Flight #30: Airplane Survivor

The title of this blog entry sounds like the name of a TV doco special, or an action-packed thriller movie, and in truth, it very well could be. It would be full of suspense, the scares, the laughs, and tons of amazing scenery. Luckily for me, it would end in absolute triumph.

After a hold-your-breath moment of anticipation, those big rubbery wheels finally touched down on tarmac, and if you’re reading this now, it means I just survived my 30th flight on a plane. I lived to tell the tale, so I will do just that.

[SCENE: Interior of one of those big Boeing 737s, owned by low cost airline RyanAir, and it’s the evening.]

On a flight from Rome to London, we find our heroic star sitting in a window seat (he always liked a bit of danger) with his lovely companion Jessie seated beside him, squeezing his arm affectionately, or as if to say, “if I go down, you’re coming down with me”. Our heroic star (that’s me, by the way) uses his better judgement and decides not to explain to her that holding tightly onto his arm won’t stop her dying a terrifying, blazing inferno if this plane crashes.

Suddenly, an alarm goes off somewhere. My survival instincts kick in instantly, but before I can jump up and tell passengers to remain calm, confetti bursts out of the overhead cabins. The passengers aren’t calm – they’re on their feet and applauding with joy. Looking around stunned, I feel someone pat me on my shoulder, and I turn to see the warm, smiling face of our captain, with his co-pilot beside him. I shout, in my best gravelly voice, “who the hell is flying this damn thing!?” (and I swear, my voice was so manly and deep that my five o’clock shadow burst into a full beard in an instant), but the pilot just tells me coolly that the plane is on autopilot, and we’re about to land in a wonderful surprise location. He says they’re just rolling out the red carpet for me.

I’m confused, looking at all the cheering people around me, and then the pilot passes me a card. It reads:

CONGRATULATIONS ON YOUR 30TH FLIGHT.

Did it say that? Wait. No, actually, it didn’t. In fact, there was no card. To be perfectly honest, there was no celebration at all – no confetti, applause, or surprise location. It was my 30th successful flight, and no one seemed to care. It was only slightly delayed, not too turbulent, and we just landed in London. We had to catch a few modes of public transport to get home in the dark and that was that. The milestone came and went.

Flight #13: Auckland, New Zealand to Queenstown, New Zealand

Now I understand that, for some people, flying on a plane 30 times isn’t a big deal, because they fly on planes all the time, but they don’t know what I’ve been through to reach this magnificent number. I could’ve waited to write about my 50th flight, or even my centurion flight, but after what came before my 30th flight, I wasn’t even sure I’d survive another. So let me retell the less fictional story of flight number 29 to help you understand where I’m coming from.

[FLASHBACK TO TEN DAYS EARLIER]

Jessie and I were anxiously watching the electronic departure board, waiting for the gate to be revealed for our easyJet flight from London to Venice. Surprisingly, security had been easy, and we were let through without any fuss. Quite often I get patted down and felt up, or I get asked about my reasons for travelling, or what I do for a living. Once, security even opened up my suitcase, had a look through my toiletries bag and asked if my facewash was any good. But this time, we had no problems, and were in a position to get to our boarding gate early, if only we knew which gate it was.

Flight #15: Auckland, New Zealand to Sydney, Australia

A crowd of us waited, and it got to the point where a flight delay was inevitable. Finally, at our stated departure time, the gate number was revealed to us, and we rushed away through the terminal with the rest of the crowd. As we hurried, though, I caught a glimpse at another departure board, and this one now said that our gate was closed. When we arrived, our gate said it was for a flight to Zurich, and when the confused masses questioned the man guarding the gate, he boomed at us that it was for Zurich, not Venice, and we should go and get coffees. After a few pointless arguments with this useless man, we walked away defeated, heading towards the end of the terminal, and it was right at the very end where we finally found our boarding gate. We joined the end of the queue of lucky people that had also found their way, and waited to board while others joined behind us. Soon, we were finally boarding the plane, and I have no idea how many people we lost in the confusion.

