Pilots love flying to these 5 US cities — here’s why
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Last week, the U.S. announced the news that the whole of the European aviation industry had been waiting for: U.S. borders would reopen to fully vaccinated non-U.S. citizens. This has brought great hope to thousands of airline employees, travel agents and people across the wider travel industry.
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Pilots and cabin crew are excited to see more flights to the U.S. returning. In addition to getting back to work, it means we can return to some of our favourite destinations abroad.
Dinners in back-street pizza restaurants in New York City, runs along the beach in Los Angeles and exploring street art in San Francisco — these are a few of the destinations in the U.S. I’m most looking forward to seeing. I’ve chosen them both for the excitement of the flight (the views out the window, the challenge of the approach) as well as what I enjoy doing whilst I’m there.
Depending on the winds, our flight plan across the Atlantic to Miami either takes us directly across the pond and in over the Bahamas or a more northerly route down the Eastern Seaboard. Both have their perks.
If flying the Bahamas route, there is very little to see for most of the flight. The view down to the water over the midatlantic is often obscured by clouds. On clear days though, it’s possible to see container ships 39,000 feet below us, their long, white wake making them quite easy to spot.
When things get bumpy during our crossing, I’m always grateful we’re flying at 500 miles per hour, as it normally won’t last for more than 45 minutes. Down on the waves, the crew may have to endure those rolling seas for days.
As we get closer to the Florida panhandle, the first sighting of land we will have had for hours will be the islands of the Bahamas. Bigger than I always imagined, there’s an incredible array of tiny islands perfect for exploring by boat.
If coming via the northern route, on a clear day we are treated to stunning views of some of America’s most famous cities, all within the space of around an hour.
We start with the city of Boston, we soon come up to New York. Easily identifiable from miles away, we are able to peer down from our massive 787 Dreamliner windows and pick out all the major sights: the Statue of Liberty, Central Park, the lights of Midtown and the skyscrapers of Downtown.
They look even more spectacular at night when departing out of Newark Liberty International (EWR).
In quick succession after New York come Philadelphia, Baltimore and Washington, D.C., though by this point our route has normally taken us farther out over the water so picking out the sights can be difficult.
The arrival route into Miami takes us down the coast, giving you an appreciation of just how populated the coastline is. Houses, hotels and apartments line the waterfront all the way from Palm Beach, through Boca Raton and Fort Lauderdale, all the way down to Miami itself.
When the wind is coming from the west and we’re landing on Runway 27, the approach takes us directly over the famous Venetian Islands, as if we were flying straight down Venetian Way. As we are directly overhead, this view can only be seen from the flight deck, but the cabin windows get great views, too.
Sitting on the left gives the best views of South Beach as you fly over at around 2,500 feet, and then the cruise terminals and downtown appear just a few moments later.
My favourite thing to do
When you think of Miami, you probably think of South Beach. Yes, it’s where the art deco hotels are and yes, you’re right on the beach. However, when you’ve had enough of the sea and sand, jump in a car and head across the bridge to spend a day in Wynwood.
Despite its popularity, Wynwood still manages to exude calm — quite a different vibe from South Beach. After you’ve seen the famous Wynwood Walls, a collection of street art by creators from around the world, make your way down some of the seemingly empty side streets.
One of my favourite places to eat is 1 800 Lucky. A collection of Asian-inspired eateries, you could find yourself walking past the front door if you’re eyes-down looking at your phone. Once inside, things only get more difficult when trying to decide what to order.
Come evening, head for the rooftop terrace of Astra. Serving tapas-style dishes, the open-air garden gives great views all across the city. However, I’d recommend booking ahead of time as the queue on weekends can be around the block.
Boston, in my opinion, is one of the most underrated cities in the U.S. Like New York-JFK, the airport itself of one of the old style-airfields, cramped onto the original site near the Boston Bay.
Its array of tight taxiways and multiple intersecting runways means we need to be on the top of our game when bringing a large aircraft into Boston, particularly in poor visibility.
However, when the weather is good, the city centre location provides great views on both takeoff and landing. The runway in use always depends on the wind direction at the time, but if you’re looking to book a window seat, I’d gamble for one of the left.
If the wind is out of the north, it will give great views over the Seaport District and Boston Harbour during landing. On departure, one of the routes makes an initial left turn, taking the aircraft on a scenic loop of the city before heading out for the Atlantic crossing.
My favourite thing to do
The best thing about travel, in my opinion, is the food. As a result, no matter where I am in the world, I always try to eat local. With its long maritime history, it would be sacrilege to come to Boston and not try the seafood.
If you like lobster, make sure you head to Neptune Oyster for one of their famous lobster rolls. Served in a soft brioche bun, whether you opt for cold with mayo or hot with butter, make sure you get there before the lunchtime rush; long queues are not uncommon.
