Saturday, May 14, 2011

The First Flight

As a city dweller, there is so much I take for granted. Clean streets, public transport, decent coffee, food, drink, services available any time of the day or night. There are people around everywhere. You can do what you want, when you want and there are few limitations on you. It's normal. It's just how the world is.

Another thing I take for granted is travel. Ostensibly air travel. I had my first flight at the age of five, when my family and I went to Kangaroo Island for a holiday (Cute fact, I lost my first tooth on Kangaroo Island and I remember being worried that the tooth fairy wasn't going to find me). From my early twenties, climbing on a plane to go places far and wide has not daunted me at all. I've been in and out of airports regularly for the last thirty years, whether it be picking up friends or dropping them off - or just heading off somewhere from a weekend to a few months.

I love travel. It makes my soul sing.

So, yesterday's trip to Sydney was going to be nothing out of the ordinary.

Although it was.

Yesterday, I was on a mission.

Leaving work mid-afternoon, I took the Skybus to Tullamarine and waited for my short flight to Sydney. Of course it was a little late - flights often are. I'd already had my flight moved forward an hour, but for my pains I was shoved in Virgin's version of business. A seat in the first row with lots of leg room and a tray table between me and the person in the other seat in the row. The flight was fine - barely a bump was felt, and for a change, the plane wasn't shot down in Sydney. (I'm suere there is a man with a big gun who goes duck shooting at planes in Adelaide and Sydney sometimes)

After disembarking, I changed terminals and found the object of my mission.

I'd come to Sydney to accompany a friend back to Melbourne. That's the only reason I went up there. To hold a friend's hand and escort her down to Melbourne.

She was easy to find. Sitting with a cup of tea and a large, animal print suitcase, she didn't seem nervous or out of place. I was very proud of the fact that she'd made it there after a three hour journey from her home town in the middle of New South Wales.

"This is the first time I've been to the airport." she told me.

Que! What?! My friend is 32-years-old. Okay, my brain in having a slight paradigm shift here. At 32, I'd been to nine or ten countries, mostly on my own. I'm rather adept at getting around places, even if I can't speak the language. To not have even seen a plane up close. My, my. As a child I remember my grandmother taking me to the airport to "watch the big birds." Then again, Adelaide airport was 15 minutes away from her house and my uncle was a pilot, stationed at Adelaide airport regularly.

"You're really not sure about this?" I asked.

"I have no idea. I'm not scared, but I don't know what to do. But you'll help."

"Don't worry, ninety percent of the people are in the same boat - just muddle through or ask somebody." Which is true. As long as you are pleasant, you don't normally end up having a body cavity search. Australian domestic airports are kittens compared to their American counterparts. You're not going to run into trouble unless you mention the words "bomb" or "drugs" or act like an utter cretin.
We went up to the departure hall.

"Okay - you're doing this. Book yourself in."
Yep, what do you think you have to do?"
"Go to the computer kiosk like everybody else."
"Good call."
Five minutes later, boarding pass in hand, behemoth bag stowed in the hold, we tackled security.

"The trick here is making sure you have no metal on you. Coins, mobiles, belts, boots with buckles - shove them on the conveyor and send them through the box."

"Okay. I'm good. you warned me about that."

Which I did in a conversation earlier in the week. Leave the hairspray at home, I have heaps. Keep your big camera in your hand luggage. You'll have to unpack your laptop at security if you bring it. Those sorts of things which make travelling easier. It 's always less of a chore if you're prepared.

No problems with security. We both sailed through.

We found some dinner and spent an hour looking around the Sydney Qantas terminal. Not the most inspiring of places, but it's something different if you've never been there before.

"All airports are pretty much the same. Overpriced shops and food, lots of people running everywhere, crying babies, people hugging. All you have to do is know which gate your plane is going from and at what time - and you can see that from the board. So where are we going?"

She looked at the board.
"Gate Four - board at 7.10."
 don't have to think about this stuff. I haven't really considered this stuff for years. I think about things like - how the hell am I going to transit Frankfurt airport in my transfer time, or what if my taxi driver Greek doesn't get me straight route or what do you mean there are squat toilets here in this godforsaken hell hole. Or the best one - can I scavenge a couch to sleep the five hour transit time here in Darwin. (The way home from Bali - arrived 2.30 am - few out 7 am - but they have great two seater couches you can nap on)

She wasn't nervous - well, at least she didn't appear to be. We chatted about things - what we're getting up to over the weekend, the people we'd meet, the things we'd do - the 1000 Steps, a session with Pinochet, a big party and getting all dolled up, the shopping, the doing things different.

The flight was called.

"Come on, get your boarding pass out."

We queued up with the rest of passengers - mainly business people returning home after days of in endless meetings. I know the look. Rumpled suit, laptop in hand, on the mobile asking to be picked up. Been there.

We were scanned in. I mentioned to the flight attendant that it was her first flight.

I'm going to remember this tidbit - the service you get is impeccable if the crew think you're on your first flight. Mind you, I have a silver Qantas Frequent Flyer card - it's hard to fake that one.

The one hour flight was uneventful from a flight perspective. Smooth take off and landing, no turbulence. The cabin crew were lovely - and we both came away with a bottle of wine and a colouring book (I asked for the latter - I always do - but don't normally get one)

Five minutes into the flight she said,"Wow, I'm flying - this is a bit trippy."

Well it is a bit trippy. You think about it. You're sitting in a large metal tube being thrust through the air by jet propulsion. I'm still unsure how a multi-tonned lump of metal and plastic stays up in the air, but somehow it does. And air travel is still safer than crossing the road.
An hour later, we arrived at my place. She's staying with me for the weekend. It's not the Hilton but there is a room to call her own, a clean bathroom, a kitchen with teabags and safe haven. She's now in the know about how to get into town, to use the trams, the make sure she keeps her handbag on her person at all times and other city protocols that we city-dwellers don't think about.

My job is done.

I've been asked a few times about why I flew up to Sydney to go and get my friend. It seemed improbable that a woman wouldn't be able to get on a plane by herself. On Monday morning, when she goes back to Sydney, I have no doubt at all that she'll be fine after I drop her off at the Skybus on the way to work.

But how cool is it to be able to take the fear away from somebody? To show them the ropes, however simple they may appear to be, let them know that even if they feel like a nuff-nuff, chances are, most of the people around feel exactly the same way. To take the time to say, "Hey, it's alright. You can do this."

If the smile on my friends face as we took off yesterday wasn't enough, the knowledge that I've empowered her - hopefully instilling a desire to travel is a reward in itself.

As we were about to board the plane, we talked about this.

Dr Spencer Johnson in his book stated it as a tenet for change. "What could you do if you weren't scared?"

We nodded in agreement. In this process of change that we're both going through, the smallest of rewards bring the greatest knowledge and joy.


The Elephant's Child said...

What a lovely friend you are. And Aim knows it. Hope you both have a wonderful few days.

PS My partner caught a flight to Bathurst (small plane, lots of years ago) that was rough. People were unwell. What did for him was the Chanel No 5 the flight attendant used to cover the problem.

Maree said...

I love that you did that for our gorgeous girl. My first plane trip was only 3 yrs ago at the age of 46 but I had someone to hold my hand. It makes a huge difference. You are a good Pand. xx

The Plastic Mancunian said...

Hi Pand,

That's a nice thing to do. I know airports like the back of my hand having travelled a lot and worked in them.

They can be daunting places for those who fly for the first time.