Are you in the mood for a trip down to South America? I was down in Brazil last year and got my first chance to fly a couple of local airlines. Brazil-based GOL Airlines was one of them. It isn’t a well known name outside of South America, but GOL is actually Brazil’s largest airline, with over a third of the country’s market share. It has hubs in multiple Brazilian cities. And of note for AvGeeks, it’s a 100% Boeing 737 fleet — mostly next-gen -700s and -800s, but also a few new MAXes.

My flight with them was a short hop from Rio to Iguazu Falls — a bread-and-butter short-haul service. Along the way I got to sample the Rio lounge scene and get some gorgeous window seat views of Brazil from the air. Read on for the full scoop, and see if you’d be game to give GOL a go.

Air France 777

Just like the 2020 Olympics, the AvGeek sports circuit has been on hold while we’ve been socially distancing. What AvGeek sports circuit, you might ask? Well, there’s the 100m sprint to the gate, the luggage toss, and of course the “stuck-in-the-window-seat-with-someone-sleeping-in-the-aisle-seat-so-hold-your-pee-in-for-as-long-as-you-can” challenge. But there is one sport we can still enjoy from the comfort of our couches: the head-to-head trip report battle royale, where we pit parter airlines against each other and see which one comes out on top. We did this a while back with five Star Alliance airlines. And now it’s time for the FlyingBlue brothers to square off in the ring.

In one corner we have Air France, which we flew from Sao Paulo to Paris on a Boeing 777-200ER. And in the other corner we have Dutch flag-carrier KLM, which brought us from San Francisco to Amsterdam on a shiny new 787-9 Dreamliner. We already published the separate trip reports on each flight (which we flew last year, BTW). Now it’s time to see how the duo compares in categories like seat comfort, service, dining, and amenities. In the end, there can only be one winner. Read on to find out which airline takes the crown!

Success! I finally earned my private pilot certificate!

Success! I finally earned my private pilot certificate!

This is a continuation of my multi-part series on learning to fly. You can read the whole Fly With Francis series here.

After a year and a half of concerted effort, I’ve finally completed my initial training and earned my private pilot certificate in early November. It’s a great feeling!

For those who’ve been following along on my adventures at Galvin Flying, it’s been a long process of successes and setbacks, many of which were weather related because I live in the Pacific Northwest, where the local joke says that it only rains once a year — it starts raining in late October and stops raining on July 5 (it always seems to rain on July 4).

In case you ever wondered what the track of a checkride looks like, here you go

In case you ever wondered what the track of a checkride looks like, here you go. Screen capture courtesy FlightRadar24

Anyway, I did several mock checkrides in the weeks leading up to the actual FAA one, and had to complete Galvin’s end-of-course checkride before that. The end-of-course checks are designed to be more difficult than the actual checkride to ensure that pilot candidates are as prepared as possible.

The FAA examiner, also known as a designated pilot examiner or DPE, selects from a long list of information and flight maneuvers for the actual checkride known as the Airman Certification Standards. The check airman who oversees the end-of-course checks runs through the entire list to be sure you’re ready.

2019- An air mail arrow outside Salt Lake City, UT points to SLC on the San Francisco-Salt Lake route.

Seen in 2019 – an air mail arrow outside Salt Lake City, Utah points to SLC on the San Francisco-Salt Lake route

We aren’t ready to fly. Which is a bummer because travel is a large part of our identity. What are sidelined AvGeeks to do to remain connected to our passion? We are all coping with this disaster

light for the night airmail

A 1920s advertisement bringing awareness to the TAS. – Image: Public Domain

in different ways. Looking to an aspirationally brighter future (and planning future travel) is certainly one method that holds promise. For my [formerly] frequently-traveled household we have been deep in research and planning for most of the year. As a result, our impossibly long #AvGeekToDoList has grown a great deal since our voluntary pandemic-grounding. One item of low-hanging socially-distanced fruit on our list is getting out and visiting more air mail arrows.

I have long been fascinated with the infancy of U.S. aviation. Keen AirlineReporter readers and AvHistorians alike will know that the modern aviation industry is what it is because of air mail. Indeed, all of the domestic legacies – except Delta – were formed or became successful because of income from air mail. These earliest routes were flown mostly during the day. In the evenings, mail would continue to travel, albeit via train. To further increase the speed of airmail it was determined night flying would be required. Thankfully congress stepped in to fund a vast array of large concrete arrows and beacons which formed the lighted Transcontinental Airway System (TAS.) At its peak the TAS had one concrete arrow roughly every 10 miles along the various routes. The TAS and its air mail arrows provided the infrastructure for the air mail boom which, in time, led to normalization of passenger service.

BONUS: How Delta got their non-airmail start

Join us for a discussion on how you can plan your own trip to visit these nearly forgotten 1920s-era relics of aviation’s past.