Sunday, December 28, 2014

The North American Airport and Airline Listing Association

In 37 years I've flown Continental Airlines more than any other airline; more actual flight miles on Continental than any other airline and more segments in 737 aircraft than any other aircraft type

Some people collect stamps and others collect coins while others (although less frequently now) collect Barbie dolls. I on the other hand collect airports and the airlines I flew on to get them. And I have John Sidle to blame for this silliness.

John was the Assistant Manager of the Arrowwood National Wildlife Refuge in North Dakota in the late 1970s and early 1980s.  Arrowwood was located near the tiny town of Pingree which consists of about 8 people, a bar, and a church – a typical North Dakota town if ever there was one.  Living in relative isolation among the endless wheat fields of the Drift Plain, John occasionally drove to Jamestown, forty miles away, for some social interactions.

One of those social interaction trips occurred in mid-January 1983 during what seemed that winter like an endless string of blizzards and snowstorms that clogged roads and made life generally unpleasant on the prairie.  During a Sunday afternoon visit while the snow blew sideways outside, John and I sat in the living room of my house watching my two daughters be active little munchkins as their mom put in time at her clothing store where she worked.

As the snow continued to fall and the conversation began to slow, out of the blue John made the bold statement that “I bet I’ve been in more airports than you have!”

Reacting as any 5th grader would to such a claim, and with no information to back me up, I said “Bet you haven’t!”

John said, “Bet I have…” It went downhill from there.

After several minutes of debating who had been in more airports, John and I took out pieces of paper and two pens and wrote down the names of every airport we could remember we had landed at or taken off from.  At the time John had many more airports because of his possession of a pilot’s license and his service in the Peace Corps in Africa that took him to many parts of the continent.

With the issue of which of us had been in more airports at the time the 5th grade level discussion turned to airlines.  John began with “Bet I’ve flown on more airlines than you have!”

“Bet you haven’t.”

“Bet I have!”

Out came the pens and paper again and after a hurried few minutes of memory jogging it was determined that once again John had creamed me with the number of airlines he’d flown.

Owning an excessive-compulsive personality I could not let this issue die easily so over the next few months I devised a scheme for not only recording the number of airports I’d landed at or taken off from, and the number of airlines I’d flown on, but also came up with a way to make it competitive.

Despite the Jane Hathaway vision that most people possess of birdwatchers, the sport of birding is a highly competitive venture.  It starts off slowly for most people as they become familiar with the birds in their backyards and then in their neighborhoods and eventually maybe the county they live in.  Eventually, however, for many people simply seeing a bird is not enough.  We begin to keep lists of them.  The most important list is the life list – the list of bird species you have seen everywhere on earth in your life time.  We break down our lists into state lists, or county lists, or regional lists, or year lists (number of species seen in a calendar year) or the number of species seen while sitting in baseball stadiums watching baseball games. 

I’m a severe victim of that listing mania and as of today I maintain 527 separate lists of birds observed ranging from the world (6,087 species observed) to 827 species observed in the United States, to 123 species observed in Baker County, Florida, to 6 species observed on Johnston Atoll a tiny island in the South Pacific.  Were it not for the superb software produced by AVISYS none of this listing would be possible and were it not for the American Birding Association encouraging the listing of birds and the development of rules for which species to count, there would be little organization to the sport of birding.

Because of the organization and rules for birding, John and I decided that an organization similar to the American Birding Association complete with rules and oversight committees (akin to the state “rare bird records committees” in birding) was needed to give legitimacy to airport and airline listing.  Thus, during a February 1983 snowstorm (or was it still the same one from January?) we concocted the North American Airport and Airline Listing Association.  Over time and with the dogged persistence and downright annoying insistence of Dwight Lee (now unfortunately deceased) the rules for the North American Airport and Airline Listing Association were born:

                                                       LISTING ASSOCIATION

The North American Airport and Airline Listing Association (NAAALA) was founded in 1983 to provide information and competition in the avocation of airline and airport listing.  The growing nationwide interest in keeping track of the airlines one has traveled on, and the airports one has landed at or taken off from gave birth to the NAAALA.  The NAAALA is the only organization that can certify a U.S. or foreign national as a national or international traveler and the level of his or her travel experience.  For further information, contact the NAAALA.

