The drama of flying

2019-02-25 12:47
Photo. (Getty images/Gallo images)

Photo. (Getty images/Gallo images)

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I’m not scared of flying.

It’s just that I’m not fond of it, and if I can avoid it, I do. Many’s the time I’ve turned down a flight in favour of driving. Yes, yes, I know they say it’s far safer to fly than drive. But between us, I don’t believe them. I’m naturally sceptical. And I’m an excellent driver.

For most business trips to Joburg I’ve countered that I can save the company lots of moola by driving up myself. Also, there’s the hassle of renting a car or getting an airport transfer, and it only saves about an hour in terms of travelling time all told. Oh, I can think of a million reasons I’d rather drive.

I’d far rather tackle the N3 from Pietermaritzburg to Joburg any day. I like that “me time” with my favourite tunes on a CD, cruising through the Free State watching its beautiful clouds. A road trip? Count me in anytime.

But sometimes, you just can’t escape the dreaded F word and fly you must.

I recall a trip to Port Elizabeth to do a course at Rhodes University some years ago with a colleague. The wind was howling in PE (obviously) and the landing was very rough. My brave colleague was very sweet when he realised how anxious I was. He interrupted his prayers for himself and said a prayer for me too. Granted it was shorter than his, but it was the thought that counted.

Once I flew to Cape Town on my own for a course and the cabin attendant realised I was not such a happy camper. In a jiffy, he hauled me to the back of the plane where the cabin attendants sit, charmed me with hilarious stories by hamming it up for me until I laughed, and insisted on giving me the special food reserved for first-class passengers. I wrote to SAA afterwards to tell them how comforting and marvellous he was.

What I also find objectionable about flying is the whole build-up thing. It’s all far too dramatic. There’s the “You must wait” principle and the “Drama with a capital D principle”. Get there early. Wait. Check in. Wait. Go through security. Wait. Board the plane. Wait. Taxi to the end of the runway. Wait. And then it comes, the lights in the cabin go off, the Drama begins. That ominous inevitable ping noise. Drama. (What the hell is that ping by the way?

It seems to be an alarm of sorts that everyone ignores. The cabin crew smile and carry on as normal. The captain never comments on it. They all avoid the subject. I want to jump up and down and tell everyone to check everything. They all seem far too casual.)

And once the doors are closed, your fate is sealed. One way or another — Drama.

Then there’s take-off. You know, the Drama of the plane barrelling down the runway at 100 miles an hour, rattling and shaking like it’s about to come apart at the seams. And the jet engines screaming Dramatically with their frightening fever-pitch assaulting your ears.

Oh, but I have a strategy to give them the finger on that aspect of the Drama they’re trying to create. I take no notice of it. I act all nonchalant. I try to look quite bored as I read my book, clutching it until my knuckles are white. I often read the same passage 10 times, just to make sure I fully get the gist of it.

On international flights I put the headphones on and watch music videos and sing softly to myself. I don’t care about the looks I get. Sometimes I sing on local flights too. It’s very calming. For me.

So then, once you’re in the air, you Wait again. For the dreaded Drama of turbulence. Or for the drinks trolley to come around. Then you Wait for them to collect your cups and the detritus of the in-flight snack. I usually try to sneak a wine in, purely medicinal, of course. I make sure to get a seat by the window over a wing so I can check it constantly for the pilot. I’m sure she or he would appreciate my vigilance in this, if only I could tell them I was doing it.

The descent is my one favourite part of the flight. Either way, landing in JHB or PMB, it’s gratifying watching the houses get bigger as the plane approaches, and that comforting thud as the landing gear comes out is exhilarating now I know what that jarring noise is.

My favourite landing ever was in London, watching the bends of the Thames exactly like they’re shown on EastEnders. What a thrill!

The joy when that plane makes contact with tarmac is the best feeling in the world. I’m down, I’ve survived.

Now all I have to do is Wait. For disembarking. Then Wait for the luggage. Seriously, I’d be at Heidelberg by now if I was driving …

Read more on:    pietermaritzburg  |  opinion and analysis
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