Friday, January 11, 2013

Turbulent Tailwinds

There were plenty of surprises in store for me at Zanzibar.

To begin with, I’d never flown in a Cessna before. As I boarded the plane at the Arusha airstrip (it would be pure hyperbole to call it an airport), I found there weren't any seats left.

Refueling and maintenance work in progress
 “Co-pilot’s seat!” said the usher cheerfully and led me out and up to the front where he strapped me into the co-pilot’s seat.  The pilot clambered in shortly, sneezing and sniffling into a handkerchief. “I’m sorry, I have a terrible cold,” he said. “If you have any bad feelings, just hold onto this,” he added, gesturing toward the top of the dashboard. I wasn't having any “bad feelings” until I spotted a “how to fly” manual perched between our seats.

As we took off, I battled the near-sickening thrill in my tummy – like the feeling you get sitting in the front seat of a roller coaster just before it rolls off the peak. “Expect some turbulence,” said the Captain. “Don’t worry,” he assured me, noticing I was gripping my armrest quite tightly, “The plane won’t fall down. It will only float in the wind.”

Gee, that’s reassuring. Thanks much, you Xanax in human form!

What he did not warn his anxious passengers and amateur “co-pilot” about was flatulence.

We reached cruising altitude. I was more comfortable now - gazing around me, examining the dials and controls with interest. That’s when I smelt something. “There’s a rank odour around,” I thought, wondering if I were imagining it. Oh, no. It was real. Very real. Phew-whee! Somebody had had a lot of beans for lunch!

There was some serious chemical warfare on at 1257 metres above sea level. My mind raced.

Will oxygen masks drop down in front of us gagging people? Did they stash sick bags under the co-pilot’s seat? How do I alert air-traffic control about this serious assault on the olfactory senses? Dear God, I am going to pass out.

The Captain seemed unperturbed.

Yes, ladies and gentlemen. We seem to have identified our gaseous perpetrator. It is your very own pilot. Fasten your seatbelts and brace for flatulence.

I struggled to keep my face impassive.

I hope to God it really is the pilot. What if it isn't? What if it’s the big German built like a war tank behind me? Or could it be his dodgy-looking Indian neighbour sleeping with his mouth slightly open? Yeah, quite likely. Luke Skyfarter.

Oh, sweet mother of God! What if everyone thinks it is me?

I cursed. The Captain looked up from scribbling in his flight logs. He casually leaned forward and pulled a lever labelled “Vent”. Fresh air rushed in. My lungs sang hallelujah even as the clouds in front of us parted in alarm.

The Captain showed me how to identify other airplanes in and around our flight path by looking at a screen. I watched it with keen interest while he went back to compiling his flight logs or doing his grocery lists or whatever.

He then leaned back in his seat, put his arms behind his head and closed his eyes. I glanced behind at the other passengers. Their looks of alarm mirrored mine.

I then noticed a little dot on the umm… flight radar thingy. It was headed straight for us.

Should I alert him? Is that why he showed me how it worked? So that he could nap while I kept watch? Urrrgh! I hope there’s a parachute under my seat. If only I hadn't mocked cuckoo KO's flight simulation Google doc.

The Captain awoke. He studied the flight radar a moment and then radioed the ATC. The dot was quickly closing the gap between us. My heart began to pound.

My travel insurance covers repatriation of remains. Nothing remains in a midair collision. 

The Captain shook his head, still staring at the radar. The dot was still approaching. Head-on. We looked out. And there, clearly visible in the sunny blue afternoon sky, was a plane. Still barreling straight at us. The same flight path. The same altitude.

“What is he doing? Crazy fellow!” the Captain mumbled, radioing ATC again. I just leaned back with thoughts bouncing around in my head like kids on a trampoline.

I’m too young to die. I haven’t seen Spain yet. Who will look after my dogs? I might get my chance to skydive now. At least that would be off my bucket list. I am going to kick the bucket. Because of a “crazy fellow”.

The plane ahead quickly veered to our right and there was a collective sigh of relief from our plane as it passed.

“If he hadn't moved, we would have…” said the Captain, ending his sentence by dramatically clapping both his hands together. "Crazy fellow."

Bad feelings. Clutch the dashboard. 

And with that, he resumed scribbling in his notebook.

I have never been so glad to feel the ground under my feet as I shakily clambered out of the plane when we landed safely in Zanzibar.

The only person I thanked before my Creator was the Captain. He simply waved me off and went back to writing in his notebook. Just another day, another dollar as far as he was concerned.

Crazy fellow.
That's me with the heroic albeit somewhat flatulent Captain in the background

"Departure lounge" at Arusha Airport, Tanzania


  1. Wow. Things do seem to happen around you, don't they? Poor you. Sharing breathing space with someone who has beans for lunch and letting you know it as well. Yech!

  2. @RR: They do! I'm not sure why, but they just do. Sigh. It was not pleasant. Not one bit. *Blanching at the memory*

  3. Glad you are alright and that you now can try jumping off an airplane WITH a parachute on, but that was one hilarious narration! :-)

  4. @Manoj: Flatulence is always funny in retrospect ;) Thanks!

  5. This is just hilarious. Now where is that flight manual when I need it? Ans: In a virtual bin somewhere! :-(


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