But if pizza is your thing, there’s only one place to go and that’s Regina Pizzeria. Either squeeze into one of the wooden booths for a sit-down feast or grab a single slice and enjoy it on the street.
I love flying to Los Angeles — there’s always such a buzz on the flight amongst the passengers and, more often than not, there’ll be a famous face or two sitting at the front. But I love the approach because it gives you a real appreciation of just how wide and sprawling the city is. Cutting through the San Bernadino mountains past the Big Bear ski resort, the basin opens up to buildings as far as the eye can see.
As you get closer to the airport, Downtown Los Angeles comes into view with the Hollywood Hills beyond. Then, just before touchdown is the stunning SoFi stadium, the new home of the Rams and Chargers. Depending on which runway you’re landing on, a window seat on the right will either give you a great view of the stadium, or you could end up being watched by the plane spotters waiting at In-N-Out.
My favourite thing to do
Grab a rental car and see as much of the area surrounding Los Angeles as possible.
Jump on the Pacific Coast Highway and head north toward Malibu. Enjoy the breathtaking views as the road sweeps around the jagged coastline and pull in at Paradise Cove Beach Cafe. Grab a table on the sand, kick off your shoes and enjoy a cocktail as the sun sets over the ocean.
Alternatively, if you’re in the mood for tacos, (who isn’t always in the mood for tacos?) head south toward San Diego. Only a couple of hours away, it’s home to incredible Naval history including the USS Midway and some of the best tacos outside Mexico in the town of La Jola.
Alcatraz Island, the Bay and, of course, the Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco has some of the most easily recognisable landmarks in the world. Flying in from the north, the route brings us in over the Sonoma and Napa Valley vineyards, giving us such wonderful waypoint names as MRRLO, MLBEC and LEGGS.
From here, we coast out over the sea slightly, making a slight left turn and flying parallel to the Golden Gate Bridge at around 12,000 feet. Not only does this give great views of the bridge, but it also enables you to spot Alcatraz, downtown San Francisco and the numerous piers jutting out into the bay.
For an added bonus, try and grab a seat on the right-hand side for departure. The departure route is much the same as the arrival but at a lower altitude and closer to the bridge.
My favourite thing to do
If you’re heading to San Francisco (don’t call it Frisco, my local friends have told me), a visit to Alcatraz and a bike ride across the Golden Gate bridge are the obvious must-dos. However, if you want to do something a little different, make use of the jet lag and take a pre-dawn run up to Corona Heights Park.
With stunning views across the whole city, ensure you arrive around 30 minutes before official sunrise and climb to the top of the rocky peak. From here, you’ll have the best vantage point as the hills across the bay start to glow, turning the water a deep orange and reflecting beautifully off the bridges and downtown skyscrapers.
As for the evening, you can’t go wrong with the bars and restaurants of the North Beach area. Many have live music so grab a drink, pull up a chair and take it all in.
New York City
For the most part, Newark uses the two parallel runways 04L/04R and 22L/22R. When the wind is out of the north, runway 05L is used for departure and it’s this one that gives the best views.
The runways aren’t the longest, so it tends to be a fairly high-powered takeoff, rocketing off into the evening sky. Shortly after takeoff, at around 1,500 feet, we’ll often get a right-hand turn toward upper Manhattan.
A few seconds later we’re treated to the most incredible view over Central Park, Midtown and all the way to downtown. To the far side of the city, you can see the Ed Koch Queensboro Bridge and New York-JFK airport in the distance. Without a doubt, this is the best view on departure anywhere in the world.
My favourite thing to do
No matter how many times you’ve been to New York City, there’s always something new to see, such as a new coffee shop to hang out in or a new bagel place to grab lunch. It’s what keeps people coming back to the city time and time again.
My favourite time of the year to visit the city is in the weeks before Christmas. The weather has usually taken a wintery turn, often cold but with crisp, clear air — quite the contrast to the rain the U.K. normally has this time of year.
Hop on a subway to the Upper West Side and grab a bagel and a coffee from Levain Bakery. From here it’s just a couple of blocks to Central Park where you can visit the iconic ice-skating rink. Whether you fancy pulling on some skates or prefer to watch others glide by, it’s a great place to take in the feel of the city.
As the sun sets, make your way up to the High Line. This elevated walk, formerly a train track to transport goods to the harbour, winds its way between buildings and over roads from Hudson Yards down to the Meatpacking District. If you get lucky, you’ll be able to see the sun going down over the Jersey docks, throwing up an incredible light show in the clouds above the city.
The opening of the U.S. borders to fully vaccinated foreigners comes at the perfect time for both airlines and passengers. Many transatlantic routes are where many airlines make most of their money; a much-needed revenue stream after the catastrophic last 18 months.
In addition, many people have been desperate to get away for a holiday. So, what better time than now to visit one of these iconic U.S. cities? I know I can’t wait to get back to visit them more regularly, so beat the rush and book your flight now.
Featured photo by Prab S / Getty Images.
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