On my recent trip to Northern Europe, I was shopping on all six flights. I like shopping in the skies as the “merchandise” on each flight is unique. And it’s completely free, I just put it in my basket and enjoy.
The mall in the sky offers a beautiful variety of landscapes. Most landscapes I shop for include some water views. Or cloud formations.
Preferably both water and cloud formations. But no birds. Please don’t get me wrong: I love birds, but prefer to enjoy them when they are the only ones flying.
When the evening comes in the skies, the sun is sending god flight wishes in splendid colors. Mine to enjoy for free, and yours too.
After the sunset there might or might not be something more to shop. One of my flights met the dim light of dusk over the Big City. I just had to shop for this look. So deceptively peaceful.
In another country, the following day, there was fog and low-lying clouds. Only a token brave tower reached its head above the clouds. It looked pretty funny, I think. Like saying “hello there stranger”. Had to put it in my basket.
Then, after flying a short night when going East, one suddenly meets the first light of the new day. Far too soon – the body says it’s only just an hour or so after midnight. But of course that doesn’t count.
At first there are just faint colors signaling that the sun is waking up. Then, in only a few minutes, it raises its head above the sleepy horizon, coloring the clouds, the sea and the tiny islands. Very pretty.
And then the shopping trip in the skies was over. I had arrived with my basket full of free gods, courtesy of Mother Nature.
I love eventless flying. Just simply transferring from point A to point B. And at times further to point C and D and E. The more I have to fly, the more I want it to be…well, just plain travel, with no trials or tribulations to spice up the journey. You know, when everyone is there on time, including the flight crew, and the plane actually leaves the gate at about the promised time. When the taxi way is not crowded with 15 planes to take off before ours, and no last-minute thunderstorm makes us return to the gate, wait 3 hours and then get cancelled. Go nowhere. I mean, I love it when it all works. Plain and simple. And most often, luckily, that’s just what it is. But those of us, who need to travel places or have to commute to work by plane (that’s a different story), know that sooner or later we’re going to experience some bumps on the road, not necessarily on the way to the airport. Like many of us, I have my list of memorable flights from the most amazing to the scariest. This story is about a few of them. I’ll start from the scariest end of the spectrum to put some perspective on the fact that over 99% of my flights have been there in the middle somewhere, eventless and effective in taking me from here to there, and that we’re talking about the less than 1%. My scariest flight was on a calm Friday night when I was going from Washington D.C. to Europe on vacation on a major European airline. We left Dulles almost on time. I sat in coach towards the back of the plane, happy to finally be on my way. We were ascending, already close to our cruising altitude, when suddenly a loud explosion shook the plane. Since I sat in the back of the 747, I immediately saw what was happening. One of the four engines was on fire. It was already dark and the fire lit up the air and the whole left side of the plane. People closest to the window started screaming and crying. Close to panic. I saw the flames and could hear them too, but somehow I just remained completely calm. Don’t ask me why or how, but in my gut I just knew nothing terrible was going to happen. Not my time. I started calming the young couple next to me. Said everything would be fine. After a little while, the fire was extinguished. And shortly after that the captain announced that we now had three engines. And while we technically could fly on those three, he didn’t think it was a good idea. I’m sure most of us agreed, I did. So we would go to JFK after dumping enough fuel to be able to land safely. We circled for quite a while and then went down for an emergency landing.
The welcome committee was definitely there. We could see two rows of emergency vehicles lined up next to the runway, lights flashing. No other traffic coming or going. We were the only ones around in the air. And of course it all went pretty well, considering the other options. Four hours later about half of us boarded another plane, lots of space now, and had a completely eventless flight to London. Little shaken and probably listening to the engine sounds little more attentively, most of us didn’t get much sleep. The connecting flight to my final destination was peacefully eventless and I slept the whole two hours. My bumpiest flight was on a beautiful, breezy summer day from Joburg, South Africa to Lesotho’s capital Maseru on one of the two planes of that small country’s airline. I’m told this flight is almost never completely smooth due to the mountainous geography and wind conditions, but my flight was rough. From start to end. It was like being in a shaker, up and down, from side to side, constantly without a break. Many of us got to get familiar with the little white bag in the seat pocket. And had it continued for another 15 minutes, I would’ve too. I was pale and unsteady on my feet for hours after the jumpy landing. And very happy to be on solid ground.
