Have been travelling by jet-plane more than I have by bus lately. I’m not really too keen on flying. Really. Having done far too much in my lifetime so far, I’ve had my fair share of “plane travel horror” experiences, and like almost everyone I know, have shared at least one of the horror stories with friends and colleagues.
My dislike for flying can be traced back to one particular short-haul journey between Belfast and London during the mid 1990s. I had spent the day working in (what was then a very “war-torn” and nerve-wrackingly full of military checkpoints) Belfast and was returning on an early-evening flight back to Heathrow. It was winter. There was a storm. It’s only a 45 minute flight. No sooner had the plane reached the top of its climb to cruising altitude, it was on its way down for descent and final approach into Heathrow. It was during this phase of the flight that the storm really had its effect on the plane. The plane started shaking violently. The seatbelt light came on suddenly. The crew were asked quickly to strap themselves in prematurely. And the nervousness in the captain’s voice was evident over the PA system as he pleaded this request. Seconds later all hell broke loose: the crew hadn’t had any opportunity to clear away the used food trays and drinks etc. So when the plane started to get tossed around in the wind there was food and drink *everywhere*. It was a frightening experience. I have vivid memory of a moment when the plane just seemed to DROP for several long minutes – my stomach being left behind somewhere in the sky. I thought I was going to die. And judging by the screaming of everyone else on the plane, I wasn’t alone. When we eventually landed safely the rain was torrential and you don’t know how thankful I was toward the pilot and crew for getting me back on the worshipful ground. Which indeed I could have worshipped at the time. I was completely oblivious to the rain as I walked back in a daze to my car parked in the long-stay car park. I was just happy to be on the ground and vowed to never fly again. Of course, I did fly again. But not without everlasting trepidation.
Nowadays I’m a little more relaxed. But only a little: I’m the one person on the plane who likes to keep an eye what’s going on. My sense of awareness is multiplied ten-fold when flying. I watch for everything. I pay lots of attention to every little unusual noise, and every little flexing of the wing, and every little wobble in the movement of the engines. I just know that I will be the one to report something unusual to the crew if something looks alarmingly untoward. I am most tense when the plane takes off, and I hold my breath when the wheels of the plane hit the runway on landing. You don’t know how much the effect of the “Ladies and Gentlemen: welcome to so-and-so” announcement has on my mental psyche as we hit the ground and taxi down off the runway. You can call me a paranoid flyer.
There have been many occasions when on the final approach into Heathrow I spy the tiny little buses and cars on the roads around the airport and just wish I was down there instead.
(I find BA are really patronising, and I am really missing my bus.)
Barcelona a few weeks ago. Athens last week. Madrid the next.
It was snowing in Athens during the two days I was there. Not sleety snow, but full on slow-big-flakes-drifting-to-the-ground snow. My taxi driver from the airport to town did not know how to get me to my hotel in suburb of Kiffisia. Somehow he managed to persuade me in very broken English to get into the front seat and navigate him to the destination using his Athens equivalent of the “A-Z” map book. This wasn’t so easy, but I was grateful for the A-Level maths that I studied years ago – as this helped me decipher the correspondence between the form and pronunciation of some of the Greek letters e.g. lambda, theta, kappa etc. We built up a bit of a rapport along the way, and during our sometimes very bizarre conversation I asked him what was the Greek for “Thank you”. And even more bizarrely, he asked something like “You know the Japanese for thank you?“, and rather bizarrely I said “Why yes: Arigato” – and he said “Well in Greek it is very similar; it is Efharisto!”
And like Barcelona: I must be easily passed as a local Athenian, as during my stay there I got approached a couple of times by people wanting directions or something or other and had to explain in some way that I did not speak Greek. This made me feel a little ashamed really.
And I’m really missing my bus.