After we’d found some seats (someone else got the window seat before me this time, but I sat next to him), we found that there was no room in the overhead cabins for our bags. I ended up being instructed to put Jessie’s bag in a cabin at the back of the plane, next to the spare toilet rolls. After failing to find room for my own bag, the air hostess sighed and said I could just put it on the floor near my feet.

Flight #17: Cairns, Australia to Brisbane, Australia

Now usually, there are a few things that the cabin crew (stewards and stewardesses) check before we can take off. One of those things is that any loose items are securely placed under the seat in front of you. My suitcase was too big to fit under the seat, so my feet had to rest on it, but this didn’t bother them. Another thing that they check for is that all table trays are in the upright position, but the one in front of Jessie had fallen down and the latch had broken off so it couldn’t be held up. After two cabin crew guys fought over who could live up to their father and fix the tray with sheer might, they eventually moved on to manly DIY, grabbing a demo seatbelt from out back and strapping it around the chair to hold the tray up.

Flight #24: New York City, United States to London, United Kingdom

Jessie and I looked at each other, and we start thinking. Something is not quite right with this flight (there’s your movie poster slogan right there). Ahead of us, we saw the same cabin crew guy struggling to keep one of the overhead cabins closed, and it would just burst back open each time he slammed it shut. Utilising his manly DIY skills once again, he decided to hold it closed with a long length of those luggage stickers that you stick on your bags. Problem solved, apparently. I looked out at the wings to make sure they were stuck on securely, and that they hadn’t received the same treatment.

Something is not quite right with this flight

After a pointless safety walk of the aisles, with the cabin crew turning a blind eye to the things I’ve just mentioned, it was time for take-off, but the nightmare wouldn’t stop there. Around a minute after our wheels had left the tarmac, following a bunch of weird engine noises, we were on a steep incline when a girl behind me let out a blood-curdling scream. Okay, it was more of a shocked gasp, but it still gave a lot of people quite a fright. I turned around to see the girl seated behind me in the emergency exit row shaking in fear while she leaned over her boyfriend, away from the side of the plane and the window. Had she seen something on the wing? No, she hadn’t, but sitting there on her lap was the safety panel that covers the emergency door release handle, which was now exposed like a shiny red button that says “PRESS ME AND WE ALL DIE”. The safety panel had simply come loose and fallen straight into her lap. As we were ascending, the cabin crew weren’t able to leave their seats and help, so they just remained seated, and made little hand gestures our way to tell us to ignore it, and they’ll come look soon. When they did come to check it out, they simply told her boyfriend to ram the panel back into place and it should stay there. They also said when the panel comes off an alarm goes off in the cockpit, so the captain had quite a scare, too.

Flight #25: London, United Kingdom to Nuremberg, Germany

A while later, we were on a downward trajectory and Samuel L Jackson was there fighting off snakes. Wait, no, we were at cruising altitude, there were no snakes, and it was Samuel L Jackson’s career that was on a downward trajectory. Actually, he’s lucky he got picked up to play a decent role in the Marvel Avengers movies. Anyway, we were flying along and I was looking out the window past the guy seated next to me who was resting his chin on his hand, when I noticed a puff of smoke hit the window. I figured it must just be condensation or something, but then I saw it again, and I noticed he had something concealed in his closed fist up against his mouth. I tried to be discreet with my staring but I think he noticed me, and as he casually moved to put the object in his bag, I saw it was a cigarette. Most likely one of those electronic cigarettes, but still – smoking on a plane? I guess we weren’t the only ones getting stressed out by this flight.

After that, I read a magazine and played some games on Jessie’s iPod. The flight had a bit of turbulence but nothing extreme (we were on a flight from Brisbane to Auckland in a thunder storm in 2010, with lightning flashing by every ten seconds or so – that was a turbulent flight), but because of the earlier problems, I was still on edge every time we banked left or right to turn. Each time the plane would tip slowly, I would tell myself it was normal, but then I’d begin to wonder when it was going to stop turning. I’d look at the faces of the cabin crew for an indication of our fate, because I’d imagine that even the cabin crew would run around terrified if they realised the plane was going to crash. I remember that I couldn’t take my eyes off them in the thunderstorm flight I mentioned before because they kept looking at one another nervously, which really didn’t help my nerves. But on this problem-filled flight, they seemed fine. Still though, every time the plane began to tip, it would tip a lot more than I’d expect, and I would prepare myself for a sudden nose dive, and subsequent death. I really don’t want to die, but somehow dying in a plane with a bunch of other people stuck with the same fate makes it a little easier to bear. It’s as if instead of screaming and scrambling around looking for the safest spot on a plane that’s about to fall from 30,000 feet and rip to shreds in a fiery blaze, we’ll all just hold hands and sing while we happily accept our shared fate.

