Canavan’s Column - July 11, 2013

PLANE DRAMA Fire crews work the crash site of Asiana Flight 214 at San Francisco International Airport in San Francisco
PLANE DRAMA Fire crews work the crash site of Asiana Flight 214 at San Francisco International Airport in San Francisco
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I’m quite easy to spot at the moment. I have a nose so red I daresay it can be seen from the Nasa probe circling Mars.

The reason for this is a couple of holidays in sunny climes, first for a friend’s stag do in Lisbon, then a family jaunt to Barcelona.

I won’t bore you with the details of what went on - essentially a lot of eating, drinking and looking round churches pretending to understand what the tour guide was on about (“So you see, this wavy line in the stonework of the pulpit depicts a young albino child squinting into the morning sunlight”). But what I will share is the fact that I am still terrified of flying.

Everyone has phobias - be it heights, spiders, snakes, wool (my aunty had the latter; we couldn’t get her into a cardigan until well into her 60s) - and mine is getting on an aircraft. I used to be fine with it years ago but as time has passed, and with the arrival of Youtube and video clips with titles such as ‘top 10 plane crash disasters caught on film!’, my fear has grown.

It reached its pinnacle on the way back from Barcelona. It was my fourth flight in the space of 10 days and thus my nerves were somewhat shredded before I stepped on board.

As we took our seat, and before the plane had even moved, a man in his 40s with a bag in his hand asked to use the toilet. The air hostess said yes, and in he went. I watched the door like a hawk. I wouldn’t say I counted the exact length of time he was in there but it was seven minutes 44.8 seconds. As he re-emerged and returned to his seat, no one seemed remotely concerned. For me, though, it was clear as daylight - the man had a bomb in his bag and had strapped it to the toilet. I bolted from my seat like some Super Plane Detective, half-barged a startled air hostess out of the way, and headed for the loo, where I spent approximately 10 minutes on my hands and knees feeling for a small ticking device, even delving inside the bin. It turned out to be a false alarm but it is an illustration of the irrational way my mind works when I’m on a plane.

I relax slightly when we’re in the air and the seat belt signs are switched off - I assume no sane pilot would allow people to wander about if a wing was falling off - but then that just brings a whole new set of worries. Why is that man with the tattoo standing at the back of the plane? Is he reaching for the door handle? My god he is, SOMEONE WRESTLE HIM TO THE GROUND, HE’S GOING TO OPEN THE PLANE DOOR ... oh, false alarm, he’s buying a cheese and ham toastie.

The pilot told us we’d be landing at Manchester airport at 2.10pm. At 2.20pm - and just after reading an article in the paper about pilot-error causing a plane to crash-land in San Francisco last week - we were still in the sky and the plane was making noises. To normal people routine airplane noises; to me engine failure. The air hostess asked two girls to move to a row of empty seats to “balance things up”. The aircraft turned left, then banked right.

I knew what was going on. There was a serious problem in the cockpit and we were circling, dumping fuel, to lessen the chances of a devastating fire as we hit the ground.

Again no one else seemed worried. The air hostesses at the front smiled and chatted, kind of acting normal. Then one frowned for a moment. Yes, something was definitely up.

I gripped the arm-rest, said seven Hail Mary’s (once a Catholic always a Catholic), and contemplated a quick call to my mother telling her not to buy a new lawnmower as she could have mine instead ... when the plane suddenly swooped down and, as they tend to do, landed safely.

It wasn’t until the M55, a good hour or so later, that my heart rate began to level out.

One good thing about my fear: while others are depressed after returning from holiday, I’m the opposite - delighted just to be in one piece.