Aug 08: Up In The Air

In last three days, I have spent time in three cities, taken 4 flights and managed very little sleep. I am infact writing this from the comfort of my economy (read coach class) seat. My legs are cramped, the air is bit too cold and experience, less than pleasant.

Am calling it, Up in the air.

From luxury of my seat, I can hear the chitchat of the air hostesses, the jokes they are sharing about which hostess is sleeping with which pilot and which passenger is a lech etc. Its been about 24 minutes since we took off, the in-flight food and beverage service about to be started. And since this is the holiday season, the flight is almost full. Thats 184 passengers on board.

As I child I have always wanted to fly. Have wings, take control of myself and see places that I have read about. I wanted to be free and wanted to do things my way. I saw flying as the ultimate freedom. What else can be better than spreading your arms and taking off, at your will? But then, this was a long time ago. Today, I dread every time I have to fly. And considering what I do for a living, I have to fly very very often. Call it the occupational hazard.

Come to think of it, flying is not that bad. Atleast the cruising bit. It gets scary during the take off, landing and turbulence. Let me talk about turbulence first. Everytime the plane hits the turbulent weather, it shakes as bad as my juicer does when I am making yogurt with diced fruits and curd. I actually, at times, when I am home, take my juicer out, throw in some diced fruits and switch the juicer on. And I can actually see myself in that juicer, the plane shaking like the juicer, and I being tossed around. Helps me calm down for some strange reason.

There are times when turbulence is that bad that air hostesses actually spill coffee, tea, water or whatever they are carrying. They spilled water on me once and for a nano second I thought I was drowning. Drowning up in the air. Now, it sounds funny but that time, it was potent enough to give me a heart attack. So when turbulence is really bad, they have to be sent back to their resting stations. And this is when the low gasps and scared moans start. And once someone screams, it becomes a roller coaster ride with everyone screaming and trying to outdo each other with their shrillness. It becomes really scary. Obviously, there are announcements that tell everyone, including myself, that its just turbulent weather and it will pass away soon. But do I really believe in these announcements? Do they really calm down people? They dont help me. I am not sure if they help passengers.

You know, funny bit is that, if I compare scales, an aircraft weathering turbulence is similar to a car going through a country road. The car jerks as much as the aircraft does. You are in the car, in your seat, with a safety belt, holding onto your seat. And, to make matters worse, statistically, air travel is the safest mode of travel. The probably of your aircarft crashing is about 10,832 times less than your car being hit by another. And yet, everytime we hit turbulence, my heart skips a beat. My palms get so wet that I cant even hold anything. And all this despite the fact that the air temperature inside the pressurized cabins is maintained at 24 degrees C for comfort of passengers.

There are times when I am flying into cloudy cities. Clouds are different monsters all together. Though I love rains. I love the sight of dark clouds filled with all the serum from God. The thought of a nice rain elevates my spirit to no end. But not when am flying. A plane passing through the clouds is no less than those torture machines that they used on informers and prostitutes in the medieval ages.

Since there are clouds outside, you cant see anything. All you see is the whiteness. Yes, the darkest of clouds, when you are up there, are white. I dont know why. I ought to know but I dont really care. Second, the blinkers on the wings and body of the aircraft, they illuminate the whole goddamn cloud and it feels like you are passing through white. The kind of white they typically talk about when they talk about a white passage that the dead must go through. Everytime I hit clouds, I pray to God for my life. Every single time.

Take off is ok. At least, you know that you are closer to ground. Though once you are in air, it doesnt really make a difference if you are close to ground or up at 33000 feet. If something wrong has to happen, it will happen and there is not an iota of thing that anyone, me, you, the ATC, the ground crew could do about it. Landing is a bigger challenge if you ask me. Since you are diving nose first, towards the ground, at about 500 kmph, at times, you wonder if you were to keep going, how big a crater would the impact make? As large as the craft? Or as small as the nose? Anyways, so this is the part of flying that I am at ease with. Anyways, I read somewhere that pilots are mandated to log 4 times more hours on landing practice compared to take off practice, on the simulators. And in fact, as I write this, I think, the time to put that practice into action has come. I am almost home and hopefully would put my feet on solid ground within another 13 minutes or so.

"Thank you for flying with us. Hope you had a wonderful flight ladies and gentlemen. Have a good day and a pleasant day". And with announcement, I replaced my headset and turned off the mic that I, and all other pilots use to address the cockpit, crew and passengers. I then wiped away all that sweat from my face, my neck and my bald head and fished for the logbook that we pilots have to fill in, after every successful flight.

This is day 08 in a series of 31 daily blogposts. Other posts are here.

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