Gusty Surface Winds

I’m back in my Istanbul office, which is still the best airline lounge in the world. Especially since they finished the whole downstairs floor!

They say that getting there is half the fun. Well, it’s certainly been an adventure. There were ‘gusty surface winds’ from the north at Charlottetown, which meant we took off sideways. At least we took off, unlike the plane to Toronto which was supposed to have left an hour earlier but had been held due to freezing rain in Ontario, and was still sitting there as we left.

It’s a small plane, an 18 seater, and there is no cockpit door to close. It’s usually fun to look through and try to figure out the various instruments. It’s not as much fun when you see the two pilots each pressing down on the throttle, biceps bulging, trying to get every ounce of energy as we clawed our way up through the clouds. It was sweet to see them holding hands.

Once we got above the clouds it was OK and we cruised along for 15 minutes. The sunset was spectacular. Then we dropped back in to the turbulence for our final approach, which seemed to take longer than usual, thanks either to the ‘gusty surface winds from every direction’ or the military transport which usurped us in the queue, or both.

As we pitched and rolled I had a vivid flashback to fall 1986. Bill Radford and I were out fishing with Chief Danny Robillard, across on the far side of Black Lake. An early winter storm blew in, snow and ice pellets, ‘gusty surface winds’ bringing the lake quickly up to a high chop. Bill and I said we ought to run ashore and wait it out, but it was the Chief’s boat, and he was the Chief. So we came back.

I remember grasping the sides of the little 16’ dingy, trying to stay balanced as we see’d and saw’d. In one quiet moment I took off my glasses and put them in an inside pocket, I didn’t need them with my eyes closed. We’d crash in to a trough, stagger a little bit to the side with a thump thump thump, then climb up the next wave in to the stinging spray. There was nothing I could do except grasp the edges of the boat, the gunnels I think they’re called. I could hear Danny at the back, laughing and trying to keep us moving forward, gunning the outboard so it screamed when the nose dipped down and the propeller was clutching air. It got dark, a late October afternoon in northern Saskatchewan.

And now it was dark, a late March evening in Nova Scotia, with my glasses in my pocket and my eyes closed and my hands grasping the edges of the seat in front of me through the see’ing and the saw’ing of the plane and then suddenly the crunch of wheels on tarmac an uncanny echo of the dingy sweeping up the rocks on the small beach below the Black Lake church.

As we deplaned I thanked the pilots. “You earned your money today,” I said. “Ah, ‘s not too bad”, one replied. Which is why I don’t fly aeroplanes for a living.

A couple of medicinal drinks in the lounge calmed shattered nerves, then at 1100 pm we all got kicked out because the lounge was closing. I have never understood why they do that, when the London flight doesn’t leave until 1145. But we dutifully trooped down to the gate, where we learned there was a one hour delay. The plane was there, but was behind schedule as it had been delayed in Toronto because of the ice storm. Eventually we left, crossed the Atlantic, then because we had missed our landing spot we made long lazy figure eights over the Cotswolds before dropping down and in to Heathrow.

We were two hours late. At Terminal 2 the gates are out in the middle of the runway and you have to walk under the planes as you move between the main processing area and the gates. As we made our way along one of the lengthy corridors I happened to look down in to the departure area. The flight to Istanbul was boarding. We got to the end of the hall, then went down to escalator to the walk way. We travelled all the way in to the main terminal, followed the pink Connections signs up countless long escalators, went through security and a documents check, went back down countless long escalators and then back all the way to the departure gates. It was like a mad game of Snakes and Ladders.

I won’t say we sprinted but we certainly hustled, squeezing past those annoying people who stand in the middle of the moving walkways shouting on their phones. “I’m in the airport. Can you hear me? I said I’m in the airport.” I was convinced that we had missed the plane, and was congratulating myself on packing a change of clothes in the overnight bag, but it turned out the gate was still open. We were the last to board, so everybody glared at us for holding them up. We sank in to our seats, exhausted, and the pilot came on the PA system.

“We have now completed boarding but have missed our exit slot, so we are now told to sit here for a further 25 minutes.”

“So that’s why everyone glared,” I thought, “he must have been keeping them updated on our progress through Terminal 2.” There were another couple of small delays, and then the plane pushed back.

And so here we are, sitting in my Istanbul office, with a cold Efes in one hand and a plate of olives and kofta in the other, waiting for the plane to Karachi. Of which, more later.



One thought on “Gusty Surface Winds

  1. And to think you were the one who gave me confidence to fly…I may have flashback as I go to Austin next week, and will blame you! Great piece of writing


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