“The Captain has abandoned his approached to Birmingham airport…. there is no need to be alarmed“. Academic debate might usefully plot that sentence on a line between ‘not terribly congruent‘ and ‘Non Sequitor‘. Time was pressing though so I went with ‘I’ll be the judge of that and my ‘x’ intersects somewhere close to hysterical panic‘
Travelling to Scotland always presents a dilemma. Slow and easy on the train or fast and irritated on the plane. Virgin do a half decent service up the west coast but it’s not unusual to arrive home with appreciable stubble*, so I switch depending on mood, travelling companions and the vagaries of someone elses booking system.
Flying generally though has become a problem. Being a data-geeky kind of guy, professionally I understand the odds on falling out of the sky to a fiery death are both extremely low, and reset on each flight boarded. Personally I’ve been handed control of real aeroplanes and chucked numerous model ones from windy cliffs. Subconsciously though, I can’t quite understand how the buggers stay in the air**
It never used to be this way. Aeroplanes shuttled me to all sorts of interesting places with a glass of fine Gin in one hand and a throwaway novel in the other. Sunrises and sunsets from 30,000 feet can be rather splendid especially if the viewer is a little pissed. Landing 5000 miles from where you started with only a mild hangover and a vague sense that breakfast is now dinner felt like a fine tradeoff.
Not now. The tipping point can be isolated to a single flight during the first Gulf War where, the US company paying my wages, laid down a travel decree insisting only neutral carriers could be booked. Reasoning was the worry of missile strike on belligerent flag carriers, regardless of the military advice thatthe ‘enemy‘ couldn’t hit the country next door without fifteen attempts while defining sand as a ‘hard target’.
Which is how I found myself flying over the French Alps, in a prop-equipped puddle jumper, through an electrical storm with the soothing tones of the Captain explaining the explosive noises we could hear was merely ice cracking off the wings. We rough and tumbled over those forbodding jagged peaks for far too long before eventually landing heavily at Lugano – in a direct homage to the strafing runs dominating the 24 hour news.
My colleague refused to get back on the plane the following day. He took a train back to the UK and form then on could be found taking a keen interest in international railway timetables. I just hit the bar and shoved destiny into the driving seat. Didn’t bother me much then, bothers me much more now.
There was a minute between the wheels slamming back into their housings, a full power climb to a safe altitude, an entirely British response to the crisis – grip book a little harder, press candy crush keys a little harder, strive for the wikipedia citation of stoic*** – and the pilot explaining in calm terms what had happened.
Time is strange. The way we divide it cannot be simply be categorised by a fixed notation of hours, minutes and seconds. 60 of those should not be enough for me to record every noise our little twin prop was making, the flashing of a red light in the ceiling and a brief but thorough review of what the hell was going on.
Three possible options; Birmingham had been abandoned due to terror threat, the plane ahead of us suffering catastrophic failure so splattering itself and its passengers on the runway, or something equally broken on ours.
That minute spanned a duration in no way sliced by normal time. Finally the throttles eased off with a laconic telling of a bird strike triggering some emergency protocol for the poor buggers a minute ahead of us. All of which made be feel both mighty relieved and a bit of a coward.
My emerging view of terra firma is the more firma, the less terror. Which had me wondering why, as I hurtled down the motorway, this felt so much safer than being 300 feet above. The statistics suggest I’m kidding myself. There’s something about being in control, which when strapped into a thin seat sticking the ‘V’s to gravity isn’t something I feel for a single second.
Whatever. Next time, I’mtaking the train. And packing a razor.
*or – after being abandoned to stare in awe at the majesty of Sandwell and Dudley – a full on bushy beard. That was a long day.
**amusingly or not, there doesn’t appear to be a weight of scientific opinion backing a peer reviewed option either. Something to do with pressure, the Venturi effect, lift profiles, witchcraft and sorcery.
*** although when catching the eye of the bloke opposite, he raised a single laconic eyebrow. Clearly he’s lost it I thought.