My most spectacular flight was from Harare to Nairobi on a reputable African airline. It was a brilliant sunny day and the ride was smooth. After about half an hour into the flight the first officer announced that the flight would be about twenty minutes longer. We had to go around a large storm front. Look to your right and you will see it, he said. And we did! I sat at the right window and saw the spectacular sight. The cloud was formed like a cylinder. I could see its shape from the side, its “bottom” and its ”top” as we slowly circled its left side. The most spectacular light show I had ever seen was in progress inside the cylinder. Thousands of lightning strikes in many colors were going in all directions simultaneously, blinking and coloring the different parts of the cloud – bright, white, purple, yellow, red, pink and blue. All of us on the right side of the plane were transfixed on the display, with our heads pressed against the window. That was a stunning spectacle high in the sky!
My most surprising flight was in Europe on a small charter airline, which is no longer in operation. It was the week before Christmas and I was in a hurry to get home after a long business trip to four countries. I was driven to the airport in Skopje, Macedonia by a nice driver from our office. He asked where he would drop me off, what airline I was taking. I told him. He was quiet for a moment and I thought he was doing the cross sign before speaking. No one flies on that airline. Are you sure? I looked at my ticket and said I was, and asked him why was that. He pretended not to hear my question and quietly dropped me off wishing me a safe trip. Walking into the plane I started to feel I would soon find out. I was entering a very old Tupolev, probably retired from Aeroflot several years earlier. All signs were in Russian and I could observe the old age of the plane everywhere. The ceiling and the inside panels were repaired God knows how many times, and the vinyl covered seats were torn and really worn out. I could see some of the screws and nails sticking out. Were they loose? The cockpit door was open but no sight of the pilots. Unmanned aircraft? Oh, there was one male steward in the plane. I didn’t run away…simply because the only way to get home was to catch my flight from Zürich that same afternoon. I sat down and quietly studied the Russian signs.
Around the departure time the pilot appeared. A pilot, not in plural. He was a short older man with long white hair reaching to his shoulders. He wore jeans and a bomber jacket. He swiftly sat down in the captain’s seat and revved up the engines. The cockpit was dimly lit, lights blinking. I could see it all from my second row aisle seat, all the way to Zürich. At take off, I scrutinized the insides. Everything was vibrating, shaking and making noise. But up we came. The guy in the bomber jacket knew what he was doing, had done it many years, that was obvious. The trip progressed absolutely fine and the steward served coffee. Finally we started descending. I looked out and saw huge snow flakes flying hard against the side window, full snow storm. Now what? I had hardly finished that thought when the plane dove steeply…seemed like for several minutes. I held onto my chair. And then the old Tupolev planed again… and we had landed! Soft and smooth. Walking out at Zürich airport I looked at the monitors and saw that all other traffic had been rerouted elsewhere due to the severe snow storm. I had been on the only flight that had landed! And the only one to land in the next hour or so. The old fighter pilot had done the trick and I’m sure it was not his first time. I caught my flight home, many others didn’t. There are many other memorable flights, such as my air safaris or my trips on the super jumbo, A380, but I have to end my story by telling you about my most luxurious flight. Just because there are pleasant surprises as well. This was a fairly recent flight from Switzerland to the States on a well-known European airline. I was coming home after three days of 24/7 work in Europe and was happily surprised to have been upgraded to First. I could use some rest. When I entered the first class lounge, the Associate asked me to give her my boarding pass and my immigration documents. Now go sit down and enjoy the food, we’ll get you when it’s time to board, she said. Ok, I did as told and enjoyed the modern, stylish environment and sampled the lighter fare among the great food offerings.
I got a bit concerned when I noticed that the time was 20 minutes before departure, knowing that the formalities on US-bound flights were extensive. Had they forgotten me? So I went to ask. She smiled, not yet time, go back and relax. More strong coffee and then, about 10 minutes before the departure time, she came for me. With her was a younger woman dressed in a yellow airport outfit with V. I. P. printed in black letters across the back of her coat. She took my carry-on, follow me, she said. And we walked a short while, not towards the boarding area, but to an elevator that took us directly down to the tarmac! A black Mercedes was waiting outside the elevator doors. My carry-on was lifted into the trunk, I got my documents and the door was opened for me. The car took off and…stopped at the plane. I was taken through small stairs directly to the jetway next to the airplane door and further to my seat, or rather to my suite. Bon voyage! And so it was! I watched films from my private library on the 24″ TV and enjoyed the exquisite food…and drink, I must admit. When I got tired, a comfortable bed was made for me and my privacy screen was deployed. Sweat dreams…. On one out of 100 flights, it’s good to be pampered, to feel like they appreciate your business. I hope you agree.
