February 11, 2009


Speaking about jet lag, our return journey from Bangkok on Quantas last month provided us with one of our worst experiences. A major factor was the departure delay which had us sitting in the aircraft at the gate for over an hour. Due for a 12.30 a.m. take-off which didn’t in fact happen until 01.45 a.m., the pilot took every opportunity to reassure us he was confident he would nonetheless make up time en route.

Even before boarding, our curiosity had been aroused by the extremely unusual sight of the flight crew`- captain and three officers - worriedly pouring over notebooks for over an hour at the boarding gate. At any moment we expected to hear the flight was cancelled. Eventually, however, the pilot gathered up all his possessions and trooped out in the direction of the plane followed in single file in order of seniority by the others. Mother hen followed by her chicks.

On board at last, it was then announced an "engineering problem" would need to be sorted. Whether this had anything to do with the crew’s earlier anxious conferring, we’ll never know. In any event, this took so long to "sort" that we missed our take-off slot and had to hang around while the "company" tried to negotiate another. Eventually, we did take off, arriving very tired and over an hour late at Heathrow and, due to the snow-bound M23, missing our Easyjet connection to Malaga at Gatwick by just 10 minutes!

In fact, I learned a long time ago never to trust the spurious reassurances you often get from air crews. The plane starts bumping around, the masks drop down and some smirking trolley dolly tells you "don’t worry, bit of turbulence" – and then you see her crossing herself as she straps herself in. The pilots are sometimes more honest. Years ago as a seven year old child, on a flight to Malta in an ancient Imperial Airways turbo prop in a mini tornado, the pilot calmly announced over the intercom: "Ladies and gentlemen, we will soon be landing at Luqa airport. Or quite near it."

Actually, "quite near" turned out to be a couple of hundred miles away in another continent - Tunis, North Africa. The nearest spot the pilot could put down the old crate with any degree of safety before running out of fuel - and shattered windows and even more shattered nerves.

Talk about flying by the seat of your pants! Such a terrifying experience at such a tender age is something, believe me, you never forget. And now every time I hear, in flight, the word "turbulence", my face turns pallid and my knuckles go chalk-white clenching the arm rests as my mind immediately defaults to that great aircraft in the sky where you’re forever in transit. Permanently surrounded in Dante's secret tenth ring of hell by those trolley dollies and their pesky perma-smile reassurances.

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