Monday, November 26, 2007

Fear of Flying ... Literally

It is my deep and profound belief that we humans are ground animals. To quote Emil Zatopek (once again, I know I have quoted him before ...): "Bird flies, fish swims, man runs." Therefore, whenever I have the disputable pleasure of boarding an airplane, I develop a strange feeling within my guts, and this has nothing to do with love-butterflies.

My sweetheart dreads it when the plane hits turbulences. Not because he worries much about turbulences and air-pockets, but because he knows that I worry, which usually leads to me digging my paws, er, claws into his thighs, leaving wet spots on his knee from my sweating hands.

Usually, there really is no reason to worry. However, we were on one flight where, judging from the reaction of the flight attendant, everything clearly was not ok. But one after the other.

We had spent a decadent 10 days in Barbados and were on our flight back to NYC. We flew American. You could tell AA was in financial dire straits, simply because they didn´t seem to be hiring a lot of new (read: young) flight attendants, which meant that the attendants were all about 40 and upward. (Without wanting to be ageist, it´s just that on most other airlines I have ever flown the cabin crew tends to be somewhat younger.)

Anyway, we were in mid-air, when one of the flight attendants made an announcement that did not fail to significantly raise my heart rate, at least for a moment: "Ladies and gentlemen, we have a prob- ... we´re experiencing difficulties with our ..." - here, my heart first nearly stopped before it picked up excess speed; my brain raced "Why is she correcting herself? Geez, just like in the "Airport"-movies: Your plane´s engine is on fire, and the cabin crew does their best to not cause panic among the passengers by telling them that all that happened is the cook burned the food ... AND WTF IS IT THAT ´WE´ ARE HAVING PROBLEMS WITH?" - "... inflight entertainment system!"

At this point, an entire mountain range fell off my heart. My goodness - all that it was was some minor difficulties with the frigging inflight entertainment system, not the engines, or the cabin pressure, or the fuelage, or anything else really worth worrying about!

As the flight went on, the weather went from bad to worse, and our plane was jumping like a kangoroo, from air pocket to air pocket (or so it seemed), and my sweetheart patiently put up with his left leg being poked by my fingernails (not that they are ever very long, fortunately) digging into his flesh.

(Near the end of the flight, the captain apologized for the bumpy ride, saying he´d been trying, evidently without too much success, to evade the turbulences by attempting different flight levels.)

When we finally started our approach to JFK, my sweetheart suddenly discovered that something was dripping on his shoulder. Whatever it was seemed to be coming from the cabin luggage compartment right above. The liquid went from clear to brown. When a flight attendant passed us by (on her way to make sure all the passengers were neatly strapped in and buckled up for the landing bounces), my sweetheart pointed out to her that he was being dripped on by - something.

"Could it be rum?" The flight attendant suggested helpfully (Barbados being one of those Caribbean rum paradises, and most passengers, excluding us, had bags stuffed with duty free Bajan rum in their hand luggage). We sniffed and smelled at it, but it didn´t smell like rum. In fact, it didn´t smell of anything, really. Nevertheless, the flight attendant opened the luggage compartment to check, but of course, to no avail: No puddles of rum overhead, and of course no broken bottles.

It was pitch dark outside, it was pissing down with rain, the plane jumped and bounced, and the cabin crew had actually had their call to take their landing positions several minutes ago. The dripping intensified, and the flight attendant was not really sure what to do about this. I didn´t like the more than slightly worried expression on her face one bit, when she asked me (I was seated next to the window) if we were already close to the airport and in the process of landing. I couldn´t see a thing, and I told her as much. She rushed off to get a Kleenex (which was, as she remarked apologetically, all she could offer my sweetheart at that point), and then hurried to her seat, maintaining this slightly worried look.

As you can tell by the fact that I survived to write about this, we landed safely, the airplane did not fall apart in the process, and hopefully they patched up the part of the airplane that had lost its leakproofness with some high-quality tape.

On my recent flight to NYC and back, I again had the pleasure of flying American. (No, I´m not starting to make this a habit!)

The plane on the flight back had been boarded and was ready to start early, when ... The flight attendant made the announcement that - "Ladies and Gentlemen" - someone from the cockpit had briefly stepped outside to make sure that "something" (which apparently needed checking) was as it should be. Yeah, right, the co-pilot wandering around the airplane and rattling at the engines to make sure they wouldn´t come off in mid-air? Well, not quite, as the announcement by the captain - after about an half-hour wait informed us: They were just "double-checking" that the tires were fully ok.

Mhmm. So, after the check had apparently resulted in the co-pilot´s satisfaction, which I did find somehow encouraging (I mean, hey, these guys want to live as much as I do, or don´t they?), we were ready for take-off. I still half expected one of the tires to blow (or come off) at take-off.

Well, that did not happen. The flight itself went smooth-ish-ly; yes, there were a lot of turbulences, and we were forced to stay strapped in our seats for most of the flight because of that, and one of the four economy-class toilets serving some 160 economy-class passengers was nevertheless occupied for most of the flight because one passenger seemed to be unable to stop driving the white bowl; but since I slept like a baby for pretty much of that late-night flight (the bouncing actually rocked me to sleep), I couldn´t have cared less.

Until we approached London Heathrow. For the landing process, of course, it was essential that the tires were, indeed, fully functional, or so I reckoned, and that they hadn´t worn too much during take off. Again, as you can see, I live to tell you about this. And although it was quite a kangoroo-landing, and the plane, upon hitting, er, touching ground, wobbled like a drunk after her third mega-strong Caipiroshka, yes, the tires seemed to have been sufficiently in order to get us safely off and back on the ground.

Of course, we had to wait for about 45 minutes until the plane could finally anchor in its landing slot, but I sort of expected that (it happened on the way in, too). And, since we were on the ground, that really did not touch me too much (apart from the urgent need to stretch and shake out my legs after spending a good 7 hours in the confinements of said economy class).

Did I mention that I nevertheless prefer to stick to the ground?

No comments: