From Inaugurals to a Diversion: The Five Flights I Enjoyed the Most in 2016

My Top 5 Favorite Flights of 2016

As we are approaching the end of January, I decided to look back at the flights I took last year. Having flown over 130,000 miles on over 90 segments, it was the best year both in terms of the distance flown as well as the number of flights.

During the year, besides taking flights to places I needed to get to, I also took a number of inaugural and farewell flights, as well as flights on interesting aircraft.

Below, I list my five favorite flights from 2016. The flights were not ranked on any specific criteria, but rather on how memorable and enjoyable the flights were for me.

Flight #1: Pakistan International Airlines A310-300 from Tokyo NRT to Beijing

Pakistan International Airlines Airbus A310-300

Shortly before landing in Tianjin.

PIA operates a fifth-freedom Tokyo to Beijing segment as part of their multi-stop route from Lahore to Tokyo. The flight, being operated by an Airbus A310-300 (soon to be switched to 777-200) would have been interesting in itself, however, it would not have made it to the top place.

What made it rank number one is the situation that occurred while I was onboard.

I was allowed into the cockpit in-flight and for landing in Beijing – or so I thought. As we got close to Beijing, we were told to hold due to airspace restrictions. After a while of holding, our fuel started reaching the diversion point, and not receiving permission to land even then, we had to divert to Tianjin.

Being in the cockpit during when the pilots were making the critical decisions about what to do next – hold more or divert – was an incredible, and probably a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Hence, the number one spot on this list!

If you want to read a complete report about the flight, click here.

Pakistan International Airlines Airbus A310-300

Together with the great crew.
Pakistan International Airlines Airbus A310-300

There’s no better place to have a dessert.

#2: Air Do 767-300 from Tokyo HND to Sapporo CTS

Air Do Boeing 767-300 Beardo Hokkaido Jet

After arriving back at the parking spot, the aircraft was surrounded by “emergency-looking” personnel.

A flight that would normally be very ordinary, was supposed to be special on that day, and ended up being extraordinary.

The flight was supposed to be the inaugural flight of Air Do’s brand new Beardo Hokkaido Jet special livery. After a bit of delay, we started boarding – receiving gift bags and being welcomed with big “Beardo Hokkaido Jet” banners along the way.

As we reached the runway, we let many aircraft take-off ahead of us. When the pilot came on the PA, it became clear – we were having a technical issue that they were trying to resolve in the cockpit. Unfortunately, they were not able to, so we had to return to the parking spot.

The flight ended up being operated by another aircraft, in standard livery of course.

While I cannot say I that I was among the first to fly the special livery, I can most certainly say I was among the first revenue passengers to board. I even have a certificate to prove it!

This rare situation certainly taught me to expect the unexpected.

Air Do Boeing 767-300 Beardo Hokkaido Jet

Boarding the Beardo Hokkaido Jet.
Air Do Boeing 767-300 Beardo Hokkaido Jet

Boarding the replacement aircraft.

#3: Air Koryo Il-76 Joyride Around Wonsan

During the Wonsan Air Festival, I had a chance to fly on many types of Soviet airliners for the first time. Of course, all of those were special, but one of them stood out – the flight on the Ilyushin Il-76.

Being a cargo aircraft with limited number of windows and with metal benches along the sides of the cargo hold instead of regular seats made for a very interesting flight experience. Add to it the style of flying where it felt like climbing stairs when one was walking from the back to the front of the cabin, and you get an unforgettable flight!

The only downside of the flight was that no photos were allowed onboard.

You can check out the report of all the Wonsan Air Festival joyrides here.

Air Koryo Ilyushin Il-76

The Il-76 before the flight.
Air Koryo Ilyushin Il-76

Deboarding through the cargo door.

#4: Mahan Air 747-300 from Mashad to Tehran

Mahan Air Boeing 747-300

The aircraft after arriving in Tehran.

Number four on the list belongs to a flight I took during the Iranian Skies & Cities tour in November. Having flown the Boeing 747-200, -400, -8, and SP, I was glad to have the chance to fly on the -300.

After not operating the type for a while following an accident in October 2015, the Mahan Air 747-300 is back in the skies on domestic routes from Tehran to Mashad and Bandar Abbas. Currently, it is the only airline with the -300 in scheduled passenger service.

