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Flying a Kenmore Air Seaplane to the San Juans

AirlineReporter.com correspondant Colin Cook prepares for his Kenmore Air seaplane ride. Image by Colin Cook.

AirlineReporter.com correspondent Colin Cook prepares for his Kenmore Air seaplane ride in a de Havilland Canada DHC-2 Beaver. Image by Colin Cook.

This story was written by AirlineReporter.com correspondent Colin Cook:

A few months back, Kenmore Air announced via their Facebook page a competition to select a destination in the San Juan Islands for a special fare. The contest allowed fans of their page to vote on whether to offer the special $69 fare to Orcas Island, San Juan Island, or Lopez Island. Having never been to any of the islands personally, I was quite interested. At the end of the week, they announced Orcas Island as the winner and I quickly began planning my trip. Having flown Kenmore previously, I know that flying with them is just such a treat (note: Colin paid for his own trip out of pocket).

One of the benefits of flying Kenmore Air -- you can sit in the co-pilot seat. Image by Colin Cook.

One of the benefits of flying Kenmore Air — you can sit in the co-pilot seat. Image by Colin Cook.

When traveling through traditional airlines, we all know the hassle the airport and the TSA regulations can be. Well with Kenmore, you don’t have to deal with any of that. The only caveat being, there is a 25 pound weight limit on luggage to ensure the plane can lift off the water, so one needs to pack on the lighter side. I showed up about 30 minutes before my flight and it couldn’t have been easier. No security. No long lines. They even allow regular size liquid containers. It is such an enjoyable contrast to the type of travel I’m used to.

Depart: Kenmore Air Harbor (KEH) to Rosario Resort (RSJ)
via stops at Lake Union (LKE) and Friday Harbor (FBS)
Equipment: de Havilland Canada DHC-2 Beaver
Date: Friday 9/28/12; Depart 3pm, arrive 4:45pm (15 mins late)

You can't get views of Seattle like this on just any airline. Image by Colin Cook.

You can’t get views of Seattle like this on just any airline. Image by Colin Cook.

On my journey to Rosario, I got the unique pleasure of stopping at Lake Union to pick up some additional passengers. Typically, it would be a drag to have to make multiple stops en route to our destination, but that is not the case on a sea plane. Not to mention, that it was so cool to get to take off and land multiple times along the way. It was awesome to see the downtown Seattle skyline as I approached and landed to the south on Lake Union. After picking up the other passengers, we all continued our journey north to the San Juan’s.

BONUS VIDEO: Landing in Lake Union in a Kenmore Air Seaplane

The flight from Lake Union to Rosario was roughly 40 minutes. I was extremely lucky in that I was able to ride up front next to the pilot, which provided for great views (not only of the scenery, but also the controls of the plane). The Beaver traveled roughly 100-120 MPH ground speed, cruising at 1500 feet for most of the journey. While our pilot looked quite young, you could tell he was experienced as our take-offs and landings were as smooth as water (pardon the pun).

City views are pretty nice, but San Juan Island views are even better. Image by Colin Cook.

City views are pretty nice, but San Juan Island views are even better. Image by Colin Cook.

For anyone that’s been up to the San Juans, I don’t have to tell you how amazing it is up there. To say that it’s gorgeous is an absolute understatement. The panoramic views of the water with shimmering reflections of the sun, stately green trees, and multiple islands of various sizes are spectacular. We arrived at Friday Harbor to drop off a few passengers and then continued our short remaining journey to Rosario. Once we arrived, we checked into the resort and took a moment to learn about some of the history.

Part of the Rosario resort taken from the seaplane. Image by Colin Cook.

Part of the Rosario resort taken from the seaplane. Image by Colin Cook.

One thing I would definitely recommend to anyone staying at Rosario Resort is the Saturday afternoon session with the assistant manager, Christopher Peacock. During that event, Peacock plays the pipe organ and piano while showing some historic photos and telling guests about the history of the resort. The resort was the one time home of Robert Moran who made his fortune as a shipbuilder in Seattle, in addition to serving as Mayor of Seattle from 1888-1890.Mr. Moran retired at Rosario when he was given two years to live due to a heart condition.

The house was constructed with the same meticulous attention to detail as the ship building, and the stained glass window & chandelier are beautiful period accents. He moved there in 1905 and lived there for the majority of his life before passing away in 1943. Apparently getting out of the city life and away from work-related stress really does wonders for the human soul.

While visiting the island, I was able to check out some other areas as well, but using a rental car service. I drove through Moran State Park and went up to the observation tower on top of Mount Constitution. The view from the summit was quite impressive as you could see Mount Rainier, Mount Baker, Victoria, and Vancouver in the distance. The panoramic views were definitely worth the drive up and cost of the rental.

After the drive, it was time to leave and the float plane was there waiting for my journey back home.

And lift off. Kenmore Air seaplane takes off from the water. Image by Colin Cook.

And lift off. Kenmore Air de Havilland Canada DHC-2 Beaver seaplane takes off from the water. Image by Colin Cook.

Depart: Rosario Resort (RSJ) to Kenmore Air Harbor (KEH)
via stops at Friday Harbor (FBS) and Lake Union (LKE)
Equipment: de Havilland Canada DHC-2 Beaver
Date: Sunday 9/30/12; Depart 4:30pm, arrive 5:50pm (10 mins early)

During the return trip, the weather was absolutely phenomenal. Very sunny and the visibility was quite good. It was interesting for me to use my iPhone to see exactly where we were traveling as we flew. As long as it is okay with the pilot, passengers are allowed to use any electronic device and since we were flying low, I had signal over populated islands. (If using my phone on a small plane like a Beaver doesn’t impact the instruments, how would using it on a large jet impact things? Just asking).

