I have been noticing a curious thing in these past months whenever I am flying to some city or the other- no matter how experienced flyers we are, no matter how frequent jet-setters we are, no matter how composed we all seem to be while booking the ‘window-seat’, essentially, we all suffer from fear of flying!
We are all seated in the snug comfort of the thought that a two and a half hour snooze will get us where we all are going. Sprinkle in a little ‘Sky Gourmet’, stewardesses acting as waitresses at the press of a button, in-flight entertainment and so on. As soon as the plane starts taxying towards the runway and the front wheels turn making loud dragging noises, the phobia sets in. The bird then gathers speed. Passengers are pinned to their seatbacks. Sweat breaks out. We think will this bird manage to fly? We look around at each other. The man across the aisle sitting perfectly still. No sign of fear, eyes riveted to Forbes but his feet give away his mental state. They are tapping impatiently. The ordeal needs to be over. We need to reach cruise altitude. Stat!
Once airborne, the plane tilts. And so does our hearts! The woman in the middle seat closes her eyes hoping the nightmare is over soon. A baby starts crying somewhere and the man seated behind looks out the window in alarm. No sign of danger, blue sky closing in, ground receding fast, wings straighten, seat belt signs ‘off’, relax! And then, as usual, starts the catwalk down the aisle- a mad scurry for the washroom. But thats another story altogether!
We politely excuse ourselves to the woman in the middle seat and wriggle past the burly man in the aisle seat blocking the entrance to queue for the washroom. The stewardess greets us but her smile is measured. The cute girl in front is hooked to her iPod but her eyes keep darting here and there. And suddenly a loud shriek breaks the din and our hearts stop! It is the baby again! An old woman counting her rosary thinks, bad omen!
Suddenly the plane bumps. The sun through the windows is replaced by dark gray pillars of cumulo-nimbus. A series of sideways shakes and there is already a tsunami in the styrofoam coffee cup! Relaxed passengers start getting edgy, newspapers are put down, windows are gazed at, f-words are uttered. And then the real deal- the dreaded t-word- turbulence!
We think of every airplane crises we can recall- 9/11, Tenerife, Japan Airlines Flight 123, plane crash movies, even Lost! The seat belt sign comes on as stewardesses hurriedly return to their stations. We pity the guy taking a piss in the loo- bad way to crash-die! Seat backs are suddenly uprighted, coffee spilled, nervous smiles and prayers said. We imagine contact with the air traffic control being lost. Holy shit! We don’t show up on their radar screens! Terrorist activity/alien abduction/mid air explosion, nothing can be ruled out!
“Hi, this is your captain speaking. We are currently experiencing very rough weather. Pls return to your seats…”…and hold on tight…I am trying my best to maneuver this junk but in case I screw…!! A good fifteen minutes of bumping- we feel like we are in a cheap car on a potholed road- which are in plenty in Mumbai! Only there is no ground beneath us. If we fall it would be a deep dive into the Arabian Sea!
Then all is calm- deathly silence- but hey, we are still alive! Alive and flying! Sky blue replaces dark gray and the smiles return. Like nothing ever happened. Ties are straightened, skirts are hand-ironed, seat belt sign goes off and sanity returns. Baby on board is smiling like the Buddha. More coffee is served and in a while- “Ladies and gentlemen, we will approach XYZ in about 20 minutes’ time, crew prepare for landing…” Sighs of relief are heaved!