Flying Whidbey

Whidbey Island sounds remote to many. Long ferry lines and a skinny bridge don’t encourage the traffic (though the views from the boats and the bridge are worth the trip.) It’s possible to skip the lines and shorten the times. Fly.

Don’t expect some online services to acknowledge the island’s existence. It may look like you have to fly to SeaTac in Seattle (SEA), Paine Field (PAE) in Everett, or Bellingham Airport in Bellingham (clever name selection, there; but it’s also nicely minimalist). From there, start hunting for (remarkably efficient) shuttles, buses, rental cars, Ubers, etc. Walking or bicycling are options, but they’re only for the truly adventurous.

Why fly to the mainland when you can fly directly to the island? Well, those other airports are easier to find, are more likely to have regular schedules, and might even be cheaper. But. There are more options, many of which aren’t going to show up in a casual search.

Charter.

Charter flights sound like the realm of the rich and famous, but consider the costs of renting cars, paying ferry fees, possibly having to pay for parking, gas, and the time spent getting from the airport to your real destination. A few cases of $20 here, $20 there, another $20 over there, and soon get close to the quicker options that are available for about $150/person. Get more people to take the same trip, maybe get a discount.

It’s easier than most think, because most people don’t realize how many airfields and options there are on the island.

The best known airstrip is probably OutLying Field OLF (KNRA), a Navy airstrip that’s best known for low-flying carrier jets practicing day and night landings. Practice. Practice. Practice. The other Navy airport is Ault Field, where there’s definitely Navy traffic, but there are also charter airlines that advertise flights.

Then, there’s minimalist Monroe Landing Field, officially called AJ Eisenberg Airport (KOKH). It’s easy to overlook because most folks driving near it are distracted by the iconic Blue Fox Drive-in Theater. Overlooked, but recently emphasized because of a new carrier, Lynk Air. It’s even near a bus route. Imagine taking a trip without worrying about parking: bus to plane to wherever you’re going. In their own way they’re joining Monarch Air Group, Point To Point Air, Westwind Aviation, and others like San Juan Airlines. Considering the region’s connections to Boeing and the island’s connections to the Navy, it’s a surprise there aren’t more services – and there probably are. Have fun finding them.

Then we landed in the water, just about my favorite thrill!” ~ Jamaica Mistaica, Jimmy Buffett. Banana Wind. MCA Records. 1996.”

And then there’s all that water. With water like that, why land on land? Got the money? Need to save even more time? Want to fly directly to your waterfront home? Check the sea- and float-plane charters. They may not land at the big airports, but if you’re flying island to island they’re a wonder. Instead of matching up ferry schedules, checking border crossings, figuring out how to get from one bit of waterfront to another bit of waterfront, check with companies like Kenmore Air, Seattle Seaplanes, Northwest Seaplanes, and again, probably more. They can check the tides, weather, geography, and many more details that tell them whether they can land and take off from some lake, beach, dock, or moorage. They may cost more, but turning a 14 hour car trip down to a scenic and convenient hour or two can feel so luxurious that it could feel like a necessity.

Another advantage of seaplanes and floatplanes, avoiding the need for long TSA lines – another hour or three saved. Oh yeah, and the view. The view. Nature from only a few hundred feet above. Hello, whales.

By the way, seat assignment may be determined by the pilot trying to balance the airplane by shifting passengers, and they really mean it when they weigh the luggage. The planes may float, but the lower the weight the easier it is for them to take off.

Another advantage of charters: just a bit more anonymity and fuss, in case you’re trying to quietly avoid crowds, fans, or the curious.

The ultimate, of course, is to get a license and an airplane and fly yourself. Some places, like Whidbey Air Park, have houses with hangars beside the runway.

Don’t be surprised to see or hear that someone has taken the next step, which is to fly a helicopter home.

Two bits of history are worth keeping mind. Check out a bit of Oak Harbor’s history by visiting the seaplane base and PBY museum. And look up. Paul Allen established the Flying Heritage Museum at Paine Field. One of the museum’s goals is to let the airplanes fly. If you hear a throaty, unmuffled bellow above, look to see one, two, or even three World War II aircraft powering their way through the air. After that, a commercial flight can seem like a whisper – relatively.