Flying to the North Slope

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Sometimes, the idea for a blog post is as easy as seeing a bunch of people getting confused with my Facebook comments.  For some reason, y’all were confused with how I get to the slope.

As a reminder, “the slope” is short for “the North Slope” which is considered to be anything north of the Brooks Range of Mountains in Alaska (because that part of the state ‘slopes’ down to the Arctic Ocean … now you get it?).  Specifically, when I come up to “the slope” I am flying into Deadhorse, Alaska and taking the buses the 15 minute ride to the Greater Prudhoe Bay oil field.  Deadhorse is a town, but there isn’t anymore than 10 full time residents, if there is at all.  If it wasn’t for the oil fields, there likely wouldn’t even be an airport here.  If you watched the show Ice Road Truckers, you could be familiar with the Dalton Highway (locally known as “the haul road”), which is the only road that connects the rest of Alaska with Deadhorse.  While there are some that come up to the slope by the haul road, but that is a minuscule percentage, and would basically be people who are hauling on the haul road.

The rest of the staff up here come up by airplane.  It’s said there is a rotating work force of up to 3000 people here at any time, all of which average 2 weeks up here before heading home and no more than 3 to 4 weeks straight for anyone.  With that many people coming and going, there are a fair number of flights.  Thing is, it makes no sense for a company like BP who operates most of the field to put everyone on a commercial flight and fly them up here; same thing can be said for the other major owner up here ConocoPhillips.  So rather than buy everyone tickets all the time, they bought their own planes … in fact, they have their own airline.  Because it’s a shared service between BP and Conoco, they thought they would come up with a jazzy and exciting name for this shared service; and that name is: Shared Services.

Just so you understand the scope of the number of people going — Shared Services runs six days a week out of Anchorage flying to either Deadhorse or Kuparak (an hour drive from Deadhorse on the western side of the oil field, where ConocoPhillips has more of their operation); sometimes the flight will layover in Fairbanks for about 20 minutes to pick-up or drop off people from there.  There is anywhere between two to five flights a day back and forth.  The planes are Boeing 737 that hold over 150 people; and are typically packed to the gills.  The flight is a little over an hour and a half and run like clockwork.

There are ups and downs to Shared Services.  Since it is basically like a charter flight, its not affiliated with any other airline — so no Frequent Flyer miles, no upgrades, no bonuses.  There is no first class on these planes either & seating is managed by someone with a sheet full of stickers for each seat, which could mean you are sitting on the aisle, a leatherneck is on the window, and the CEO is wedged into the middle next to you.  That being said, people are on the plane for work – either going to or coming from — so boarding is no nonsence.  Baggage is free, and because most people are hauling a lot with them and bags go directly to the camp, its rare anyone has a carry-on bigger than a backpack.  Overhead space then is pretty open.  Because Deadhorse and the oilfield is an alcohol free area, all you get on the plane is a cookie, peanuts, a soda, and if you want it a cup of coffee.  Heading south, though, alcohol is served (2 drink maximum), and since its the first drink most the folk have had in 2 weeks, that southbound plane becomes a party bus.

That all being said, my flight home this time is a real challenge.  I am booked to leave at 3pm, getting me home with enough time to spring the pooch from lockdown, stop by the house for a quick belly rub, then head off for a night of curling.  Problem is, a blizzard is coming in tonight, which could delay flights – or worse yet keep all of us on lockdown.  Fingers crossed I get out of here.

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