The pandemic removed and justified my fear of air travel by the simple expedient of making it well-nigh impossible to fly anywhere safely. Now all that remains is my fear of landing.
The first flight I ever took was a joyride around Blackpool Tower in England when I was a schoolboy. The plane had propellers and the experience left me feeling somewhat queasy, or perhaps it was the stick of rock I had consumed before take-off. However did they get the word ‘Blackpool’ printed throughout a sweetmeat?
In later life, my expatriate existence often saw me perched precariously on an airborne bucket seat bound for destinations I never really wanted to visit. Dropping into rainy Dacca to refuel, the pilot warned of potholes on the tarmac, thereby adding fear of landing to my fear of flying. Eerily, that was one destination where no one got off or boarded. A teeth-rattling pit stop.
In old Hong Kong, planes came down in the middle of the city, so close to high-rise buildings that they helped to dry the washing hanging out on pulleys. In those days Kai Tak Airport was described officially as “technically demanding” for pilots. It featured an exciting runway that ran out at the water’s edge and it was interesting, as certain death approached, waiting to see if the pilot remembered which pedal was the footbrake. When Alan Whicker confessed he always shut his eyes when landing in Hong Kong, the pilot said, “So do I.”
All of us are accustomed to delayed flights, of course, for which a blameless member of the ground staff always has to apologise: “The pilot was worried by a noise in the engine and it took us a while to find a new pilot.”
My last sortie abroad involved an interview in London and I flew from Dundee in Scotland to London City Airport, a bit reminiscent of coming in to land in the centre of Hong Kong, which was where I was headed if I got the job.
The propellers at Dundee made me think of that first jaunt in Blackpool and I felt I had come full circle. Nowadays I am strictly an armchair traveller, flying by the seat of my pants. My head may still be in the clouds but both my feet are firmly on the ground, which is where I plan to stay, my days as a hedge-hopping Scotsman now long gone.
Meanwhile, I wish you blue skies and soft landings. I’d steer clear of Dacca, though, if I were you, unless you can find a bus to take you. And as for the words in a stick of rock, don’t even go there.