Disclaimer: This post has no pictures.
This is not a typical travelogue in the sense that I am not taking you on a journey to a particular place. Instead, I’ll tell you about my exciting experience during my first flight. My maiden flight was in 2006 when I was leaving for the US to pursue my PhD (which I never finished, but that is a different story). It’s different to be used to certain things from childhood, but when you do something for the first time after you have turned a quarter century old, the excitement is different. I wasn’t aware of the airline booking websites then, and the travel agent had booked me the most circuitous route flying me more than half way across the world.
This is what the route looked like:
Kolkata –> Mumbai –> Frankfurt –> Los Angeles –> Seattle
I started from Kolkata at midnight and though I had a seat by the window, it was too dark for me to see the world outside. Grabbing a seat by the window, either in a bus or in a train, has been a childhood habit. After throwing a tantrum to get a window seat, I’d happily look outside, sometimes looking at the elders and wondering how they could be so surrendering about putting up a fight for the window seat. So Mumbai onwards, I was horrified to discover that I was allotted an aisle seat (which I prefer these days for more mobility). The travel agent must have been snoozing when I specifically told him that I have never seen a plane take off in broad daylight. The flight was pretty booked and I had no chances of exchanging my aisle seat for a window seat. My trip to Frankfurt for the next 10 hours was doomed !!
It seemed God had made some “air-tight” plans about my fellow passengers. On my right were those 3 seats I so really wanted with a happy South Indian family of husband, wife, and kid. So all I could hear at my right was the howling of the kid who deemed it fit to use his freedom of expression at the apt moment when the plane just took off. This resulted in tremendous chaos, followed by a flurry of conversations I understood nothing of, and total mess of the place during their constant hogging periods.
On my left were an old man, another old man, and an old woman. Damn, I might as well have been sitting beside a bunch of aliens who could do something better than sleep for most of the flight. I wish I had offered some coconuts to God for a better company during my maiden flight. This old man beside me soon blindfolded himself and went off to sleep. Breakfast later, the South Indian couple also went off to sleep, making me wonder why they needed a window seat when all they did was sleep. It gave me flightmares (a term I coined 15 seconds ago) to think that I was supposed to spend the next 22 hours this way, looking at the fellow passengers hogging and snoring. Eventually the old man beside me woke up and started a conversation. Initially they were short questions to which I nodded a simple yes or a no. I casually told him how upset I was about the seating arrangement during my maiden flight and that I wanted a seat by the window but ended up here. And he kept explaining me how it’d have made sense to fly to Chicago instead of going via Los Angeles. God, I wish he would take some sleeping pills and doze off. Chicago, Los Angeles, who cared?
Soon, the air hostess came and politely asked him if he would like to shift upstairs, to which he smiled back and left. Hmm … was Air India offering business class seats to old men who slept and talked a lot, I mused? Good for me, I finally got rid of the seat divider (or whatever it is called), kicked off my shoes, took his blankets and pillows as well, convolved myself in an embryonic position, and went to sleep in those two seats much to the jealousy of the other people who were crammed in one. Who cares? You don’t give me a window seat, I show you how I pay for one ticket and manage to sleep in two seats instead.
I slept for God knows how long, but was awakened by someone. Groggily, I woke up and squinted at the perpetrator to find that he was the same old man. Oh darn, I inwardly thought, starting to get up and give him his space (and pillows and blankets) back.
Hey no, I don’t want to get in. Come with me.
Uhh?, I still didn’t think I understood his noble motives.
Come with me lady.
Err…. Where? Are you a kidnapper or hijacker? That’s what I asked in my mind.
Hey, don’t bother putting on your shoes. Leave them like that.
Uhh… so the kidnapper was a shoe thief too? Wait till you try to take my shoes dear Chicago-flying uncle. They stink so bad, you wouldn’t even want to touch them. Of course, I said that in my mind.
So I was woken out of my slumber to be carried away to God-knows-where by this old man who didn’t let me wear my shoes. We climbed up the stairs and walked through the business class area. Man, what opulence these people lived in while we economy class passengers cramped ourselves. Suddenly the business class seemed a proper plane to me and the economy class more like a local train. Must be the old man wanted to show me how rich people traveled. But wait, wasn’t he walking past the business class area?
Come in. He opened a tiny door and motioned to me. I was still confused about his intentions, still half-asleep.
Any guesses? Naah, how could you guess. You would not believe my good luck if I told you the old man took me to the cockpit and got me introduced to the pilots.
Hey, this lady is on her maiden flight and didn’t get a window seat. So I thought I would show her around.
The co-pilot (or whatever he is called, the guy who sits by the pilot) vacated his seat and motioned me to take it. I was dumbstruck, still unable to come out of shock. I looked at the old man helplessly.
He smiled at me and told me that he was a retired pilot and these were his friends. So while I was sleeping, he was here and asked his pilot pals if it is okay for me to come up for a while. To which they agreed. Initial introductions made, they went back to chat.
I stuck my nose to the windows again, and man, what a sight. The pilot told me that we were flying over Istanbul, and were soon to cross the Black Sea. My first reaction on seeing below was, “But why are we moving so slowly?” It seemed as if we were flying over a huge playground at an ant’s speed. Common sense prevailed when I realized that it wasn’t a huge playground I was seeing. Below me were hundreds of miles of desert stretching endlessly, and the slowness only seemed relative because we were almost 11,000 meters above the ground. I saw sand everywhere with occasional patches of something gleaming. Those must have been some kind of rocks shining when sunlight fell on them. I saw small tributaries and distributaries of water bodies that meandered about and seemed as thin as hair. Before me history was spread out where thousands of years ago, people had invaded, kings had ruled and civilizations had thrived and perished. In front of me were endless stretches of clouds we were piercing through. We crossed the mountains as if we were crossing mounds of sand dunes.
The pilot explained to me the basic functioning of planes. I was amazed to see that he did nothing, just listened to some instructions, did and undid a few knobs and chatted with us. He was controlling a plane, a real huge air plane, and hundreds of people below were sleeping peacefully while their lives were in his hands. I saw no steering wheel, no nothing. How was I to know how planes flew? Occasionally he would control a few buttons, and that’s it. There were thousands of knobs and switches over his head, with lights blinking. God, it seemed more like a spaceship from one of those sci-fi movies. The pilots looked so relaxed, it seems they were playing video games on the computer.
So for one full hour, I was allowed to sit beside him and absorb in the sights around me. And like a child marveling at everything on her first visit to the science park, I stuck my nose to the window glass, looking at the sights below me, occasionally looking at the switches and the machinery.
When I came back, I just looked at the people still asleep or watching a movie and smiled to myself. You’ll never know what a great sight you just missed buddy !!
Yeah, ask me how does it feel to be on top of the world. It was a sight I’d never forget even when I am too old to write travelogues. I have some 3000 pictures from my Hawaii trip, but not a single picture from the cockpit, because I didn’t own a camera then. But the sights will be etched forever in my memory. It was so unexpected an incident, I thought I would be woken up by the air hostess at Frankfurt only to realize I had dreamt it all. I wondered how many were lucky enough to spend an hour in the cockpit, and that too on their first trip. Trust me, even a hundred good looking men sitting by me couldn’t have matched up to the sight I’d just seen up there. Even a million coconuts offered would fall short for such wish fulfillment.
Ever since, I have never again regretted being denied a window seat !!