What if?

Holiday over, leaving South African sunshine for snowbound Britain.  But Christmas in snowy surroundings, with family and friends seems a pretty good reason to be leaving on the overnight flight of 22nd December, getting home in time to help prepare a feast with all the traditional trimmings.

Discovery! The inflight entertainment is functioning pre-take off.  So what better way to pass the early part of the flight than by getting absorbed in one of the recently released films “Blue Jasmine”.  That was recently recommended to me – so here goes…..

The plane rolls smoothly along the taxi way, and I lose myself in the film.  No sense of time passing, but then it suddenly feels very bumpy indeed, as if we have rolled off the concrete and are running over the grass alongside.  Bump, bump, and lots more of the same, then a final  BUMP and we grind to a definitive halt..

Looking out of the window, I see a two story building very near the wing of our plane. Too near, in fact.  After some effort trying to make sense of what is happening, it transpires our wing has cut into the first floor of the building.  Metal is gaping where it should be a gleamingly sealed surface.  The captain speaks over the intercom, assuring us we aren’t in any danger and thanking us for keeping calm and for not panicking.  That does give rise to a flicker of anxiety – “you mean there is some danger we could be in. and something I perhaps should/could be panicking about?” Awareness of full fuel tanks in the wings, and a rupture to the wing is a bit unsettling.  But all seems under professional control.  Firemen are promptly spraying foam outside to prevent any possibility of fire.

So I return to watching “Blue Jasmine”.  Every 15 minutes or so I glance up and look out of the window – same surreal scene of our wing embedded in the first floor of a building apparently just outside the airport perimeter.  People scurrying around doing what needs to be done.  So back to the film I go.  An awareness that things are not as they should be, but fully convinced of the professional response to an unexpected and potentially dangerous incident, and the total confidence that while I might not be home in time for the preparations on 23rd December, a firm belief that I will indeed arrive sometime on Christmas Eve.

About two thirds of the way through the film, we are instructed to de-plane down the back staircase that has been brought to the plane, and are bussed over to the Terminal.  Surreally we go through South African Immigration, and are then taken to an airport hotel for the night, and are promised we will be advised of revised travel plans the next day.

I read through the Hotel Magazine as a way of winding down before trying to fall asleep. Room service provides their best offering, and finally I switch off the light and lie down, feeling that this is a very strange experience indeed. P OUNDING THUMPS! It is my heart. Interesting….. My brain has had the firm belief of my safety throughout this totally unanticipated episode – but my body is not as convinced, and is “throwing a wobbly” – reacting to the situation as if I was in the middle of a real life threatening danger.

I give my heart permission to race as fast as it chooses.  Given that this is what it’s going to do anyway, I might as well let it, and assure myself this is a perfectly normal reaction to a highly unusual event.

The phone rings.  My sister who I had been visiting in Johannesburg has tracked me down to my hotel, having seen on the morning’s news the events that had befallen my flight.  We arrange to meet at lunch time, as the airline has managed to re-book me onto the flight that night.  Bird song, sunshine and lunch with my sister, brother in law and mother.  An unexpected gift of some magic extra time together.

All too soon it is time to return to the airport.  I chat to a fellow passenger. This is her first ever flight.  I debate whether to recount the adventures of the previous night, and decide to do so.  She first looks shocked and frightened, but I assure her the reason for telling her of the events is that it is just to show that even if a “What if” actually happens – like we run into a building – something I had never in 50 years flying seriously considered as a possibility – that nonetheless the way in which the whole incident was handled just goes to reaffirm the well known statistic of just how safe we are when we travel by air.

And Christmas lunch in snowy Britain was utterly doubly delicious!