Category Archives: Opinion Piece

Cruising in the Age of Covid-19 — Part 1

Alaska. Off season. Way off season. Yes, Ursula and I just returned from just such a voyage — our first since returning in mid March 2020, shortly after the beginning of the pandemic and the shutting down of travel and closing of borders. This week I will be presenting to you my perspectives on life aboard a cruise ship in the midst of health protocols necessitated by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Fifth floor common area on Royal Caribbean’s Ovation of the Seas

The cruise line is Royal Caribbean. The ship is Ovation of the Seas. The destination — Alaska, round trip from Seattle, over the course of back-to-back seven-day cruises. The sail date for Voyage One was Friday, 24 September in an inside “Virtual Balcony” cabin. Itinerary for both was sold as follows: Seattle, Day at Sea, Juneau, Skagway, Sitka, Endicott Arm and Dawes Glacier (cruising), Day at Sea, Seattle.

“Virtual Balcony” interior cabin on Ovation of the Seas

The second cruise began 1 October, but weather necessitated a change in the itinerary. Ketchikan was substituted for Sitka, and the port order was changed to: Seattle, Day at Sea, Ketchikan, Juneau, Skagway, Endicott Arm and Dawes Glacier, Day at Sea, Seattle. No great disappointment here, as both Ursula and I adore Ketchikan. Sitka is charming, but much smaller with less to do unless you venture onto a tour.

At the hosting station for Silk main dining room

These voyages were two of the last three before Ovation was slated to depart the Alaska market for warmer climes. Capacity for the Ovation is 4,180 at double capacity in the staterooms, and the maximum capacity is listed as 4,905. Ovation had very stringent protocols. Negative antigen test results had to be shown, and the tests had to be conducted within three days of the boarding date. Vaccinations were required of adult passengers. Unvaccinated children were prohibited from leaving the ship in ports of call. Masks were required unless seated in a vaccination area (theater, lower seating area; other entertainment venues), or after being seated for dining, in the buffet, or at a bar.

Sorrento’s pizzeria and salads

Our first cruise would have 1,600 passengers. Voyage 2 would come in at 2,300. The last voyage of the season, which would occur immediately after our Voyage 2, was slated to accommodate 3,000 paying passengers. So, how did this all work out with pandemic health protocols in place? Tune in Wednesday for what happened. Until then, here are some more photos of the Ovation, taken shortly after boarding before the crowds arrived:

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Filed under Opinion Piece, R. Doug Wicker, travel, vacation

Constitution and Citizenship Day vs. Justice of 6Jan Rally

Just a few words I felt that I needed to get off my outraged chest:

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Filed under Author, Opinion Piece, R. Doug Wicker

Forty Years Ago Today — A moment in history

Forty years ago today, 3 August 1981, the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization — PATCO — went out on strike against the Federal Aviation Administration, and by extension the U.S. government. I was at the time an staff sergeant and an air traffic controller in the U.S. Air Force working at a control tower and precision approach radar (PAR) at an Air Force Base in the western United States.

It was quite a ride that year, and the year following. Weeks before the strike, just before PATCO’s first strike vote, I had my duffle bag packed and held orders to report the FAA Airport Traffic Control Tower at McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas, Nevada. Alas, PATCO voted to not strike during that first vote, and my orders were rescinded.

The “old” control tower at McCarran International

A second vote was taken on 31 July, and a strike date was set for three days later. Orders this time did not go to me, but rather to others at my facility. They were to report to the Denver Stapleton International Control Tower.

Denver Stapleton International Control Tower

But less than two weeks later, that contingent failed to pass the FAA’s stringent training program. I and another controller, Airman Vern “VJ” Johnson, were called into the chief controller’s office. We were handed orders to report on 17 August to the FAA control tower at El Paso International Airport, and we were instructed in no uncertain terms to make damned sure we didn’t blow the training program, as our chief controller was now under a Pentagon microscope.

Upon arrival, we joined up with four additional pairs of Air Force controllers from Luke, Shepard, Tinker, and Holloman Air Force Bases. Names from that contingent include Joe Lang, Joe Yatar, Dean Funk, Dane Grant, Wilford Rayford, Charlie Correll (sp?), Steve Glass, and at least one name that right now escapes me. My memory must be fading. Over the next several months, El Paso ATCT pretty much acted as an Air Force tower and an FAA TRACON.

El Paso International Airport Traffic Control Tower (and TRACON) as it looked in 1981

As for VJ and me that “90-day” deployment that stretched to almost eleven full months. I returned to my base to out-process from the Air Force. Having proven myself capable to the FAA and El Paso, I was ordered to return as an FAA controller in early September 1982. And so began a 27-year career in the FAA on top of the seven+ years I had served as an air traffic controller in the United States Air Force. Joining me in the move from USAF to FAA were VJ, Dean, and Dane.

El Paso Airport Traffic Control Tower as it appears today

I would go on to certify as a radar controller in the El Paso Terminal Radar Approach Control (TRACON), and alternate duties between the “upstairs” control tower and “downstairs” radar room for the duration of my service to the U.S. government.

El Paso TRACON with modern STARS equipment

During that time I would also be tasked to assist in developing, evaluating, and deploying a modern upgrade to the nation’s air traffic control system — the Standard Terminal Automation Replacement System (STARS). This involved repeated trips to the FAA Technical Center near Atlantic City, New Jersey, as well as deployment and evaluation trips to FAA TRACONS in Syracuse, New York; Memphis, Tennessee; Miami, Florida; and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

STARS display with 6-level weather presentation

I hope you found informative today’s little aviation history lesson given to you from a personal perspective. And please excuse the personal history, but I at times get a bit prideful of my service.

Today the PATCO strike is pretty much relegated to the history books and all but ignored, but at the time it held incredible significance to this nation’s aviation system. The impact of the PATCO strike cannot be overstated, as that impact on U.S. aviation would only later be superseded in significance by the 11 September attacks and, perhaps, the recent Covid-19 pandemic.


Filed under Aviation Safety, Opinion Piece, R. Doug Wicker, Writing