The flight I have taken from Mashad to Tehran was very memorable – not only because of the rare aircraft type, but also because of the reasonably priced and highly enjoyable business class, and the great company of the tour participants.

Mahan Air Boeing 747-300

Business class meal.
Mahan Air Boeing 747-300

Together with one of the crew members.

#5: Cathay Pacific Airways 747-400 from Tokyo HND to Hong Kong

Cathay Pacific Boeing 747-400

Cathay Pacific’s General Manager for Japan giving a speech prior to the flight.

With “flying for the sake of flying” being a large part of my travels in 2016, it was hard picking the number five.

Eventually, I decided to put there my Cathay Pacific flight from Tokyo to Hong Kong which was the last scheduled passenger service of the Boeing 747-400 for the airline.

At the departure gate, a little celebratory event was held including a speech by the General Manager for Japan who summarized the importance of the aircraft type very well: “…and looking back, how many times have this aircraft brought us to unknown horizons, life adventures, new career heights, success, or even sometimes, failure.”

The flight itself wasn’t any less celebratory – the aisles were clogged by enthusiasts photographing the crew and every single corner of the aircraft.

A full report of the flight will follow soon!

Cathay Pacific Boeing 747-400

The 747 cruising from Tokyo to Hong Kong one last time.
Cathay Pacific Boeing 747-400

The entire crew after arrival in Hong Kong.

Honorable Mentions

While I thought about ending the list at number 5, I decided that I could not leave the below three flights out of this post, and so, three honorable mentions follow below.

Iran Air Boeing 747-200 from Tehran IKA to Kuala Lumpur

This aircraft is very special for me – it took me to Iran for the first time in 2014, and a couple of times after that. My last flight onboard it was in February 2016 from Tehran to Kuala Lumpur. Just like all of the previous times, the Iran Air crew was amazing, and it was an honor flying on the classic aircraft.

Unfortunately, now the aircraft – EP-IAI – is out of service, and so is the type itself out of passenger services.

A full report about the flight is here. You can also read a report about the inbound Kuala Lumpur to Tehran flight here, and the flight I’ve taken on the aircraft in 2015 here.

Iran Air Boeing 747-200

Classic wingletless wing.
Iran Air Boeing 747-200

In the cockpit to watch the sunrise.
Iran Air Boeing 747-200

Upper deck.

Lufthansa Boeing 747-400 from Frankfurt to Osaka KIX

A routine flight turned slightly more interesting when I purchased an upgrade into premium economy at the gate in Frankfurt. However, what made it join the list was our approach into Kansai airport.

Seconds from landing, we started climbing again resulting in my first go-around. Later on during the loop around Kansai, the pilots mentioned that it was due to a wind shear warning.

You can read a report about the flight here.

Lufthansa Boeing 747-400

The 747 at our departure gate.
Lufthansa Boeing 747-400

Approaching KIX, trial one.
Lufthansa Boeing 747-400

Approaching KIX, trial two.

Ryukyu Air Commuter Bombardier Q400CC from Naha to Kumejima

Last mention in this post belongs to my flight from Naha to Kumejima – an inter-island flight in Okinawa. The flight was the first revenue flight of Bombardier Q400CC which is the combi version of the popular turboprop.

While there were no refreshments offered at the gate before the flight, there certainly were welcome speeches, gift bags, and enthusiasts present!

If you want to read more about the experience, see the full report here.

Ryukyu Air Commuter Bombardier Q400CC Inaugural

Me with the aircraft before the flight.
Ryukyu Air Commuter Bombardier Q400CC Inaugural

Water salute after arrival in Kumejima.
Ryukyu Air Commuter Bombardier Q400CC Inaugural

Local delegation welcoming our arrival.

…and Many Others

While the above eight flights made it into the list, there were many more that were memorable in one way or another. Especially, since I got to fly over 10 new aircraft types last year due to taking part in Wonsan Air Festival in North Korea and organizing two Iranian Skies & Cities tours.

This year, I hope to continue the trend and fly on some interesting flights and routes including, hopefully, some new aircraft types. So far, I have flown on the Air France 787 inaugural flight. I have yet to see what is to come next.

What were your favorite flights in 2016?

What interesting flights do you expect to take in 2017?

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