As flight EK90 taxied the runway it was hard to avoid the large adjustable touch-screens backing every seat (most empty), boasting two optional live-views from cameras positioned in the cockpit and underbelly of the plane. Besides watching the last bags being loaded (something not to be taken for granted after having my bags lost twice in East Africa – on two consecutive flights), my fear of flying translated into flashing mental images of us plummeting from the sky to imminent death – in 7” HD. Suddenly ‘no-frills’ airlines sounded appealing.
Lights were dimmed, I conducted my ‘double-check feel’ for the inflatable life jacket beneath my chair (I still think and/or parachutes would be a good idea), and the pilot began his safety procedure speech. Flying Emirates to Dubai, the first language was Arabic. It created a different sense than the whimsical French when flying to Switzerland – like flower petals flowing down a gentle brook, until you hear an (over emphasised) ‘Brace! Brace!’ Arabic sounds more like a hybrid between a racecourse announcer and an auctioneer. It has a way to instead make you feel revved up and excited to ‘Brace! Brace!’
I am all about in-flight entertainment. I have actually developed an ‘in-flight entertainment theory’ for self-justifying price fares when flying with more premium airlines. A new release film costs (on average) 5 USD to rent. A film (on average) lasts two hours. Mathematically divide the flight time by two hour segments, multiply those segments by five (representative of the USD) and you have just saved yourself that much money on the ticket! Genius. The downside: it is difficult to accurately register how loud you laugh when caught up in the sheer moments of money-saving joy (aka: the latest new release), and you have headphones in with the volume turned up – until the passengers several rows either side of you give you the ‘shut-up-and-get-a-life-and-even-some-friends (non-virtual/onscreen)-as-I-can see-the-seat-next-to-you-is-empty stare’. The sudden adjustment from flying budget airlines to a premium service was perhaps best highlighted in my irrational over excitement that I was able to use my own in-ear headphones. As opposed to the flimsy over-ear option seemingly designed for a head with the width of a hippo and height of a giraffe. There was just one problem – my cable extension was misplaced so the reach from plug-to-ears was limited, which required sophisticated and strategic three-pillow positioning logistics to obtain absolute comfort as reclining was not an option.
Somewhere over Sarajevo we hit a patch of turbulence and it all went wrong, edging ever nearer to complete darkness as we crossed time zones. But was our time up? As the plane shook and jolted as we flew into winds that I am sure were contradictive to ideal aerodynamics, my mental energy and concentration was completely consumed in keeping us in the air. Two curly haired kids were running down the isle, and not only would I have (almost entirely) blamed them on contributing to the crash should we be found free falling from 33,000 feet due to their additional and unnecessary unbalanced weight/pressure distribution, I simultaneously wondered if they were even aware of the danger we were in. Turbulence is not a force to be reckoned with (no pun intended). I swear the oversized screens (in crisis situations) discussed previously intercepted my mental life-saving concentration, as the flight map zoomed in with speed and vigilance to our exact location like nothing I had witnessed in the previous two hours. I took it as a sign and began to pray.
Eventually the turbulence passed, and I have no excuse for what happened next. I am perhaps the only person I know who could injure themselves when opening the plastic cupplets of water served with airplane meals. Needless to say, my index finger took one for the team – with a pestering cut that insists on reopening as if to savour in the humiliation.
In-between episodes of ‘locked up abroad’ I took a moment to appreciate the little twinkle lights that Emirates has as their ‘ceiling feature’ down the isles during night flights. Beautiful, glittering in full glory (though a constellation or two would not go amiss). As I looked from one star to another, I found it impossible to focus on just one (literally, my eyes could not focus) – eventually I noticed that if I scanned the isle ceiling quickly with my eyes it created a bright blur effect like a photo taken in low-light on low shutter speed – awesome (at the time). I proceeded to do this at speed, though increasingly swinging my head from side to side until a steward showed up out of nowhere to catch me mid-effect.
Humiliation knows no end, fortunately pilots do. As we touched down I let out a sigh of relief from seat 29A, excited for what was to come next…