Flying the not so Friendly Skies
Certainly this quote from the movie Almost Famous sums up the inherent apprehension of the experience of flying for many readers: "I'm flying high over Tupelo, Mississippi… with America's hottest band… and we're about to die."
Perhaps I've gone a bit too light on the descriptor. How about going with abject terror or heart-stopping fright? Now we are squarely in the right frame of mind to talk about air travel. Asia's economic boom has brought about either a blessing or a curse, depending on your own particular point of view – the low-cost airline surge. Everyone and anyone can fly.
As in every business boom once we start to climb the cycle and get up to where the air starts to thin, that's when things get crazy. This means that borderline entrepreneurs and business people, that perhaps have neither the experience nor the financial backing, start to pile on in to what becomes a chaotic ready-to-rumble fest.
Take a glance into the mirror and remember the glorious upturn last decade, with such high flying airlines as Phuket Air or One-Two-GO. Both of these ended up being blacklisted by the EU. Though, in Jesus fashion, the former is still around as a wet lease provider and the latter is another resurrected incarnation of Orient Thai.
Over the last few months another new set of start-up airlines have hit the market, including the ill-fated PC Air, who promoted their Ladyboy flight attendants. The new airline ended up stranded with a plane full of passengers in Seoul. Due to financial issues the airline still is grounded as I write this.
Next in the roll call is Thai Regional Airlines (TRA), who lured customers to pre-buy cheap tickets to Phuket and up country to Chiang Mai. Reportedly the over anxious carrier started to sell the tickets before they even had an operating license. Stay tuned on this story.
With the friendly skies now filled to the brim with new start-up airlines and because of pilot shortages, I have to admit my pulse starts to race whenever a plane I'm in hits the taxiway.
The term "near-miss" is not unfamiliar, be it clipping a tree top with the landing gear on an Air Molokai flight in the wake of an oncoming tropical hurricane or aborting a last minute landing in the Canadian wilds as a herd of moose decide to take up residence on the only landing strip within 50 miles.
Or being stuck up the Sepik river in Papua New Guinea when our helicopter pilot shouts out, "We need to land NOW", as our fuel gauge hit empty.
I have been down the emergency slide twice in India: on badly executed takeoffs and landings; stranded in Nepal when parts came off the plane and no one could say if they were required or not.
I survived flying around Vietnam, before the US embargo was lifted in the early 90's in those crashworthy Yak-40's and Tupolevs. I've flown with chickens in Cambodia and Laos, and sheep in Namibia.
A few years ago the sheer panic of it all became too much and I became absolutely terrified to fly. At the height of the madness I took a train from Jakarta to Yogyakarta (I was almost struck by lightning) and drove from Surabaya to Bali rather than go airborne.
It was madness. So on a trip to Los Angeles I visited a hypnotherapist, though I was afraid she'd program me to bark like a dog when I was under. Things calmed down after that, but my mantra has eluded me the past few years.
Yes, flying those ATR72 overgrown rollercoasters to Koh Samui on Bangkok Airway still brings out the worst in me. But I refuse to give in, or back down.
The mere act of trying to find a parking place at Phuket airport is worse than any in-flight emergency.
In this age of everyone flying this includes me, for better or for worse.