Flying over Gasworks park in Seattle. Image by Colin Cook.

Flying over Gasworks park in Seattle. Image by Colin Cook.

The return journey went quite quickly and we stopped both at Friday Harbor and Lake Union again. This time on approach to Lake Union, we flew over downtown Seattle and landed to the north, which was pretty sweet. It is a unique experience to fly over buildings that I recognized only from the ground. w

Soon after, we were back in Kenmore and my trip was over. It was an awesome trip and I’m glad I got to see Orcas Island and flying on a Kenmore Air seaplane.  If you live in the Seattle area and haven’t experienced it or plan to make a trip in the future, I would highly recommend making this trip!

ADDITIONAL KENMORE AIR TRIP PHOTOS:

Flying With Kenmore Air to the San Juans: They are more than seaplanes!

Beautiful Kenmore Air de Havilland Canada Beaver seaplane (N6781L) coming to pick me up at Friday Harbor

Beautiful Kenmore Air de Havilland Canada Beaver seaplane (N6781L)

Flying in a seaplane is one of the coolest things I have done. Add in that we were flying over the San Juan Islands on a sunny, yet smokey (bunch of fires from Canada) day and it was amazing. A few months back I had the opportunity to fly around Seattle with Mary Kirby on one of Kenmore Air’s scenic tours, but I wanted to look at the other services that they provide as well.

If you are in the Seattle area, you might have heard of Kenmore Air, but think of them as the “seaplane airline.” Heck, they have that saying posted on a billboard outside their Lake Union terminal and on their shuttle. However, they also fly a fleet of Cessna Caravans with wheels, not floats. The land-based service they market as “Kenmore Air Express” and it provides more options for passengers.

I wanted to take a look at their operation first hand, so worked with them to set up a flight on a Caravan from Boeing Field up north stopping in Orcas Island and dropping me off at Friday Harbor. I was able to enjoy the sunny island weather for a few hours before heading back south on a de Havilland Canada Beaver to Lake Union.

Flying over the San Juans in a Kenmore Air Cessna Caravan with Pilot Tony!

Flying over the San Juans in a Kenmore Air Cessna Caravan with Pilot Tony!

As I have discussed previously, I love flying on small planes. When I wrote up my Horizon Air review raving how much I enjoyed flying on the Q400 turbo props, some questioned how smaller could be better? Flying at 600 feet in a seaplane through the San Juan islands is how! In the Caravan we flew at about 2,500 feet, which is pretty nice too, but lower does give a bit more of a thrill. The Caravans normally fly a bit higher, so if something does go wrong, they have that extra altitude to make it to an airport.

One of the benefits of Kenmore running a dual operation is to provide back up and I got to see it first hand. Kenmore will fly out of Friday Harbor both via the airport and from the local marina. They are only about 15 minutes apart by foot. When I was flying last Thursday, a land-based Caravan from Friday Harbor had a faulty battery. Instead of the passengers being stranded, they were shuttled over to the marina where one of Kenmore’s seaplanes met them and got them on their way.

Kenmore Air Express Cessna Caravan (N426KM) at Boeing Field (BFI)

Kenmore Air Express Cessna Caravan (N426KM) at Boeing Field (BFI)

Kenmore Air also provides a shuttle from Lake Union and Boeing Field down to Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SEA). They have scheduled seaplane and land-based flights to 28 destinations throughout the Pacific Northwest and up into Canada. They also allow you to rent a charter flight or spend a few extra bucks for an unscheduled stop on a main-line route.

One of my favorite parts of flying Kenmore were the TSA security lines. Oh wait, there weren’t any! No body scanners, no putting your toiletries in plastic bags and no taking off your shoes. Go to the ticket counter, show your ID and you are welcome to hang out in their waiting room. From walking in the front doors at their terminal at Boeing Field to sitting waiting for my flight: 2 minutes. Yea, that is right…two minutes. I showed up 30 minutes before my flight (the suggested amount of time), but got to sit waiting for 28 minutes. They can start giving your seat away if you don’t arrive 15 minutes before departure, but I saw people arriving just minutes before take off; try that flying other airlines (okay really don’t, you will miss your flight).

Kenmore Air de Havilland Canada Beaver seaplane (N6781L) coming in for landing on Lake Union right by Seattle. That darn Canadian fire-haze!

Kenmore Air de Havilland Canada Beaver seaplane (N6781L) coming in for landing on Lake Union right by Seattle. That darn Canadian fire-haze!

It was very cool to fly on the turbo prop Caravan and compare it to the classic (aka older) Beaver. The Caravan was solid, quiet, newer and quicker. However, I would pick the Beaver any day! It is a beautiful airplane and I never mind a little extra noise for the sake of adventure. If you aren’t quite the enthusiast (or nerd) as I am, don’t worry, they will provide you with a set of ear plugs on the Beavers if you want. I got to sit in the co-pilot seat, but this is not something just reserved for media. Any passenger has the ability to request the seat up front to get a truly unique flying experience.

There were signs on ticket counters and the planes proudly displaying Kenmore’s new relationship with Alaska Airlines. Passengers earn 250 Alaska Airlines miles per flight and can also book Kenmore Air tickets through AlaskaAir.com.

Heck, you don’t need to visit someone to take one of their flights. A seaplane ride up to the San Juans for the day and flying back would make an awesome trip for any airplane enthusiast. Just make sure to bring your camera!

Additional Fun Stuff:
* 216 pictures of the day’s flights
* Video from Beaver front right seat of landing at Lake Union
*  Video of the Cessna Caravan taking off from Boeing Field (check the new Boeings on the left)
* Video of Caravan’s turboprop start up at Orcas Island Airport (I love this start up)