Have you ever had a vacation interrupted, or even worse cancelled due to weather? You waited for months to get away, scheduled the time off work, dreamed about relaxing on the beach with your favorite book. Bags are packed, you are at the airport, all ready to go, you are so close, you can smell the salt and feel the warm breeze. Then you hear an announcement over the intercom that your flight has just been cancelled. You want to ignore it, no, that wasn’t my flight but you hear it again. The absolute panic that comes over you at this point is overwhelming. You rush up to the customer service desk to find out what’s going on, only to find out the flight is cancelled indefinitely due to inclement weather enroute to your destination. This can’t be happening, you tell yourself. I can’t switch my time off work. The deposits on the reservations are all non-refundable. What are you going to do?
Let me tell you about a trip that I was able to take last summer. See, I am a pilot for Special Services Corporation, an air taxi company based in Greenville, SC. We have a customer that booked a trip for late August down to St. Maarten. If you have ever been down to the Caribbean, then you know how excited our customer was to take this trip. Now one of the big obstacles in the way during that time of year is the fact that hurricane season runs from June 1 to November 30th in the Atlantic Ocean. If you think back over the past number of years, you can remember the storms that have developed out in this area and made their way to the US mainland. Here are a few of the big ones, you may remember: Hugo (1989), Andrew (1992), Ivan (2004), Katrina (2005) and Ike (2008). Well, our flight is on the schedule for August 24-30th and if you remember back to last August, a “little hurricane” named Irene was twisting and turning over the Caribbean. Departure day comes and Irene is sitting just about over Nassua, Bahama (see picture to the right, below) right in the way of getting to St. Maarten. Since our customer has chosen to go on a private, air taxi flight, we are on our way to Florida to pick up some friends and head out over the open waters to St. Maarten. We arrive in Ft. Pierce, Florida about an hour and a half after leaving Greenville. We upload some fuel, load the bags and get one last check on the weather over the Caribbean before we are ready to go. With the passengers loaded and the Air Traffic Control clearance received, we takeoff for our two hour and thirty minute flight. The takeoff and climb to 40,000 feet (FL400) is smooth and uneventful. Upon level off, we are still in the clouds and get cleared present position direct St. Maarten. Although the winds on the surface are 120 MPH+, we are experiencing a great flight with little to no turbulence. We pass to the north of the eye by about 50 miles. As we get just past the Turks and Caicos the clouds begin to thin a little and by the time we get north of Puerto Rico we are in the clear. The water on the surface of the ocean is so smooth, we can see reflections of the clouds on the ocean surface. Something that we are not used to seeing and both me and my co-pilot mention how odd that is. We eventually landed in St. Maarten (see picture on the right) and the passengers are absolutely thrilled. They can’t believe how quick and easy the flight was considering all the cancellations that were taking place. When the passengers return to the airport for the flight home, they can’t stop talking about all the people they meet that missed two-thirds of their vacation because of the weather cancellations. Needless to say, these customers are sold on private air travel.