To qualify for the official airport list, the airport, seaplane base, or heliport must now have, or have had in the past, scheduled passenger service amd it must have an official three-letter designator code as outlined in the Official Airline Guide (OAG). The purpose of this rule is to delete from the competition any military airports, or any obscure landing strips out in the middle of nowhere.  This eliminates the ability of those with access to military bases to gain an unfair advantage over non-military people in their pursuit of countable airports.  NAAALA encourages airport enthusiasts interested in military bases to count those airports on their own.  However they are excluded from the official tallies based on fairness.  You can land or take off from the airport, seaplane base, or heliport in a private, charter, or scheduled aircraft.  For example, you can count the Jamestown, North Dakota airport (formerly served by Northwest Airlines) if you land or take off there in a private aircraft.  You cannot, however, count the landing strip at Central City, Nebraska, if you land or take off there because the landing strip does not have scheduled passenger service, now or in the past. 

Seaplane bases and heliports that meet the above requirement can be counted separate from a nearby major airport if the seaplane or heliport base is currently listed, or has been listed in the past, in the Official Airline Guide (OAG) and has a three-letter designator code.  For instance, the downtown seaplane base in Miami, Florida (formerly served by Chalk's International Airlines) is countable, but the seaplane base at Lake Hood, Alaska, adjacent to the Anchorage International Airport, is not countable because it is not listed in the OAG, now or in the past.  If in the future  an airline begins service to an airport that does not meet the current criteria that airport can be counted when the criteria are met even if you landed at or took off from the airport before it was officially countable.  Any challenge to these rules will be reviewed by the NAAALA list verification committee.

Listing an airline simply involves counting any commercially flown airline including charter airlines and charter helicopter companies.  If you are new to airline listing, you will be happy to know that the NAAALA does not lump merged airlines.  If you have flown the airline before the merger date, the airline is countable (this is a significant departure from bird listing where participants worry continuously about the next round of lumps and splits).  For example, Delta Airlines is a conglomeration of Northwest Airlines, Northwest Orient, Republic Airlines, Hughes Airwest, Western Airlines,  National Airlines, Pan Am, Southern Airlines, and North Central Airlines.  If, prior to the merger, you flew Hughes Airwest, you can count it as well as Delta Airlines if the latter has been flown since the merger date.  A verification committee exists to resolve conflicts with countable airports and airlines.

Good listing.

The rules of the North American Airport and Airline Listing Association were developed over several years though consultation with other crazed individuals who enjoy counting the airlines they have flown and the airports at which they have landed or taken off. 

The issue of lumping airlines is not the same for the NAAALA as it is in birding where people fret over the next set of genetic analyses that show species A and species B are the same species and they are lumped into species C (blue goose and snow goose becoming just snow goose is a good example).  When a lump occurs you lose a species from your bird list.  Not so with airport and airline listing.  Under NAAALA rules if you flew Hughes Airwest back in the 1970s when it was still Hughes Airwest you can still count it despite its eventual acquisition by Republic Airlines which was purchased by Northwest Airlines which was purchased by Delta Airlines.

In airline listing we don't fret about losing airlines if they are purchased by another airline like birders worry about bird species being lumped by new genetic evidence.  If you flew on Hughes Airwest, or North Central Airlines, or Republic Airlines or Northwest Airlines before they were all eventually purchased and consumed by Delta Airlines you can still count them on your airline list.  You can't however get retroactive credit for them if you have only flown on Delta since the mergers

The other major rule in NAAALA listing is that any airport is countable IF 1)it has a 3-letter designator code available from the Official Airline Guide (such as ORD for Chicago O’Hare or DCA for Washington National) and 2) it is now or has been served at any time in the past by a commercial airline.  The purpose of this rule is to remove obscure landing strips out in the middle of nowhere (the grass landing strip at Ord Nebraska is one example) from listing. It also eliminates from the list military bases that are available only to military personnel.  It’s all about keeping the listing playing field even and fair.

