Instead of rolling out a red carpet to welcome a new or special flight, airports frequently greet planes with blasts of water from their fire trucks. These are known as “wet” or “water” salutes.
Have you ever been on a plane when this happens?
These salutes occur when an airport gets a brand new airline, an important new route or when an existing route gets a shiny new plane. Airports will also douse a jet in honor of a retiring pilot on his or her final flight, or to welcome home a winning team.
I imagine we’ll see a few water salutes later this year when Delta and United 747s make their final flights.
Here’s a video I made for Air France when its first A380 landed at SFO back in 2011, which warranted a wet salute.
I’m lucky enough to have experienced several of water salutes over the years as I frequently cover inaugural or special flights for TravelSkills.
But those opportunities have dwindled recently at airports near my home base in San Francisco.
Why? Because of the California drought. As the state began to dry out five years ago and water restrictions were put into place, California airports switched from wet to less showy “dry salutes” that usually involved fire trucks and flags, but no water.
Thankfully, after a sopping wet year, the California drought has been called off and watering restrictions have been lifted. I had not seen a wet salute until last week when San Jose welcomed a new Aeromexico nonstop from Guadalajara. (see top)
So I reached out to the airport to determine if wet salutes were back in vogue…and found out that SJC had come up with a unique way to continue the salutes even during the drought.
SJC spokesman Jon Vaden said, “Our fire trucks are required to do a weekly discharge test where they run water through the hoses, so for this water arch salute they planned ahead and made that their weekly test. We’ve done the same thing for our inaugurals the past couple years, allowing us to continue them even when the drought was at its worst. Of course, now that the drought has eased there’s not as much intense scrutiny on the subject, but they have maintained the same procedures as an ongoing water-saving measure.”
So will wet salutes come back to SFO or Oakland? Sounds like that won’t be happening any time soon.
Oakland International spokesperson Keonnis Taylor told TravelSkills: We have done wet salutes in the past, however, due to recent drought conditions, we’ve been opting for ceremonial vehicle escort of inaugural landing flights with the U.S. and originating country flags waving. In addition to internal discussion/coordination here at the airport, OAK always prioritizes the wishes of the airline in this regard. Water arches have been requested during the recent drought period, however, the airlines have been very understanding and receptive of alternative ceremonial activities such as vehicle escorts, in the effort to conserve water.”
And it sounds like restrictions on wet salutes will remain in place at SFO. Spokesperson Doug Yakel told us: “Although the state is no longer in a drought, we continue in our water conservation efforts, which include refraining from using water during salutes. Our Fire Department conducts a ‘dry’ salute, in which firefighters perform a hand salute for the aircraft receiving the honor.”
Over the last few years, we have seen air travel boom in the Bay Area as the economy heated up and airlines fought to get their piece of the lucrative pie. Down in Silicon Valley, San Jose has added seven new carriers in less than two years and now has multiple nonstops to the East Coast, Europe and Asia. Across the Bay in Oakland, international carriers are lining up for first-time ever nonstops to cities all over Europe. And so many new airlines (and flights) have jammed into San Francisco International in recent years that gate space (and long tarmac waits to park planes) are becoming increasingly common.
That’s a lot of salutes, wet or dry!
Have you ever taken an inaugural or other type of special flight? Tell us about it in the comments!