Lauren Kramer | 09/05/2016 | Insider Blogs |   

Scenic Flights on San Juan Airlines Showcase Whatcom County Beauty

There’s one sure way to feel like royalty in Bellingham, and that’s to take a flight with San Juan Airlines. The five-fleet airline serves the San Juan Islands, Anacortes, Point Roberts and anywhere else with a relatively close landing strip in Washington State, British Columbia and Oregon.

The day I flew to San Juan Island for a quick, two-night getaway, I arrived at the small office a quick walk from Bellingham International Airport just 15 minutes prior to departure. Parking outside was free and there were no formalities – no request even to present identification. My bag was weighed and before I’d had time to peruse the magazine selection in the waiting room, my pilot was striding towards me. “Ready to go?” he asked cheerfully.

I was one of just two passengers in the four-seat Cessna that day and as luck would have it, the sun refused to shine and the Salish Sea was a cold expanse of bluish grey. Still, as we climbed in elevation there was no denying the stunning beauty of the San Juan archipelago. The islands lay scattered before us, their surfaces a mass of verdant forests and their log-strewn beaches peppered with remote beach-side homes. It’s a spell-binding view and just as I began to take it in, I noticed the pilot had started his descent and the landing strip was all ready in sight. We taxied into the small runway in Friday Harbor and within minutes of disembarking I had my bags and was on my way.

My flight home was even more riveting, as this time my departure was Roche Harbor on the northern tip of San Juan Island. At this secluded runway there are no airport personnel, no building to weigh your bags and no place to grab a seat before your flight arrives. So I took a seat on the tarmac and pulled a book from my backpack just as I heard the faint rumble of an approaching plane.

As it drew closer and taxied toward me I realized this was my plane, and this time, I was the only passenger. “It may be a bumpy ride,” the pilot informed me as I took a seat beside him. “But don’t worry about it – we’ll be just fine.”

The 11-minute flight went by way too fast and from start to finish I couldn’t wipe the grin from my face. My own pilot! A plane just for me! This is what it must feel like to be the queen, I was thinking.

Skip and Katie Jansen, owners of San Juan Airlines, had used the services of Northwest Sky Ferry for years so they could spend more family time at their Crane Island home in the San Juans. When the business went up for sale in 2009 they purchased it. In 2014 the company added more Cessna aircraft to the fleet and rebranded it as San Juan Airlines.

In winter their passengers are mainly contractors like HVAC and plumbers, travelling for work, but June through September the tourist market soars. “The charter business is way up in the past couple of years,” says Skip. “For a family of four or five, it’s cheaper to charter a plane and you can set your own schedule for your flight time.”

A scenic flight is an incredible way to view the beauty of Whatcom County, and San Juan has several offerings, including 30-minute scenic flights around Bellingham Bay ($89 per person), visits to the Mt. Baker Volcano ($169) and a 45-minute soar through the San Juan Islands ($99). But intrepid travelers can just as easily design their own scenic tours.

If you’re nervous about being a passenger in a small four-to-six-seat Cessna, you’ll be reassured by this company’s safety record. San Juan Airlines’ record is impeccable and the Jansens have a rigorous training and inspection process. The company has its own training department for commercial pilots and the Cessna planes are stripped down every 100 hours for a complete service. The only time cancellations or delays are required is when heavy fog or high winds prevail as the aircraft require a flight ceiling of 500 feet visibility. The Jansens are strict about their policies. “We do everything by the book,” Skip says.

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        We acknowledge that Whatcom County is located on the unceded territory of the Coast Salish Peoples. They cared for the lands that included what we’d call the Puget Sound region, Vancouver Island and British Columbia since time immemorial. This gives us the great obligation and opportunity to learn how to care for our surrounding areas and all the natural and human resources we require to live. We express our deepest respect and gratitude for our indigenous neighbors, the Lummi Nation and Nooksack Tribe, for their enduring care and protection of our shared lands and waterways.
Bellingham Whatcom County Tourism
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Phone: 360-671-3990

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