Flying from a new airport to a new airport on a new airline is one of the most exciting aspects of airport and airline listing. I accomplished this most recently in October 2014 when I flew LOT Polish Airlines from Copenhagen Denmark to Warsaw Poland.  Not nearly as satisfying was returning to Copenhagen later that day on SAS Scandinavian Airlines.  It was also a new airline but the initial excitement of the morning had diminished 

Although I have been listing airports and airlines for more than 30 years I still pursue finding new ones with the same child-like glee that I pursue new birds for my various bird lists. Just last summer I purposefully flew to Youngstown Ohio’s airport to add it rather than nearby and much closer Pittsburgh International when traveling to Pittsburgh to watch the Pirates play baseball. In October I experienced one of the biggest thrills of NAAALA listing when I flew from a new airport (Copenhagen, Denmark) to a new airport (Warsaw, Poland) on a new airline (LOT Polish Airlines).  And for icing on that cake Poland was a new country for my country list (now 113 countries visited).  In February 2015 we are taking a cruise to Central America that has a one-day stop in Belize and another on Roatan Island in Honduras.  Currently I’m wringing my hands trying to squeeze as many new airports (and 2 new airlines) as possible out of the day in Belize and also trying to figure out how I can fly out of Roatan and back in time to catch my outbound ship!

As of today I have flown on 206 different countable airlines.  They have taken me to 334 domestic airports in the 50 United States and 211 International airports scattered from Stavanger Norway to Hobart, Tasmania to Ushuaia, Argentina (the southernmost airport in the world) or 545 airports world wide.   All of that travel has caused me to also form opinions about airports and airlines. 

There are airlines and then there are airlines and then there is Singapore Airlines.  I flew Business Class in this Boeing 777 between Bandar Seri Bagawan, Brunei and Singapore for the greatest 3 1/2 hours of my flying career.  Try them.  You will never want to fly another airline

Without doubt the finest airline in the world is Singapore Airlines.  I flew them once, in Business Class, for 3 ½ glorious hours from Bandar Seri Bagawan, Brunei to Singapore.  Singapore annually wins awards for being the best airline in the world and despite having only 210 minutes of flying time on them I whole heartedly agree.   

Its really difficult to say which airline is the worst in the world. In my estimatation its a virtual tie between Bahamasair and LIAT.  Both are so bad they each earned a separate chapter about them in my book Somewhere South of Miami.

There is a virtual tie for worst airline in the world. Although the experts always say that Aeroflot Russian Airline is worst they obviously have never flown on Bahamasair (the worlds largest unscheduled airline) or LIAT from the Lesser Antilles. Although LIAT's actual name is Leeward Island Air Transport in the islands they say it means "Leave Island Any Time."  I have to completely agree.
Royal Brunei Airlines gets my vote for the strangest airline in the world.  Don't ask the flight attendants for anything alcoholic - unless you want to cause them to have a stroke.

The award for the strangest airline has to go to Royal Brunei Airlines whom I flew from Kota Kinabalu, Borneo to Bandar Seri Bagawan, Brunei.  The female flight attendants were required to wear burqas, a prayer to Allah asking for a safe journey was given before we pushed back from the gate, and being a devoutly Muslim airline from a devoutly Muslim nation, no alcoholic drinks were offered even in First Class and when I asked for a glass of wine just to see the reaction I thought the flight attendant’s burqa was going to self-destruct.

Cape Town (South Africa) airport is one of the most efficient and cleanest airports anywhere in the world

Internationally Singapore’s airport has to rank as the finest and most efficient international airport in the world with Cape Town, South Africa a close second.  Hands down John F. Kennedy Airport in New York City is the ugliest international airport in the world and Merida, Venezuela, the old Kai-Tac airport in Hong Kong, and Tegucigalpa Honduras are tied for having the scariest, most dangerous final approach in the world.

There is a very good reason I  think the approach to Tegucigalpa Airport in Honduras is one of the scariest in the world.  Passengers on this TACA airlines jet found out the hard way. I've flown in and out of there 3 times and have zero desire to ever do it again!

Seeking new airports and airlines has also provided me with some scary moments as well as some joyous ones.  Bahamasair, the national carrier of the Bahamas Islands, flew from Nassau to Mayaguana one day and 1 hour 15 minutes into the flight the propeller on the right engine quit going around.  The pilot came on the intercom and told us in his Bahamian accent “Ladies and gentlemen, we have a slight problem but there’s nothing to worry about.”   A few weeks later when lifting off from Salt Cay bound for Grand Turk in the Turks and Caicos Islands the Britten-Norman Islander aircraft shuttered as a loud “thud” could be heard just as we left the ground.  A few minutes later the pilot announced that as we lifted off we hit a burro that had ambled out onto the runway and the force of the impact tore the left landing gear off the plane.  We would now have to burn off fuel and make an emergency landing on two tires at Grand Turk.

