I can’t remember exactly when I began to hate flying. The contempt probably started around age 30, when I found myself on a plane every month or so; for work, for family visits, for vacations I could finally afford. But now it’s my least favorite part of traveling. If I’m alone, I trump myself up with internal coaching: Just get through security. Hopefully, there’s a Starbucks in this airport. Hopefully, the line isn’t too long. The plane must have wifi. That disheveled giant won’t be sitting near me — that just won’t happen.
But I recently had an amazing plane experience; a flight that brought me back to the rapture I felt flying as a kid, when hitting the city limits of Windsor Locks, Conn., home of the Hartford-Springfield International Airport, made my heart leap.
Halfway around the world from New England, I boarded a flight at the Kahului Airport in Maui, Hawaii. I was headed from the populated north of the island to isolated Hana on the southeast edge. The way there for most is the Road to Hana, which is beautiful and windy, breathtaking and nauseating. I’d done the road on a previous Maui sojourn, with a handsome guide who agreed to skinny-dip with me whenever we stopped to view the gorgeous waterfalls along the route. The drive is not as perilous as folklore would have you believe, but I’m scarred in a general sense from long-distance Maui driving. A couple days after completing the Road to Hana, I attempted to drive the island’s County Road 340, a one-lane, barely paved road on the edge of a cliff. Imagine hairpin turns, no guardrails, and being forced to back up if another car is coming from the other direction (so you can reach a spot where there’s enough room to pass without dying). The Chevy Aveo and I nearly plummeted off the north coast of Maui. I cried a few times.
The Road to Hana is no CR 340, but I decided to try a less popular way to reach Hana, by airplane, specifically Mokulele Airlines, a tiny island-hopper. It was a rainy day at the Kahului Airport the day I flew to Hana, and visibility was a joke. Sitting at the barren terminal — there’s no wifi, but there is an ancient soda machine — Mokulele officials led myself and five other fliers to the tarmac. Seeing the propeller plane was nerve-wracking enough, but the shitty weather just made it worse.
We climbed on board and got a brief safety spiel from the co-pilot, as there’s no flight attendants on such a small plane. I told myself to relax as the plane sped up and ascended, bursting through some of the clouds and over the green expanse of north Maui. The views were astounding: mountains, mansions, rugged coastline were all laid out before us. The Pacific stretched on for eternity. Seeing Maui from any angle is visual ecstasy, but the view from above is another level of pleasure.
Twenty minutes later, we landed at the Hana airport — really a bathroom, two seats, and another soda machine — with many of us thirsty for more. I’d have to wait three days later, after a life-affirming stay at the sublime Travaasa Hana, the island’s oldest operating hotel — when I returned to Kahului. To avoid rain on other parts of the island, our young pilots flew a different way than how we came. This time, the sky was clearer and the views even more crystalline. No one spoke for the entire flight, just staring with wonder at the paradise below. We landed refreshed and invigorated, something I’ve never thought I’d feel stepping off a plane.
See more pics of Maui from above on the next page.