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5 Adventures for Every #AVGeek’s Bucket List

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Fans of aviation are known for a willingness to go out of their way to experience a unique, high-flying adventure. Here are five must-do experiences that should be on every aviation geek’s bucket list.

1. Flying on United’s “Island Hopper”

This legendary route between Honolulu (HNL) and Guam (GUM) takes all day and makes five stops in several different Polynesian and Micronesian islands along the way. It is a right of passage for aviation geeks because of the unique island airports it visits. One of them is the US military base Kwajalein Atoll (KWA) where travelers are not even allowed to deplane — in fact, the crew sometimes requests passengers to lower window shades for on-the-ground privacy and security. Others like Pohnpei (PNI) and Chuuk (TKK) are known for their especially short runways, where fire trucks stand at the ready anytime the 737-800 barrels in for landing. You can even buy local fruit in the makeshift airport gift shop at Majuro (MAJ).

Approach into MAJ airport during United's Island Hopper. Image courtesy of Michael Spelfogel.
The approach into MAJ airport during United’s Island Hopper. Image courtesy of Michael Spelfogel.

While there are nonstop flights between Honolulu and Guam as well, this multi-stop journey is an epic adventure of crystal blue water and tropical vistas from the airport runway. It’ll cost you 25,000 United MileagePlus miles one-way in economy (40,000 in business class), but reserving it can be tricky so be sure to follow these suggestions. By booking short stopovers on different islands, it’s easier to secure award space while also letting you enjoy the different destinations. The business-class section is similar to domestic first-class flights on United, and elite members are eligible for free upgrades. Note that one seat is always held for a maintenance employee who travels aboard to assist should the need for mechanical work arise at one of these smaller island airports.

2. Taking a Shower in the Sky

Sure, you can pay for it, but redeeming miles for first class aboard Etihad or Emirates is much more fun! Both airlines’ A380 aircraft feature on board showers — while the experience has been amply covered, being able to enjoy five minutes of hot water at 35,000 feet is something that one should enjoy personally. Not only does it wake you up, but it’s also an exhilarating feeling when you think about the physics of what you are doing.

To travel aboard Emirates, one can redeem 150,000 Alaska Mileage Plan miles to fly in first class each way between North America and the Middle East or India. Keep in mind that Amex Membership Rewards is also a transfer partner of Emirates.

Another great way to fly Emirates first class is between Australia and New Zealand where Emirates uses its A380 on a “tag flight” that continues to Dubai. If you don’t have the miles or points, this can be the cheapest way to enjoy an Emirates onboard shower since the airline sells first class on this short sector for around $1,000, which is a far cry from the nearly $10,000 it might cost to fly long-haul.

To fly with Etihad, the cheapest way to shower on board is to fork over 62,500 American AAdvantage miles for a one-way flight between Abu Dhabi (AUH) and London (LHR). One-way flights between New York (JFK) and Abu Dhabi (AUH) will cost you 115,000 AAdvantage miles.

The shower in Etihad's Residence. Image courtesy of Zach Honig.
The luxurious shower inside Etihad’s Residence. Image courtesy of Zach Honig.

3. Dive Bombing a Tropical Runway

Flying in the co-pilot’s seat of a Twin Otter into St. Barts (SBH) or Saba (SAB) in the Caribbean is a unique experience given the islands’ ultra-short runways. On final approach, it feels as if the plane is literally dive bombing the runway, only to pull up at the last minute to land. These flights can often be booked in conjunction with international flights although mileage redemptions are rare. Winair is one of the most common operators to these tiny airports, and usually one lucky passenger is invited to sit in the co-pilot’s seat.

The ultimate adrenaline rush. Image courtesy of <a href="https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/0/0d/WinAir_Twin_Otter_coming_into_to_land_at_Gustaf_III_Airport.jpg" target="_blank">Wikimedia Commons</a>.
The ultimate adrenaline rush. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

4. Plane Spotting at Maho Beach

Not so far away from those Caribbean runways is one of the most famous beaches in the world for aviation geeks. Maho Beach, situated at the end of a busy runway at St. Maarten (SXM), is where many a famous aviation photo has been snapped as planes come in for a landing just mere feet above the shoreline. You can almost make eye contact with passengers through the window as planes big and small heave mighty winds of exhaust across the sand and waves before touching down. While not recommended, it’s still possible to grasp onto the metal fence as planes take off, but be sure to cover your eyes and mouth as sand and dirt are sure to blow back (as you might, too, if you don’t hold on tight enough).

The beachfront isn’t very wide, and fans line up daily to watch the planes. The busiest times are midday and early afternoon when flights from North America and Europe land — weekends typically see more flights as well. A nearby bar provides shade, and those that want air conditioning can book a beachfront room at the nearby Sonesta Maho Beach to watch the action from a balcony (although it’s more entertaining to watch from the sand).

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
You haven’t lived until you’ve seen a plane landing this close up. Image courtesy of Flickr.

5. Flying a “Baby Bus” to Europe

A baby Airbus, that is. British Airways has specially outfitted two of its Airbus A318s — the smallest Airbus aircraft flying today — with extra fuel tanks and 32 flat-bed seats. For 57,500 American AAdvantage miles or 60,000 Avios each way (50,000 during off-peak days), passengers can wing their way to London’s City Airport (LCY) from JFK in business class. The flight is quite unique in that it carries the original flight numbers from Concorde, which used to fly the same route.

With so few passengers aboard, the flight experience is like no other. Boarding and deplaning takes only a minute or two while in-flight service is much quicker than usual. In fact, flight attendants are willing to serve meals up until 20 minutes before landing, which is rare on larger flights. This twice-daily flight (except for Saturdays) is more like a private jet thanks to the convenience and personalized service on board.

The best way to hop the pond, in a lie-flat seat. Image by the author.
The best way to hop the pond, in a lie-flat seat. Image by the author.

Have you done any of these #AVGeek adventures yet? Tell us about your experience, below.

Featured image courtesy of British Airways.

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