Sunday, July 15, 2012

A Flight Experience Like No Other

Helluva Ride inside the Cockpit! 

I am going to break a secret! A hush-hush pact between 4 other souls and me - two of whom who I had actually never ever met before. A secret (if known to the authorities) that’s guaranteed to make them lose their plush jobs and probably get me into a legal nightmare!! Okay, before you make vague assumptions of what whale of a sin we had all committed, I am breaking that oath for you!  

Once, I had to travel urgently from Metropolis A to Cosmopolis B and there was a mess-up with my flight ticket, boarding to realize that it was fully overbooked. Opposing all attempts to be booted down, I desperately pleaded with the senior flight attendant who as my luck would have it, happened to be a very good friend (a junior at college) to help me take this flight. Fortunately for me, the Pilot i.e the Captain was his cousin and help they did - going beyond their call of flight duty and committing a deadly sin. I was shown to be moved into the Business Class area (which was also filling up fast) and then surreptitiously invited to ride on the Jump Seat. Yes, the Jump Seat of their aircraft. And that’s a one-in-a- million luxury that no common man can afford to ride on! Seriously! 

To those uninitiated in Airline terminology, all major aircrafts have a petite, secretive, tiny seat in the cockpit area that opens out to accommodate one additional crew – the Jump Seat, perhaps named so for reasons one does not want to certainly imagine. Also known as the Auxiliary Crew Seat, it is placed between the two pilots, slightly to the back of the cockpit but believe me, it offers a spellbinding experience and spectacular views compensating for all the inconvenience of the small seat! 

I will not describe the take-off, it was too quick and all over before I could settle in but have no doubt; the scenery from the Cockpit is downright stunning. Miles and miles ahead, the visibility was crystal-clear astounding; with beautiful clouds with their weird human like patterns for company. Besides, I could actually see other aircrafts in mid-air, the ocean and mountains from over maybe 100 miles away. 

It’s like watching a National Geographic special in an IMAX 4D theater compared to the rudimentary views we are used to seeing from the puny, flight windows in any airline seat. As a passenger, you can only see sideways and you cannot get the feeling of the range and distance that the aircraft is flying but from inside the cockpit, the view is almost 180 degrees and the depth of that subtle yet dazzling experience is something that you can only realize if you ever get this chance. It would be nice if all Aircraft manufacturers realize this potential money spinner and maybe one day, build special seats that will allow the lucky passenger to witness and feel this amazing experience. 

Even when flying along at roughly 500 miles per hour, the ride on the Jump seat was super smooth and I got to listen to all the air traffic control chatter which seems to come in small incessant bursts. The sheer assortment of switches and buttons present inside the cockpit is also spectacularly perplexing but both the pilots (the Captain, a burly friendly guy in his early fifties and his young, early thirtyish co-pilot) knew how to use them with an amazing craftsmanship like ease. And if you are those who have this fancy idea from countless mid-air movies that any man, woman or that hot buxom babe in distress, preferably in a see through torn dress, can land an aircraft, ditch that. Well, I can positively tell you that it is not just improbable; it’s unquestionably impossible and is surely not as easy as it sounds. 

Tempting as it is, I was almost driven by an irresistible urge to toggle one button or two and see what happens. One lever like appendage particularly caught my attention – it read something like 'Reverse Thrusters' but sanely, just the thought of the horrified looks on the faces of my fellow passengers aboard the aircraft was more than enough to deter me from trying that stunt. 

Midway after a few minutes, when we were all offered refreshments, the Captain informed me that the aircraft was now on auto-pilot - flying all by itself and that if required, it could also equally land on its own. Not in the mood to make him try anything so adventurous, I graciously declined to experience such a landing, the thought being so audacious. Even so, the plane sped along happily like a kite, swaying beautifully as if under some type of an arcane spell. 

Anyone with a dread of flying will find the cockpit comforting. I think that a person’s fear of flying lies in the unknown – all those scary bumps, jerks, sudden drops in height, long shudders and seemingly strange noises from the aircraft ominously mean something but inside the cockpit, they vanish - you are here in the driver’s seat and all those noises and movements seem like an artisan at work. 

After almost 6 hours, it was landing time. Coming back to earthly land was oddly like slowing down your sports car in traffic and finding a nice place to park. The air traffic control chatter was suddenly back in full throttle, lots of switches were clicked, buttons pushed and screens looked at. I guess, both the Pilots deciphered all that babble and directed the craft at a runway ahead which was magnifying in size almost instantaneously. The Captain made the standard landing announcement and after a few seconds of momentarily silence, came in slowly and landed as gently as a feather touch! But I was for some strange reason, palpably tensed throughout the landing. 

After maybe a few minutes of landed leisurely ride on the runway, I could see an animated young chap on the ground with flags in hand who helped in the parking and bringing the craft to a standstill. The Pilots smiled at each other, switched off an assortment of devices and then looked at me, as if to ask “ So, how was the ride ? “ 

My flight attendant friend was soon back, telling me that I had to wait and I would be the last person to depart. On leaving, the captain gave me a firm handshake and made me promise not to tell anyone or even faintly admit that I ever got into their cockpit (hence the silly codenames for the cities). I just thanked him and the co-pilot, feebly nodding my head to convey my concurrence. The flight experience had been so exhilarating that I was visibly lost for words. 

A good 25 to 30 minutes later, when it was sure that every passenger had departed, I was stealthily escorted out and driven to the terminal. My friend repeatedly reminding that I needed to keep this promise and I owed her now a big favour!

It’s almost few years now but that ride is still all very vivid and fresh to me. And every time I board a aircraft, like a little child, I still yearn to sit up in front with the modern equivalent of the train driver and relive those delightful moments all over again. 

And to every one who has a valid ticket but still end up getting deboarded, ensure you make friends with the aircraft flying types and you never know, one day, you may get this chance and one helluva ride on undeniably the best seat on the plane!


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