I’m not exactly Alan Whicker (ask your parents, kids) when it comes to travel, but something happened tonight on my flight from Amsterdam to Bristol that I’ve never before experienced. Our easyJet plane disappeared into and above clouds within a few minutes of leaving the Dutch coast with the captain having warned us that we would have a “low visibility landing” at Adge Cutler International. The plane would be plunged into darkness as we neared the airport, he added, and if things were to go tits up we were to listen to the cabin crew and reach for the life rafts. I may have misheard part of the announcement because I was sitting next to a fellow who appeared to be – and I am not making this up – biting through one of his fingers, so great was his state of anxiety, but the point is, judging from their subsequent reactions, people clearly gained the impression this was a particularly hairy landing. But was it, really?
The captain had already hinted at the worst by announcing there had been diversions from Bristol because of the conditions in the area. I quickly ascertained from tinternet there had been two easyJet diversions, both at lunchtime, and none since. As it was 7.00pm local time, this did strike me was unnecessarily alarming, but maybe I have become so overconfident in this flying malarkey that I didn’t grasp the potential seriousness of the situation.
So anyway, the entire flight was spend above the clouds and the anoraks among us knew this would be a turbulent descent and so it was. But what is turbulence? If you’ve clicked on the link – and I hope you have because I’m not going to cut and paste the contents – you’ll know and you’ll also know it isn’t usually dangerous. USUALLY!!! Aargh! But that means it CAN be, right? Yeah, but not USUALLY. But having bump-bump-bumped our way down from 30,000 feet and we still couldn’t see anything outside, except thick cloud, this had to be a seat-of-the-pants landing by the pilot, didn’t it?
Suddenly, we emerged from the clouds as we crossed the A38 and once we landed, quite smoothly, actually, the captain applied serious reverse thrust to bring the plane to a near crawl and that was it. That was when passengers exploded – possibly not the best word to use – into spontaneous applause. And not just a few of them. Was this justified? Had the captain and his first officer brought about a miraculous landing, saving our lives in the process? Of course not. They had done a straightforward job professionally and well. It is virtually impossible for a modern jet airliner to fall out of the sky and the flight crew are as much computer operators as anything else. If they do their jobs properly we all live happily ever after, just like when the train driver who has taken us to Paddington or the bus driver who has driven us to Bristol City Centre. Incidentally, when was the last time you heard the passengers burst into applause for a bus driver? You didn’t hear it, did you?
Like many sad bastards, I love watching planes landing and taking off. I did it for a good while at Schipol today. No one goes to the bus station to watch buses leave. There’s something magical, something beyond many of us when we see an almighty metal monster climb into the sky. “HOW CAN THAT THING FLY?” But it can and it does and really, it’s nothing special.
For the best part of 200 people on flight EZY2924 something VERY special happened tonight. But it didn’t really, did it? It was just normal and I suppose for many of us this kind of normal still doesn’t feel normal. Great fun, though.