Most frequent fliers will tell you that they can recite crew and cockpit announcements by heart: “Welcome to Airy Airways. My name is (muffle muffle) and I am your purser for flight 999 to Istanbul. Your crew today consists of Cindy and Mindy in First Class, Davis and Mavis in Business Class, and should you have the misfortune to be a sardine today, you will be cared for by Travis, Bevan, Morgan and Mercedes. Even if you fly regularly, please pay attention to the emergency procedure demonstration that follows,” Of course, hardly any one does, except for the Nervous Flier who reads and re-reads the laminated emergency brochure all the way to the destination, by which time its corners and fingernails various are in tell-tale shreds. Then we hear various stock phrases along the lines of: “Do not inflate your life jacket until you have left the plane,” “Please turn off all electronic devices for take-off and landing,” “The flight time today will be 8 hours and 23 minutes,” if we’re lucky and, following a rumble of turbulence just as the refreshment trolley comes around, “We are now cruising at an altitude of 33,000 feet”.
Recently, Monsieur and I flew to Lisbon. Let me just say that our pilot was a little different to the ordinary. Firstly, he came out of the cockpit, took the speakerphone and addressed his passengers, face to face. To say he was whacky is somewhat of an understatement. After introducing himself and the crew, he told us “I’m driving this thing tonight. We’re off to Malaga.” This was a risky joke to make. I understood that he was being funny, but others around us didn’t, “What did he say? Are we on the wrong flight? He’s joking, right?” Captain Whacky then apologised for the way an excess of hand luggage had been stowed, causing a brief delay. “If you’d like to complain, send your e-mails to Easyjet. They need a few.” he suggested. Okay, so not only was the Captain whacky, he was also unusually keen to solicit e-mail traffic for his employers. “Buy food! Buy duty free!” he then implored, “We need the money!” And, sure enough, as soon as we were bound for Lisbon or Malaga or wherever else Captain Whacky was ‘driving’ us that night, the crew certainly did a repeated hard sell on both as they trotted dutifully up and down the aisles, one (male) cabin attendant being overheard to say “I feel like such a tart.” whilst peddling his trolley of wares. Apparently, things are tough for airlines right now, as they are for most sectors of industry. Having said that, I’ll never forget Captain Whacky. He certainly spiced up the flight.
Not long after Captain Whacky ‘drove’ us to Lisbon, Monsieur and I spent a pre-Christmas weekend in New York. The flight home was just as remarkable as Captain Whacky’s for far less amusing reasons. Firstly, take-off was delayed because US Immigration had decided to check the passports of all passengers on incoming flights as they disembarked, as well as in the customs hall, thus severely delaying the cleaning of the plane that would take us to London. While we were waiting, a fellow passenger approached the counter. “I’ve been vomiting,” she told the airline staff, “and I don’t know if I can travel.” They asked her various questions about symptoms and so forth, then sought out an airport doctor to come and verify whether or not Vomiting Passenger should travel. In spite of my concerns that she might infect 400 plus people with the dreaded Swine ‘Flu, Vomiting Passenger was indeed deemed fit, at least for long enough that everyone could board and the cargo could be loaded and all doors closed. But the plane sat still at the gate for longer than usual. Then the captain spoke. “Ladies and gentlemen, I apologise for the delay. We have a sick passenger on board who is not deemed fit to travel so she’s being taken off the flight. That means we have to find her bag and remove it before we can leave tonight. Once again, please accept our apologies for the delay.” Searching for the suitcase in the haystack took a while, as you can imagine. Luckily (?) for me I was sitting directly above the cargo door so could watch with ever-decreasing patience as first one, then multiple baggage containers were removed in the quest for Vomiting Passenger’s suitcase.
Eventually, said luggage was located so we could finally push off, taxi onto the runway, hurtle down it and take off. Then the plane banked and banked some more. It felt as if we were going to fall out of the sky, but in fact we were fine. I never really doubted that we were fine. It’s just that, like so many people, when it comes to flying I’m a bit more nervous than I was ten years ago.
Monsieur was sitting in another part of the plane so my seat-mates were a kind English couple who smiled at me every time the plane banked and my knuckles lost colour. We made chit chat, plugged into our respective movie channels, artfully pecked at the in-flight meal and rugged up for a snooze on the red eye.
Sometime later I was dreaming, a rare feat on any flight, when suddenly I was woken by shrill screaming from the front of our cabin. The screaming was panicked, piercing and did not stop. Chillingly, my initial thought was “Oh well. We travel so much, it’s bound to happen sooner or later,” as I wondered whether this was a terrorist situation or the case of an unstable passenger stabbing a flight attendant because the galley had run out of Jack Daniel’s. When I think back to that waking moment, it was one of extreme resignation that Fate had taken over and there was nothing to be done but sit still and wait to see what happened. Losing it didn’t even cross my mind.
In those nervous moments already frayed nerves were exacerbated by the actions of the flight attendants. They swiftly turned on all the cabin lights, which had been dimmed for the overnight flight, waking only those whose Beta blockers had left them impervious to the noisy panic, and one spoke code over the speakerphone: “Cabin Crew, Delta Foxtrot in row thirty five,”. There’s nothing like Cabin Crew Code to increase anxiety amongst passengers. “Delta Foxtrot? What do they mean, ‘Delta Foxtrot?” “Is it a bomber?” “Is someone dead?” After what seemed like an age, having seen resuscitation kits and portable defibrillator panels and latex gloves and all manner of first aid paraphernalia sent into action, we learned that a passenger had passed out cold in the aisle. The screaming woman had thought this person was dead, hence her banshee bursts of howling, and although we never found out whether or not the sick person survived the flight, things did calm down considerably and we were all able to relax (ish) in the knowledge that we were not being taken hostage.
Given the Banshee Incident coupled with the Christmas Day event of a Nigerian attempting to blow up a plane bound for Detroit, I’m relieved not to be flying anywhere for a while. My feet are quite happy to be at zero thousand feet, thank you very much. Having said that, even train travel hasn’t been straightforward of late, what with extreme weather conditions and the recent Eurostar debacle where trains broke down mid-Chunnel. It seems we just can’t win. Suddenly the concept of the Staycation is an attractive one, indeed.
If you’ve had any in-flight moments of madness, good or otherwise, please leave a comment below and let’s share. We can call it Post-Flight Therapy.