Then there was the night in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, when I exchanged my Eastern Airlines ticket for a flight on Haiti Air (this was back in the days when you could do these things without being called out as a terrorist) solely so I could add Haiti Air to my list.  Just after our midnight departure as we cleared Haitian airspace a loud cheer rose from the Haitians onboard.  I didn’t understand why until the next morning when I read the Miami Herald and learned that this flight, the last ever on Haiti Air, was removing more than 100 Haitians from the deadly grip of their crazy Dictator Jean Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier who himself, just two hours after our flight left, escaped Haiti with his life as thousands poured into the streets at the start of a Civil War that led to his ouster from office and removal from the country.

Ever since my first flight on a commercial airline (Ozark Airlines from Minneapolis to St. Louis on October 31, 1977) I have kept track of each flight segment I have flown, which airline I was on, the routing for each segment, the aircraft flown and the number of statute miles flown on each segment.  I soon found my green notebook to be indispensable for keeping track of my flights.  Later when frequent flier programs became even more popular those same records were essential for making sure that the airline didn’t forget to credit me for a segment (or segments) that I flew.

Beginning with that first flight on October 31, 1977, I have completed 3,014 individual flight segments (a segment is, for example, Sarasota to Atlanta) and I have kept records of every one of those segments.  For each I have recorded the date, the itinerary flown, the airline flown the type of aircraft flown and the distance (in statute miles) flown.  Importing all those data into an Excel Spreadsheet has resulted in some interesting if not totally anal results.  

Aircraft Name     # of Times Flown     Miles Flown
Boeing 737 630 368946
Boeing 727 356 203151
Airbus A320 319 202471
McDonald Douglas DC-9 289 130332
McDonnell Douglas MD80 218 157834
Beechcraft 1900 147 18973
Boeing 757 143 153185
Shorts SD.330 95 17541
Canadian Regional Jet 89 31928
Embraer RJ135 79 25278
Ranking of the top 10 aircraft types I've flown the most times. 

Things like – I’ve flown on 630 segments in 737 aircraft – the most of any aircraft type.  I’ve also flown 368,946 miles in 737 aircraft – the most of any aircraft type. The longest average distance flown is 5,718 in 747-200 series aircraft and my longest flight in both time and actual miles was 8,421 miles in a Boeing 777 aircraft flown by Delta Airlines from Atlanta to Johannesburg, South Africa.

Airline Name # of Times Flown    Miles Flown
Continental Airlines 640 428796
Northwest Airlines 497 336222
United Airlines 373 235710
US Airways 318 117698
American Airlines 196 175632
Delta Airlines 142 91517
Republic Airlines 136 65122
Eastern Airlines 80 44945
Alaska Airlines 43 24353
BahamasAir 33 3945
I've flown more individual segments on Continental Airlines than any other airline

The most segments flown on any airline was 640 on Continental and the most miles flown on any airline was 482,796 miles also on Continental.  The greatest mean distance flown on an airline was 4,347 miles on Virgin Atlantic Airlines. 

Airport Name

Total # of Times in Airport
Washington - National

Minneapolis - St. Paul

Detroit - International



Houston - Intercontinental

Miami - International


Chicago - O'Hare

Los Angeles


I've landed at or taken off from Washington National airport more times than any other airport in the world.  Living 14 years in the DC suburbs certainly helped 

Among airports I’ve flown into and out of Washington National Airport (never EVER call it Reagan Airport) the most times – 351 departures from DCA and 356 arrivals.  Second in that list is Minneapolis – St. Paul with 141 departures and 142 arrivals.  Nassau, Bahamas with 46 arrivals ranks first among International airports and San Juan, Puerto Rico is second with 26 arrivals.

Many people have laughed at me over time as I have told them about my passion for airport and airline listing and that’s ok with me.  It was all made worth it a year ago when I stood on the deck of a cruise ship sailing into Montego Bay, Jamaica, harbour talking with a Boeing 777 captain for Delta Airlines.  I told him about my listing fever and he asked me how many airports I had on my list.  At the time it was 542 airports worldwide. When I told him the pilot stopped and thought for a minute and then said “You’ve been in more airports than I have and I fly for a living!”

Well, Captain, that’s the point.

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