10 July 2011

Quebec Lima Hotel

...are all letters in the ICAO phonetic alphabet, and as such regularly used in aviation. Not with passengers, of course, but in radio communications and standardized commands on the flight deck, both of which I got to experience first hand on my last flight from Zurich to Montréal. This having been my 10th time on my trunk route of LX86, I had thought that I had seen it all, until the opportunity presented itself to fly along at the very front of the plane, courtesy of a fellow university alumnus turned pilot.

Suddenly, there it was again, that tingling sensation, that fascination with technology and big powerful toys that first attracted me to this industry. As I strapped into my jumpseat on a sunny Swiss morning, relaxed and with my social batteries recharged after a week's vacation, I was giddy with excitement. Never mind the lack of legroom, the limited recline and the absence of a personal TV. Instead of a charming flight attendant, two friendly pilots welcomed me on board and ran me through a slightly different safety demo ("if we have to abort take-off, please stay out of our way"), before providing me with a properly noise-cancelling headset plugged into the best version of Channel 9 I ever got. And before I knew it, we were off, my friend pushing the levers forward and catapulting our craft into the air. Unlike in a passenger seat, the panoramic view through the big windows up front, combined with the airspeed indicator and the end of the runway rapidly approaching, brings back the thrill of this moment. Knowing about the 52 tons of highly flameable jet fuel that accelerate along with the 228 souls on board is not helping - and yet the manouever is routine. We overcome physics, and soon merge into the transatlantic highway.

Cruising over the Atlantic, there is time to chat and exchange knowledge. I learn a lot about just what it is pilots actually do (not this), and in return can shed some light on how my trade helps keeping many an airline flying. And before I knew it, we had burned through most of our fuel, initiated our descent through a layer of clouds and were welcomed by a freshly washed out view of the ile de Montréal. As my friend gently put the 150 tons of aircraft down on Dorval's runway 24R, I wished I had moved to a place more flight hours away. And I had regained quite some appreciation for the diligent work performed by airline pilots every day, enabling people like me to trot the globe as I do.

For of course, Quebec-Lima-Hotel are not just random letters. They also neatly describe my most recent jet-powered displacement. After only a week (and yet, two national holidays spent in the respective country), I became airborne again and, in a roundabout way, reached the Lima hotel room from which I am typing this. I am in Peru
to investigate the local consumer market, and from the little I've seen so far, it's a challenging environment. But I may be wrong, and if there is one thing I have learned, it is to hold your judgement until you've gotten the inside view. Make straight in!

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