If you live anywhere in the South, you’ve likely heard the old joke that says “whenever someone dies, they don’t go to heaven (or that other place), without connecting in Atlanta!”
Having spent 14 years living in various southern cities and connected through Atlanta more times than I care to remember, there’s no doubt the scene at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport (ATL) the other weekend is one that won’t soon be forgotten.
A peak into an empty “C” gates at ATL, thanks to an airport worker who allowed this pic while the door for employees was open.
Recently, I needed to take a number of flights for family reasons, and in the current coronavirus climate, I wasn’t sure what to expect. My adventure took me through one Delta mega-hub (Atlanta ATL) to another (Minneapolis MSP), where typically the flights would be full. However, this time they were only about 25 percent occupied. The ATL to MSP flight, usually an A321 or 757, had been replaced by a smaller 737-800.
No passengers and just 2 pilots occupy the “Plane Train” level at ATL below the C gates.
Atlanta currently has multiple concourses closed with fully sheetrocked walls and security doors to allow only airport and airline staff to enter. The “C” and “E” terminals were just empty shells. TV screens packed with flight info now had just a couple active monitors.
The food court in the E terminal had just one restaurant open: McDonald’s. They were so happy to see anyone that they gave me 10% off my McDouble — that 20 cents will go far someday, I just know it! You know it’s bad when even airport concessions start discounting prices.
I’ve always thought airplanes were cool, I suppose. I attended a couple of small air shows as a kid, had a turn at the controls in a cousin’s Ercoupe, and knew enough to notice when I got to catch a flight on an RJ85 or DC-10, but it wasn’t anything more than a casual interest. Seeing the world’s largest aircraft changed all of that.
Six years ago my primary hobby was railroad photography, though my new parental status meant I could no longer responsibly spend 10-20 days a month chasing trains around. Somehow I’d gotten looped into the local plane-spotting group on Facebook, and caught wind that the Antonov An-225 would be making a visit to Minneapolis−Saint Paul International Airport (MSP), which was just 15 minutes away. My first plane-spotting trip was in order.
Not bad for my first time plane-spotting, eh? Photo: Nick Benson
My boys were two and four years old at the time, so we visited a playground under the approach path to MSP’s 12R. We were hooked! We enjoyed the parade of typical early-afternoon arrivals; Delta 717s, MD-80s, 757s, A320s, A330s, and the sole remaining scheduled 747, which came daily from Narita (NRT). Seeing so many examples of impressive engineering arriving from so many different places really captured my imagination; seeing the largest successful aircraft glide by was remarkable. This was entirely pleasant way to pass the time.
As an AvGeek, if you have never flown an inaugural, it’s something to consider doing. That’s not to say that every first flight comes with fanfare, but JetBlue knows how to throw an inaugural, complete with…
Private jets lined up at MSP, downtown Minneapolis in the distance – Photo: Max Haynes | Metropolitan Airports Commission
For those of you wondering why is there a Super Bowl post on an aviation website; just imagine teams, fans, and corporate fat cats taking the train or bus to the big game. Not likely, right?
When the NFL playoffs started, this native Minnesotan booked a ticket from Seattle to my hometown of Minneapolis in hopes of watching my Minnesota Vikings play in the big game. While the eventual Super Bowl champ Philadelphia Eagles crushed that dream in the NFC Championship game, the scene in the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul showed off a Super Bowl of aviation.
If you’re curious why the Super Bowl was played in a city where the game time high was 6 degrees, the NFL told Minnesotans “if you want to keep the Vikings, pitch in for a $1 billion indoor stadium and we’ll give you the big game.”
A quick look at Minneapolis St. Paul International Airport (MSP) and smaller feeder airports shows that a whole lot of big-buck fans travel in style.
MSP can handle 275 private planes, so much of the action was at the St. Paul Airport (Holman Field) where private jets were lined up all over the airfield. Two other reliever airports in the metro area also had brisk business
Consider in 1967, Super Bowl 1 did not even sell out the Los Angeles Coliseum. For the 2018 game, Minnesota’s Metropolitan Airports Commission estimated 1,000 private jets made the trip to the North Star state. (My jet was in the shop, so I flew commercial…)