If you have read my articles in the past, then you know I love out-of-the-way airports, airlines, and aircraft and…
Trip Report: Music City to the Gulf Coast with Boutique Air – Part 2
In part 1 of this EAS trip report, I arrived at the Nashville International Airport and checked in for my flight with Boutique Air to Pensacola, Fla. In this second part, you’ll see what it was like to take the flight, and what is one of my favorite flights date.
Only about two minutes after we saw the plane taxi by the window, we were called to board our flight to ‘Muscle Shoals with continuing service to Pensacola’ out of gate A7.
The first stop will be the EAS community of Muscle Shoals, Alabama, which also happens to be the smallest airport by passenger numbers in the state of Alabama.
Our aircraft for this trip carried the registration of N300XX and is a 2002 made Pilatus PC-12/45. Around five different companies or individuals had owned this aircraft prior to being acquired by Boutique Air in 2016.
This aircraft featured eight seats in a business layout, two of which did face backwards. Although backwards facing seats are cool, I decided to take a front-facing one for this trip.
As we approached the aircraft, the other passenger all got phones and began documenting the aircraft for themselves. One of which even said “I am shook with how small this aircraft is,” though this size isn’t new to me, as I do fly on smaller planes often. Not everyone reacts the same way to flying on these planes for the first time.
The pilot gave us the safety briefing and apologized for the delay, which was now about 90 minutes.
I did have a first for me on this flight: single pilot operations. Which I admittedly didn’t even notice until one of the passengers said “wait, don’t he need another pilot or something?”
I inquired the reason for this: the airline will operate with a single pilot only if it is operationally necessary; that way they don’t have to severely delay or cancel flights if there isn’t a spare pilot available.
As we taxied to the runway, one of the passengers began to FaceTime someone and made me tell their relative that the plane is safe. This is the first time I have ever had to tell someone’s relative that we would be fine.
As we took off from Nashville, one of the passengers did scream and shout a couple four-letter words which I won’t type here for the sake of clean writing. This is an extreme example of showing that not everyone is comfortable with flying on small aircraft such as these, and some people do react more severely than others. Most of these reactions can be heard in the trip video at the end of this article.
This flight reached a cruising altitude of only 10,250-feet and gave us some amazing views of the low cloud bank and weather that delayed the morning flights.
By this point in the flight, the other passengers had calmed down and were beginning to enjoy the views and feelings of flying in a smaller aircraft. We began talking and it felt more like a flight with friends and not with strangers.
As we began our descent below the clouds, there was a bit more turbulence, which is expected when flying a smaller aircraft. Just before landing we passed over Wilson Lake, which is part of a river and lake system that runs close to the northern boarder of Alabama.
Our approach to Muscle Shoals was very bumpy with all of the strong winds in the area that day, but the pilot did an amazing job and made one of the smoothest touchdowns I’ve ever had in these aircraft. The other passengers definitely agreed with me as they cheered and clapped after landing.
The first leg took just over 30 minutes, which was originally scheduled as a 45 minute flight, so we were slowly making up time from our delayed departure.
We taxied to the small terminal in Muscle Shoals, which is called the ‘Northwest Alabama Regional Airport.’ There was a total of four passengers on the aircraft including myself, and all of us were continuing onto Florida. Despite this, we were required to get off for safety reasons, as nobody is allowed on when they are refueling the aircraft.
Due to the size of the airport in Muscle Shoals, there was no restroom in the secure area, so the TSA officers at the airport escorted those that needed to use it. This way they could keep an eye on us at all times and check the bathroom to make sure there was nobody hiding in there trying to hand us a prohibited item – a very unique way of solving a problem that I have never encountered before.
By escorting us to the restroom, it meant they wouldn’t have to re-screen us and our belongings before we headed back out to the plane.
While walking back from the restroom, I was able to take a look at the very clean and nice airport in this small community. Apparently Muscle Shoals is the ‘Hit Recording Capital of the World,’ so it makes perfect sense that they are connected to Nashville, which itself carriers the nickname ‘Music City’
By this point, the aircraft was fully fueled, and we headed back out. As we got on, the pilot asked if we wanted any drinks from the small drawer near the front of the cabin. This time we taxied to the other, much smaller runway in Muscle Shoals, which was still no problem for this aircraft.
As we took off, the other passengers were much calmer this time around and made virtually no sound as they had gotten used to the aircraft by this point.
We rocketed up to our cruising altitude of 19,000-feet in no time; this time there were virtually no clouds in sight.
The other passengers fell asleep, but what was a surprise for me was when the pilot turned off the fasten seat belt sign and invited me up to the cockpit for a look around.
It was cool seeing all of the instruments up close while in flight. It was possible to see them from my seat, but this up-close view offered the opportunity for a once-in-a-lifetime experience as a passenger. I would like to point out that these pictures were taken from outside the cockpit and does not violate any FAA rules or guidelines.
The next hour flew by, and I even took a small nap as the noise of the engine lulled me to sleep.
When I woke up, we were on approach to Pensacola, Florida. Another unique aspect of these aircraft is that you can see the runway you’re landing on out the front window from right at your seat.
The pilot made another smooth touchdown and we taxied to the gate, which happened to be right next to a Silver Airways ATR-42-600.
The flight time was just over one hour from Muscle Shoals. In, addition we took off from runway 18 in Muscle Shoals and landed on runway 17 in Pensacola. This means we virtually didn’t turn for the entire length of the flight, something that hardly happens in the age of crowded airspaces.
We did make up more time on this final leg, so despite departing Nashville nearly 90 minutes late, we arrived in Florida only 30 minutes behind schedule. The amazing amount of time made up on this short trip is a credit to the experienced pilot and the quick turn around times in Nashville and Muscle Shoals.
This has got to be one of my favorite flights I have taken to this date. The overall atmosphere with the pilot and the other passenger made it feel like I was taking a trip with friends and not complete strangers. While it does take longer than the nonstop flight, it is absolutely worth your time if you’re up for an adventure.
Make sure to check out the video report of this trip below, and PLEASE NOTE there is some vulgar language from the other passengers in the first half of the video.
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