I have never been naturally inclined to take to the air. That’s not to say that the concept of flight hasn’t ever fascinated me. It has, and still does. I spent many an afternoon on the spectators gallery at Heathrow Airport as a child, wonder struck as Jumbos and Concordes took to the skies. I went to a fair few air shows and airplane museums, and loved them. In my late teens to I took to building a few model airplanes, one of which was a radio controlled petrol engined beast with a 6 foot wingspan. It flew. Once. It now lives in the garage, slowly decaying. I suspect it won’t fly again. And I also served, albeit briefly in the Royal Air Force in my early twenties.
I did all this without ever actually daring step foot on a plane. My dad had served with the Royal Air Force, also briefly – but less so than my effort, at the end of World War II. My grandfather spent most of his working life with British Airways at Heathrow. Air travel should have been in my blood. And I’m sure I was as interested in aircraft as they were. But I had an issue with flying. I wouldn’t say I had a fear of flying. Just an issue.
You see, airplanes are built of chunks of metals and other heavy materials. They weigh hundreds of thousands of kilos. And I know through many experiments, that when I throw a chunk of metal up in the air, it comes down with a thud. A painful looking thud. Yes, yes, I do understand the physics behind flight, and I did put that into practise when building my own planes. I understand that it works. I know why it works. But it simply doesn’t feel as though it should work. It’s hard to trust something that just doesn’t feel right. But logic is like that. Sometimes the obvious is wrong.
There was another reason I didn’t fly. Back in those days I had nowhere to fly to. Sure, I’d like to see some of the world. I guess. But I wasn’t that fussed. I lived in London, and already had plenty of things to do that I didn’t have time for – and none of these things required me to deal with my ‘issue’. But then an opportunity arose back in 2000. A friend was visiting another friend in Egypt. Would I like to go along? You betcha! That was the one place I had always really wanted to go.
Ever since learning about the Pharaohs as a six year old, I’d dreamed of waking up in the morning and seeing the River Nile before me. I’d dreamed of seeing the great pyramids, of touching them, and feeling their history. I dealt with my ‘issue’ got on the plane and lived the dream. I woke up six mornings in a row to see the Nile in front of me, and the pyramids poking above the horizon in the distance. I touched and climbed on the pyramids. And I got told off by the police. You aren’t allowed to climb on the pyramids.
My first flight was at the age of 27 – elderly indeed to be an aviation virgin. But I’ve been flying ever since. More sporadically these last few years. But I’d gotten the travel bug. Only South America is missing from my continental check list. Some would argue that Antarctica is missing too, but I’ve seen the weather forecast, and barring a very significant improvement, I fully intend to ignore Antarctica. I do like penguins, but I don’t imagine they taste so good that I’m missing out on anything extraordinary. In fact, I bet they taste just like chicken.
My next flight departs Stansted Airport next Saturday – direct to Budapest. It’s with an Irish based low cost, no frills airline. Their prices are unbeatable. Their service and reputation largely stink. I’ll hold my nose and grin and bear it while flying them, and won’t mention them by name – they’ll get no promotion from me, good, bad or otherwise. But their prices – too good to turn down. About £60 return, including taxes. Principles can be put on hold for a few hours. It’ll be a cramped, dehydrating and uncomfortable few hours. But I’ll just grin and bear it. You get what you pay for.
Mrs P and I do have a more important flight coming up in a few months though. It’s a rather longer flight, what with the Atlantic Ocean sitting between us and our destination. There’s no grinning and bearing that – comfort is paramount. We’d love to fly with American Airlines. They give a crucial couple of inches extra leg room. When you’re 6 foot 3 inches tall, then every bit of leg room counts. I’ve flown with them before, more than once, and always been impressed with the cleanliness of the craft, the efficiency of the check-in crew and the service on board the plane. And at least they are not Our Lady of the Skies, from Come Fly With Me. So I finish this post and leave you with the compulsory image – a shot of an airplane crossing London, picked from the sky by the enormous lens of my new Fuji.