Monday, April 28, 2014

Sky Harbor

The airport in Phoenix, AZ is a pretty major hub. It's the home base for Southwest Airlines, and huge numbers of people travel in and out of that airport every day, due to the fact that everybody in America has at least one relative (an aunt, a grandparent, a sibling, a second cousin) who lives in Phoenix. This is a universal truth, and if you don't think it's true for you, then you're simply not that familiar with your family tree.

That said, I want to take you on a magical trip to the Phoenix airport: the place known as "Sky Harbor."

Imagine, if you will, a place where airplanes never have to touch ground. A fortress in the sky, if you will, where planes of all shapes and sizes can dock quickly, unload and reload their passengers, fuel up, and take off without ever even needed to deploy their wheels.

What you are imagining is the Sky Harbor, a marvel of technology: a perpetually airborne platform in a geosynchronous position above Phoenix, AZ (well, Tempe, AZ specifically, but let's not muddy this with technicality).

The structure itself is both aesthetically pleasing and functional, a massive, circular platform with Sky Docks on every side, inviting jetliners into its bosom. I'm not sure the specifics, since I'm not an aerophysicist, but having arrived and departed from there several times now, I can try to explain what I think is going on:

On arrival, the plane aims for whatever dock the air traffic controller clears for it. Being a controlled mid-air collision, basically, I don't think precision is the biggest factor, though I may just not be giving pilots enough credit. That said, Sky Harbor proudly states that no plane has ever failed to dock or take off safely, so I imagine it's mostly due to genius engineering.

Anyway, upon hitting the dock at approximately the minimum speed required to stay airborne, the plane enters a strange, cloudy substance which I believe to be some sort of very forgiving elastic which causes the plane to decelerate safely. At some point I believe something must attach to the plane, since even the largest plane doesn't have enough momentum to reach the gate. Something seems to pull the plane the rest of the way, and then the gate attaches and passengers disembark as normal.

Take-off is far more harrowing, though kind of thrilling after the first few times, when you realize that this is actually kind of routine, and you're not going to die.

When the plane is loaded and secure, the engines start and the floor opens up (or maybe it was always open? I'm not really sure) causing the plane to hurdle downward. As the city of Phoenix thousands of feet below rises up to meet you, the jets kick in and the plane steadily levels out and begins to climb.

If I have one complaint about Sky Harbor, it's the food: it's all expensive and kind of bland, but I guess that's to be expected given the location. It seems like nothing really tastes right at a certain altitude except for pretzels and peanuts.

Still, if you can get there early enough before a flight (or if you have a decent layover) it's worth it to eat there at least once. Especially if you get a table near one of the windows on the enclosed balcony where you can look out at the world below, through the sparse Phoenix cloud cover, watching the planes come and go.

Anyway, that's what I like to imagine when I think of Sky Harbor. In fact, it's just another airport, and I don't think it deserves such a cool name.

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