So we continue to take the shortest route to our destinations despite the occasional trials and tribulations… like an old Finnish saying goes “By flying you would be there already”. Safe travels, sit back and enjoy the ride!
This morning I discovered that my travel toe has started to itch again, less than a month after I returned from my previous trip. It’s clearly misbehaving. I’m supposed to work from my home office for seven more weeks. Nothing wrong with that – normally I feel privileged and happy to be able to do that. I enjoy my wide water views and love the walks in the nature reserve with my little poodle or on the beach with my hubby. Not to talk about the almost always nice weather here at home…
It all started this morning when I received an invitation to a leadership summit in London. Great program – and an opportunity to visit London. It’s far too long since I’ve been in London, probably around seven years or so. Only good memories from there. The many plays we’ve seen there, the concerts, the dinners at the Post Office Tower, the Wax Cabinet, the many other sights … But this one was too expensive. My CFO told me that loud and clear as soon as I started to look at the tickets. Not good enough ROI. Oh well, it was useless to argue against oneself so maybe I just had to forget this one. But the itch had started.
Then I thought about the project in Bhutan I was offered just before Xmas. I’ve never been there (photo credit JM Hullot). It would probably have been a very different experience, an adventure into an exciting new world. But I didn’t want to get too busy so I said no…I have to admit that there was a bit of regret this morning. It was too late to do anything about it now, but the itch was still there.
I knew that the usual cortisone ointment would not heal this type of itch so I started to look for other remedies. Not in my medicine cabinet, but in my photo galleries. And I found plenty. Reminders of how much better I have it here at home.
First, I don’t need to run in long corridors at some huge international airport dragging my carry-on from one terminal to another, going through multiple security check points, getting out of breath and all sweaty trying to catch my next flight leaving in 15 minutes.
Instead of having the planned two-three hours of transfer time admitting relaxation in the lounge with a glass of wine or a cup of cappuccino, I’ve often ended up running like mad due to delayed incoming flights…not very appealing. Not what I had bargained for when I bought the tickets. At home, I’ll just take it easy, no rush anywhere. Plenty of time to enjoy the beverage of my choice.
The next remedy had to do with the flying experience itself. Even with the luck of nice weather, which one can’t count on, and traveling in the business cabin, the space and comfort of sleeping in the flat seat cannot be compared to our king-sized bed with its memory foam mattress and loads of soft pillows. And guaranteed no unwanted turbulence. I have to admit traveling overnight is much more comfortable now than it used to be, but my bones are older too…they like the memory foam pillow top.
And it is not always the “business” seat is bigger than all the other seats. It’s a business seat only because there is a curtain between rows 11 and 12. Just the food might be a bit fancier. But on the other hand, the whole nice setup might end up in your lap when the passenger in front of you decides he needs the maximum recline. So eating a good home-made meal at the dining table will always win. I think I’ll make our favorite meat loaf tonight – just to feel the difference. My itch had started to heal a bit already.
Then I remembered that waking up at home usually doesn’t involve any jet lag. A great plus right there. And thinking further about the comforts of my own bed, I realized how I always will want to come home as planned. And remembered the many times that didn’t happen. Landing at 6:41 p.m. could easily become 2:30 p.m. the next day. If I was lucky and there were seats available. Sometimes the technical stuff didn’t cooperate – and who would want to fly with a leak in the hydraulics system? Other times mother nature had her own plans, like on my latest trip. Full snow storm at two of my transfer airports…and alltogether almost seven (!) hours waiting on the tarmac. Not fun. Now my travel toe was completely healed.
Phew, that was a close call…almost got tickets to London! You can also use these remedies, they are completely free, whenever your travel toe does its own thing and doesn’t want to listen to you. Good luck!