During one period of my life, I was rendered useless due to a potential slip disc, and placed on complete bed rest for a month. I was already in a cast due to torn ligament in my ankle 3 weeks prior to this. I had a short work trip scheduled, which was already postponed once. It was a short flight, barely an hour, and it was towards the end of the bed rest period. I figured what’s the harm. Travel to airport. Board the flight. Breathe a sigh of relief. Alight. Travel to hotel. Bed-to-bed within 4 hours. Right? RIGHT? Well…
Travel to airport:
A 45 min journey to airport took almost 2 hours — rush-hour in a city notorious for the traffic — I should’ve known my city better. Fidgeted constantly in the backseat because sitting was the most painful posture for my back at the time, although my ankle was thankful. Ran through scenarios of missing my flight, how to re-schedule, would it cost me personally or would the company absorb the cost? The taxi driver took the wrong lane and ended up taking an even longer route, as we missed the exit to the airport. But we finally made it in time for my bag drop.
Board the flight:
Checked in, shuffled through security and to the gate successfully. At the gate, I realized the plane was not alongside, and required several lamaze-breathe-inducing descend and climbing of stairs/bus (not to forget further weight-bearing on my recovering ligament-damaged ankle). Sucked up the pain, and made my way onto the propeller plane.
“Breathe a sigh of relief”:
I buckled in, breathed a sigh of relief, as did my ankle, and the flight eventually took off as scheduled. As with certain flights, temperatures in-cabin cosine-ly fluctuate, going from warm and humid to that blast of cold air. You know the one I’m talking about…or maybe its just been so long since I got on a flight that I’ve got the order wrong. On this one though…the plane took off but no blast to calm my thermostat. (Yes, I recognize using the word “blast” probably has the same reaction at an airport as the other B word.) I assumed on this old propeller plane, all the energy was being consumed in air-lifting, and this hypothesis was backed by the waft of petrol smell during the laborious 15 mins of takeoff. It was a day flight, so my sunnies were on, naturally (heat/light > cue the migraine!).
I fixated on the propeller through the porthole and fanned myself with something or the other, trying to keep my motion sickness and migraine at bay, respectively. I glanced back into the cabin by chance and finally noticed that I wasn’t the only one feeling uncomfortable. To my left was a man wiping sweat off his shiny head, and I envied his lack of hair, nothing pulling him down in life. I then noticed that my vision was blurring, and braced myself for that sharp tinge of migraine. But then…odd, there was an air of restlessness in the cabin, and that fuel-smell was getting more obnoxious. I blinked, and raised my sunglasses and finally observed that the cabin was actually full of smoke. Literally. In fact, the air vents were facilitating this flow of smoke. Slowly passengers screwed the outlets upwards to attempt to minimize the flow. Air-crew shared looks and gestured across the length of the plane and I clocked that they did not unseat despite the plane having attained the cruising altitude. Finally after 10 mins, they announced, while seated, that we were turning back due to mechanical difficulties. It may have been my imagination but the propeller on my side did seem a little erratic. But honestly we had been in the air so long, I couldn’t help but wonder couldn’t the plane just pull through to the destination? Surely the hard-bit was over, and we had already been exposed to this toxic air for more than 20 mins on a 1-hour flight. Especially since when we did reach back, our plane continued to circle for-absolutely-ever (probably 15 mins) as we waited for our turn to land, which was odd. For a flight to have turned back due to mechanical failure, surely we should’ve received some priority landing, bumped up in the queue or something. On a bright note, and something wonderful to witness really, all passengers were a great sport and good-natured. There was no screaming or aggression, and no panic in the cabin although I could sense general palpable relief as we finally touched down onto the tarmac and then again when we finally came to a stop.
We then got off the plane, in my case, slowly down the stairs. Then took the bus back to the gate. When I walked in and saw the fourth set of stairs to ascend that morning, my colleague finally heard me swear for the first time and cracked up. The moment I conquered the stairs, I headed over to the seats and just laid down across them to give my back some relief and caught my breath. It took longer to get the smoke (seriously, how do people smoke!?) / fuel stink out of my windpipe. I kept having to clear my throat, Umbridge style.
We were given a food coupon for our inconvenience and sent off to grab some expensive lunch (the coupon only covered half of the expenses really) in the airport while waiting for a replacement plane. In queue at the coffee shop, the lady in front turned and said something to me in a foreign language that I could not identify. I must’ve looked sufficiently confused, so the girl (I assume was accompanying her) helped her translate. She was asking me if I was feeling better. I stared, even more confused, and the girl probably thought I did not understand English either…but finally I replied, “Yes…why?” Turns out the lady saw me splayed across the seats. I was so touched, and honestly I was in quite a bit of pain, so that motherly care almost brought tears to my eyes. There are kind people in the world it turns out.
Finally boarded the replacement flight > Breathed a sigh of relief (when the cold air blasted my face this time) > Alight > Travel to hotel.
Needless to say, the journey that should’ve taken 4 hours, took 8. Luckily I did not have any long-lasting repercussion from this trip, although it obviously did not benefit my ankle or my lumbar. But hey, how many of you have been on a plane where the insides were like the clubs back in the 40s?