Flight #26: Berlin, Germany to Brussels, Belgium

Anyway, on this flight, I swear the plane was tipping more than it should, and it made me wonder if pilots are just getting too cocky in this age of commonplace air-travel. Back in the day, piloting an aircraft was a serious profession that required a lot of skill, but now I imagined some guy sitting in the cockpit, laughing with his co-pilot as he slowly tipped the plane with his eyes closed, maybe before playing chicken with another plane. How long would it be until he took his colleague up on that dare to do a loop-de-loop? Only time would tell.

Thankfully though, it wasn’t on this flight, and we were finally preparing to land. Everyone on board had shared this stressful experience, and you could feel it in the anxious silence as the announcement told us to remain seated with our safety belts on for landing. We clutched our arm rests and the hands’ of our loved ones, longing for the moment when our feet would walk upon solid ground again.

Just then, the silence was broken as the luggage sticker gave out and that very same overhead cabin burst open. If we landed like this, the luggage could fall out on top of someone, so one of the cabin crew sighed, unbuckled his belt and got up from his seat. He waddled awkwardly in the tipping plane towards the open compartment, like a drunken baby making his first steps during an earthquake.  Reaching the cabin, he simply slammed it shut and reapplied the sticker to hold it closed. Stumbling back to his seat, however, the compartment popped open again defiantly. Once more, he reapplied the sticker but it would no longer hold – he would need to think of a better way. Then it hit him (an idea – not the cabin). He shuffled back to a crew cupboard, and then returned to the rebellious overhead cabin. Slamming it shut once and for all, he then applied TWO new strips of luggage stickers. Pleased with his work, he returned to his seat as the plane aligned with the landing strip.

Flight #27: London, United Kingdom to Marrakech, Morocco.

With everyone holding their breath, the wheels touched down with a violent bump. When we realised we were on the ground and the air craft was slowing down, the passengers let out wild cheers of relief. The overhead cabin burst open with beautiful comic timing, and it was all over. We had survived the disastrous 29th flight.

And so as I mentioned earlier, this flight would be followed by the very uneventful 30th flight, and here I am writing about it – a survivor of 30 flights on 30 planes. Despite the close calls, however, there are more flights to come, and I only hope that one day I will get the chance to write about my 60th flight, or yes, even my centurion flight. We’ll just have to wait and see.

[FLASHBACK TO FINAL SCENE OF 29TH FLIGHT AT MARCO POLO AIRPORT, VENICE]

As the emergency doors swing open, the scent of the night air hits us like a cool wave of relief. As police cars and emergency vehicles swerve up on the sides of the plane with sirens blaring and lights flashing, Jessie and I jump on to the inflatable emergency slide together. Feeling the thud of our feet on the earth again, I cradle her as we walked away, and the friendly Police Chief approaches us with a smile of disbelief on his face.

“You were right, Dion,” he says, nodding his head in defeat.

I smile a weary smile, and as we continue walking past him, I call back, “I told you something wasn’t right with that flight.”

Hearing his laughter behind us as he rushed off to help the others, Jessie and I stop to take one last look at the flight that nearly killed us. I look Jessie in the eye.

“So we made it to Venice… How about that gondola ride?” I ask with a cheeky grin.

“How about tomorrow morning?” she replies, and we smile then, with the red and blue flashing lights bouncing off our faces and the emergency teams rushing around us, we embrace for a kiss.

[Camera pans upwards to show the entire chaotic night scene with the lights of Venice slowly revealed over the water in the background, and a happy Italian love song begins to play as the credits start rolling… with my name first, of course.]

 

BASED ON A TRUE STORY.

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