I guess we all have mixed feelings about flying. For the most part, it’s the hassle of checking in and waiting around crowded airports that bugs us most. Once in the air, most flights are uneventful, boring even. And it’s now taken for granted – rather like taking a bus ride (especially on flights within the USA).
Over the past 40 odd years I can’t imagine how many hundreds of thousands of miles I have flown, even though my travel was really quite modest compared to many of my colleagues. And much of that travel in the past two decades has been intercontinental, and business class.
In 1973, I took my first intercontinental flight from London Heathrow (LHR) to Lima’s Jorge Chavez airport, with intermediate stops in St John’s – Antigua, Caracas – Venezuela, and Bogota – Colombia. That was on a BOAC (now British Airways) Boeing 707.
Today, non-stop flights of up to 17 hours or more are considered normal. And since the maiden flight of the Boeing 747 in February 1969 aviation world-wide has undergone so many changes, and opened up air travel to everyone. More’s the pity, Concorde has come and gone, even though it had its maiden flight just a few weeks after the 747.
In Peru, we flew with AeroPeru and Faucett, both of which ceased operations in 1999. In Central America it was LACSA (Costa Rica), TACA (El Salvador), SAHSA (Honduras – Stay At Home Stay Alive), and COPA (Panama). Only COPA still flies as an independent airline; the others have either merged or folded. We also had Pan Am (flying Boeing 707s) operating a network to North and South America, based on a hub in Guatemala City.
Moving to the Philippines in 1991, we first flew British Airways via Heathrow. But by 1993 the air connection between Birmingham (BHX) and LHR had been terminated, so we began flying KLM to Manila (MNL) via Amsterdam Schipol (AMS). KLM operated a 747-400 service (quite often a Combi freight and passenger aircraft), with a refueling stop either in Bangkok (BKK) or Kuala Lumpur.
Now KLM provides a non-stop Boeing 777 service between AMS and MNL.
Once Emirates Airlines (EK) began flying into both MNL and BHX, that became our preferred route for home-leave, originally on an Airbus 330-200, but almost exclusively in recent years on a Triple-7.
I made this next video in 2007 on the flight from BHX to DXB, from taxiing and take-off, to landing in just under 10 minutes later! Listen to the magnificent roar of the GE engines on take-off, and the captain throttling back at about 1,000 ft (just over 3 minutes into the video).
On a trip to Hanoi – Vietnam in November 2010, my preferred route was BHX – Dubai (DXB) – BKK, flying the super jumbo A380. That’s an amazing plane, and the flight from DXB to BKK was my first (and so far only) flight on this aircraft. The EK seating configuration has the upper deck almost entirely allocated to business class, each passenger having their own pod, but with a first class cabin (for about 16 passengers) in front of the business class cabin. Due to a mix-up over seating I was upgraded to first class! So I took advantage of having a shower in one of the two spas at the front of the cabin. It’s rather an odd experience taking a shower (you are limited to five minutes – beware getting caught out while still soapy) while travelling at about 1,000 kph and 12,000 m altitude.
Most of my flights have been smooth, but there was once some severe turbulence over Colombia (lots of thunder clouds about) on one flight from Panama to Lima; and quite often over the Bay of Bengal during the monsoon season between May and November. I once experienced a bad landing with the now defunct airline AVIATECA of Guatemala on a new Boeing 727 from Mexico City to Guatemala, which burst a tyre on landing, sending us off the side the runway. It happened so quickly but we came to a stop almost before anyone realized what had happened. No harm though.
And I have flown into some difficult airports – of which Tegucigalpa – Honduras is probably the most dangerous, as the this video of an American Airlines Boeing 757 landing there shows. The approach is low over a hill at the head of the runway (there’s usually only one way in, but I have seen a video of a 737 landing from the north), and there’s a drop-off at the north end of the runway as well. It takes great skill to land here.
I do my own bit of flying – on Microsoft Flight Simulator, and have been known to while away some time trying to get from Manila to Hong Kong without crashing. As they say, it’s relatively straightforward getting into the air – landing is the hard manoeuvre. And a few years ago, Philippa gave me a flying lesson as a Christmas present, so during home leave the following summer I spent half a day at Wellesbourne Mountford airfield near Stratford-upon-Avon.