Over and Out of the Country
This is it. Off we go. Our plane leaves in the evening. Our airline has one flight leaving daily for London’s Heathrow International Airport. The trip takes roughly eight and a half hours and flies from Seattle, up over Canada and across the Atlantic Ocean down into the U.K. Security’s tight and our flight will probably be long, uneventful and boring. If something interesting does happen, I'm certain it won’t be a guy trying to light his shoes on fire and blow up the plane, I can tell you that. They’ve got all the bases covered when it comes to the old “I’ll sneak a bomb in my sneakers and try and blow us out of the sky” trick. Every pair must now be removed and scanned for explosives, timers, and deadly odor.... and to make sure those shoelaces aren't a fuse of some sort. Thanks to one bad apple, we’ve all gotta stand at the security gate in our socks like complete idiots.
I find it extremely interesting you’re only allowed to meet the pilot once the plane has landed. I wonder if this has always been the policy or if people were at one point allowed to meet the pilot before hand until one too many cancelled or refused to get on, saying, “NO WAY! LOOK AT THAT GUY!! I’M NOT GETTING ON THAT PLANE!! WHAT IS THAT? IS THAT A LAZY EYE!!?”
I’m generally not a big fan of flying and prefer to keep my feet on the ground. I’m uncomfortable in the air and sometimes remind myself there’s no place to go but down. Birds belong in the sky, and even they probably spend most of their airborne time cursing small aircraft and praying they don’t get a cramp – thinking there must be a better way.
My brother was once thoughtful enough to explain to me the phenomenon of “metal fatigue.” He did this just before I boarded a flight somewhere. I don’t remember where I was headed, but I DO remember metal fatigue – and spent a great deal of that particular flight mulling it over in my head, looking out the window at the wings – lucky me. Metal fatigue, if you’re unfamiliar with the term, is the process of metal cracking or breaking down as a result of constant or repeated stress or flexing. Take for instance the wing of a jet – a wing will vibrate and bounces around flexing and after a while (at least, this is how my brother explained it) wings are bound to develop cracks due to metal fatigue. It was his subtle way of letting me know that at any point during a flight, the wings, overburdened by the constant flexing, could snap off, leaving me trapped in the center of the worlds largest javelin, destined to sick itself in the middle of the Atlantic or whichever patch of land we happen to be flying over. So, as I sit, bouncing around watching the wing vibrate, I’ll be thinking to myself, “Only a matter of time, baby. It’s only a matter of time.” I think it was his way of getting me back for the time I described the six-inch tetanus needle he would be facing at the doctor’s office when he was seven… touché.
On my first trip over, I learned each seat has its own little television screen. It’s set in the back of the headrest of the next seat forward. A good thing as the altitude makes any sort of window-based sight seeing limited to an endless sea of clouds some distance below. Movies, television shows and the informative kinds of programs you’d expect to find on the Discovery Channel or PBS are available on this screen. Channel number one is dedicated to the progress of our trip. It shows the speed of the plane which seems to average somewhere around 600mph, and there’s a little map (with the sophisticated graphics similar to those used on the Atari I had when I was a kid) on the screen showing how far we’ve come and how far we’ve left to go. The icon is a little plane with a solid yellow line stretching out behind it and a dotted line spanning the distance left to go (for those of us who aren’t quite sure which end of the plane is the front or in case we forget exactly where it is we’re headed).
The map, while designed to be helpful and entertaining, can really become a pain in the ass. Seeing the plane on a line with only five inches left to travel can be annoyingly deceptive. Five inches at 600mph seems like a distance requiring very little travel time. So, it’s a hard-hitting dose of reality when the distance screen switches to the flight time remaining screen and flashes a whopping 5 hours, 52 minutes left to go. Can the wings really stand that much more vibration? At 600 miles an hour? I can only hope they check those wings as thoroughly as they do my shoes. If so, everything’s should be just fine.
London, here I come... ready oah noht.