Ian provides a light hearted view of flying

Well, here we are at Christmas-time again. Another year down the tube and only Barack Hussein Obama capable of saving the world! We have been through some turbulent financial times, mostly caused by Robert Peston of the BBC with a little help from the Banks, and I promised you a light-hearted article to set you up for the festivities, a time when we should be able to forget our troubles and, for those of us so inclined, to celebrate Christ’s birth. There are a variety of attitudes among those of us who use aeroplanes; some enjoy every moment from arriving at the airport to penetrating the entry procedures at the destination airport. Others regard it as a convenient way to travel long distances but actually dislike the whole process. Some are frankly terrified and this group should probably read no further!

When I was a lad in the mid 1950’s, no-one except the wealthy flew. In our garden on the Wirral, I used to watch ATL28 Carvair aeroplanes which, with big bulbous noses, carried passengers and cars to Ireland. When I was in the Combined Cadet Force at school, being trained as officer fodder for the next world war (navigation, meteorology, flying chipmunks and parachute training, etc), I developed a love-hate relationship with Blackburn Beverleys (The RAF’s heavy lift transport between 1955 and 1967) and the Handley Page Hastings (The RAF’s standard long-haul transport from 1946 until 1959, after which most were used to train bomb aimers). The Beverley had an enormous body and a long spindly tail full of seats which guaranteed air sickness and the Hastings was a beautiful, aeroplane-shaped aeroplane. I used to hate the Beverley and love the Hastings! For years, the entrance to Duxford was through a Beverley cockpit and there is a Hastings there.

At about that time, a Liverpool comedian, Tom O’Connor, used to run a skit about an imaginary terrible airline which flew out of Liverpool. The solitary hostess was called Slack Alice and the flight deck were inebriates who, although they had terrible hangovers before take off, would, according to Slack Alice, who had a Liverpool accent you could cut with a knife, be fine once they were airborne, had opened a few windows for fresh air and had plugged into the oxygen system. I used to find this mightily amusing until I started as a GP near Gatwick in 1970 and, strapped for cash on an income of £220 per month, we took in some air hostesses as lodgers and became involved in the airline social scene for a time. I also acted as doctor to four airlines’ cabin staff during their time in England. The rule about not drinking for 12 hours before a flight was treated in a highly flexible manner by the captains and first officers who would often roll out of our house on the way to the airport, confident that 100% Oxygen would “do the trick”.

It is unusual for anything amusing to happen while waiting to check in at an airport and I have to confess to finding the whole business very stressful. Management has to pour calming oil on the fevered brow and we usually survive. If we get totally fed up, Head Office can usually find a pregnant lady on the point of collapse who needs escorting to the front of the queue. Once, while waiting to go to India, there was a long queue and the poor girl on the check-in was harassed and suffering technical problems (with her machinery!). A large man, who looked vaguely familiar, rushed to the front of the queue, demanding immediate attention. The girl did not agree and he shouted “DO YOU KNOW WHO I AM?”. She glanced at him laconically and pulled out her microphone – “Bing-Bong – there is a passenger at gate 12 who does not know who he is. If anyone can help him to find his identity, please come to gate 12”. The man was incensed by this and shouted “f*** you” at the girl; she responded immediately “I am sorry sir, but you’ll have to join that queue over there for that”.

During the flight, the hostesses make standard announcements. One day, a girl with spirit will re-write the announcements for her last trip with the airline. “To operate your seat belt, insert the metal buckle in the holder and pull it tight. If you don’t know how to operate one, you really shouldn’t be out. If cabin pressure falls, an Oxygen mask will drop in front of your face. Stop screaming and pull the mask over your face. If you have a small child, secure your own mask before fitting theirs. If you have two small children, decide now which one you love the more. Your seat cushions can be used for flotation. If we crash on water, please take one with our compliments. Hug it, do not attempt to sit on it in the water as the waves will knock you off”.

The landing was a bit rough “I don’t know whether we have crash-landed or whether we were shot down. After the tyre smoke has cleared and the alarm bell stops ringing, you can pick your way through the wreckage to the terminal building. Please take all your belongings with you. Anything left behind will be distributed amongst the cabin crew. Do not leave children or spouses behind. The last person to leave the aeroplane has to clean it. We look forward to seeing you on your return flight if we have not gone bust”.

Deannie joins me in wishing you all a very happy Christmas and a healthy New Year, with special good wishes to those of you who are flying on holiday over the festive period.

Ian G. Nisbet

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