thing won't stand up straight. I thank her for finding it, and we start going to the door.

As we leave the airport, a TSA announcement came over the public address system. "Please do not leave your baggage with those you don't know..." and before she finished the sentence, I blurted out (at the top of my lungs) "Don't leave it with US Airways either! You'll never get the damn thing." I got a few chuckles from people standing in line, and we left the airport.

All in all, it wasn't a terrible experience. I got to take amazing pictures, but had to wait longer for my luggage than it took to fly there. That's flying, though. And I'll do it again in a heartbeat (I am next Sunday, actually).

Originally posted to El Blogo de Weatherdudeo on Sun Mar 13, 2011 at 12:33 PM PDT.

Also republished by State of the Skies and Community Spotlight.

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