Passengers prepare for takeoff onboard a Seattle-bound Alaska Airlines flight departing from Dallas on Thursday, Jan. 5, 2023 in Dallas, Texas. (Ashlyn O'Hara/Peninsula Clarion0

Out of the Office: Of planes and XTRATUFs

I’m not a huge fan of flying. That wasn’t always the case, but, as I’ve gotten older, there is something about the cost, hassle, environmental impact and physical discomfort of flying that has made commercial air travel less appealing than it once was.

I’ve tried to offset the clammy hands and feeling of claustrophobic dread that hits once we’ve reached 30,000 feet of elevation with small comforts, such as noise-canceling headphones and a stack of at least two or three books. On a holiday trip to the Lower 48 to see family, however, what brought me the most comfort was neither of those.

It is sometimes easy to forget how different Alaska is from other places and in winter, the juxtaposition is more stark. There was a brief period of adjusting to more hours of daylight, the three-hour time difference, the warm temperatures, the access to retail and big box stores, among others.

As I come up on three years of living in the Last Frontier, I think it’s just starting to feel like home. There’s a feeling of vulnerability that hits me when I pass the “Welcome to Alaska’s Kenai Peninsula” sign en route to Anchorage — like a weighted blanket being lifted off.

That feeling of vulnerability multiplied tenfold seeing my small animated plane cross into Washington on my flight from Anchorage to Seattle. I think it is for the same reason that my return flight was just as significantly comforting. It was like pulling a weighted blanket on — returning to where I’m supposed to be.

Bits of Alaskana trickled into the journey once I boarded the flight to Seattle. It was subtle: a pair of XTRATUFs here, a snippet of conversation about Bering Sea bycatch there, and definitely picked up at the gate to Anchorage.

The cargo-style Grant Aviation flight from Anchorage to Kenai felt very Alaskan — throwing my backpack in the rear of the plane and crawling from the hatch to a single, squeaky-leather seat behind the cockpit. It was certainly a far cry from the orderly, structured group-by-group boarding of the commercial flights that came with checked baggage and cups of ginger ale.

It was dark as we ventured to Kenai. While I peered out the window at the reflection of a bright star in Turnagain Arm and traced the shadow of our plane on the snow-covered lakes near Nikiski, there was little trace of the dread I’d come to expect with flying.

Reach reporter Ashlyn O’Hara at ashlyn.ohara@peninsulaclarion.com.

A passenger boards a Kenai-bound Grant Aviation flight at Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport on Friday, Jan. 6 in Anchorage, Alaska. (Ashlyn O'Hara/Peninsula Clarion)

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