Scare in the air
One’s first air trip is hardly different from one’s wedding night (‘suhaag raat’ for the Bollywood bhakts). Nervousness often dwarfs excitement for the virginal first-timers, who end up doing strange things. On my debut flight, I got my seat belt entangled with my trousers belt. Vikramdeep Johal writespunjab Updated: Oct 20, 2013 15:50 IST
One’s first air trip is hardly different from one’s wedding night (‘suhaag raat’ for the Bollywood bhakts). Nervousness often dwarfs excitement for the virginal first-timers, who end up doing strange things. On my debut flight, I got my seat belt entangled with my trousers belt.
An airhostess, grinning from ear to ear, smartly separated the two. Her gesture was so disarming that I couldn’t say no when she offered me a tiny sandwich for 150 bucks. As the aircraft took off, I mistook the vomit bag for the oxygen mask, only to be corrected patronisingly by an experienced co-passenger. With such a shaky start, I predicted in Nostradamus style that this would be my full and final journey.
Well, I somehow survived that ordeal, and the subsequent ones as well. Having willy-nilly travelled by air for the past several years, I finally know how to puke and breathe on a plane. But what has remained as paralysing as ever is my fear of flights, heights and tights (I mean tight spaces).
I belong to the antiaviation club, which believes that flying is unnatural to humans, unless you want to jump off a building over a failed romance or a bad appraisal. If the know-it-all God had wanted us to fly, He would have given us wings. It was wrong on the part of the Wright brothers to defy Nature as well as gravity. The wheel of progress should have stopped at the motor car rather than taking the aerial route to disturb the birds and tempt the hijackers.
One man who certainly won’t find a place in our club is 77-year-old British passenger John Wildey. This grandfather, who had never flown an aircraft in his life, took control of a four-seater Cessna 172 after his pilot friend collapsed. Guided by an instructor on the ground, Wildey flew solo for an hour before making an ‘almost perfect’ landing in semi-darkness. And when he completed his improbable aviation adventure, the wild old man humbly said that he did nothing more than “hold on to the joystick.”
Had an Indian grandpa been trapped in a similar situation, he would have stayed put in his passenger seat, busy counting his beads and leaving it to God to manoeuvre the pilotless plane. In fact, that’s what most of us do, even when the captain is up and about. Thanks to 9/11 and numerous Hollywood thrillers, air travel conjures up such hair-raising images of death and destruction that our only options are to pray for a peaceful journey or an exciting afterlife.
I know that road mishaps kill many more people compared to air crashes, but still I feel at home in a bus rather than an aircraft. It’s so comforting to have no evacuation instructions, no smart-alec crew members, no weather bulletins and no angry birds. The only turbulence here is from the rattling windows and the bumpy roads. You don’t need a vomit bag – just open the window (and your mouth) and throw it all up on the nearest SUV. Even a reckless roadways driver who has failed the breath test inspires confidence in me, as long as he sticks to the road and doesn’t drive the bus like an airbus.