Tenerife from the air

Ask me why I don’t like flying: go on, I dare you…

So, the airplane that transported us from Edinburgh to Birmingham on Saturday morning? Was a toy plane. A tiny little 20-row thing, with little fragile wings and the look of a model aircraft about it. DAMN.

I first noticed the plane as we walked towards our gate. Like every other airport I’ve ever been to, the gates at Edinburgh have huge windows, through which you can see your aircraft sitting taunting you waiting for you to board it. Only, someone had clearly made a mistake with ours, because sitting next to our gate was a Tonka toy.

“God, I’d hate to be the person that has to travel in that thing,” I thought, smugly. “Because that just doesn’t look safe to me at all.”

Yeah, it was our plane. OF COURSE it was our plane. And there was no way in hell I was getting on it, so a small scene broke out as I threw a hissy fit and Terry tried frantically to reassure me that no, that was NOT one of those planes that are always crashing all the time, and yes it was definitely a real aircraft. We finally arrived at a compromise whereby I agreed to get on the tonka toy on the condition that after this weekend, we never try to fly anywhere within the UK ever again. I still don’t know quite how Terry managed to persuade me, and I kinda wish I’d held out for the Louboutins now, because I started to regret my decision as soon as we went to board and I realised the plane was so small there wasn’t even a tunnel, or those roll-up steps to take you onto it. Instead, they just opened the door (of which there was only one) and we were dragged up climbed up the little steps that were inside it.

The steps took us right next to the cockpit (that word really doesn’t look right to me), and the door happened to be open. I knew I shouldn’t have, but I glanced in, and the pilot (there only seemed to be one pilot, by the way. I’m pretty sure they’re not allowed to fly commercial flights without a co-pilot, so maybe there was one of those inflatable ones from Airplane, and I just didn’t see it. That said, I was also pretty sure they weren’t allowed to fly planes they bought at Toys-R-Us, either, which just shows what I know…) was sitting in the smallest space imaginable, with his knees up somewhere around his ears. I think I saw an XBox control pad in front of him, that he was presumably going to use to fly the thing, but I may have just imagined that.

So, that didn’t reassure me much. I turned away from the cockpit (nope, still doesn’t look right), and glanced right, into the cabin. I don’t know why, but as we boarded the plane, I had somehow managed to convince myself that it was bigger than it looked. You know, like the Tardis. But it wasn’t. No, inside were about twenty rows of seats: on one side of the plane there were groups of two seats together, and on the other there was only enough room for one seat. ONE. SEAT.

I wish there was a way I could tell the rest of this story in which I DON’T come out of it all looking like a crazy asshole, but I’m afraid to say I totally freaked out at this point. As I explained to Terry, it has always been one of my goals in life to never have to fly in a small plane. Now, during the rest of this flight, Terry gave me lots of reasons why this small plane was safe to fly in, and even tried to reassure me that, why, it really wasn’t all that small at all. The thing was, though, it just did not feel safe to me. In fact, it felt a bit like a bus with wings, only slightly less secure than that. It felt like the smallest gust of wind would blow us away, and God knows, THAT wouldn’t have been good . Also: little planes always seem to crash. You hear about it on the news and you think, “Oh, it was one of those small planes. I’ll never travel in one of those, so I don’t need to worry about that.” But folks? You DO need to worry about it. Oh yes you do.

Anyway, somehow we got into our seats and the steward came over to ask what he could do to help the crazy lady. It is to Terry’s great credit that he didn’t just answer, “throw her out of the window”, and it’s to my great credit (I think) that I didn’t just get up and make a run for it, because that’s what I’ve always imagined myself doing every time I’ve freaked myself out by imagining myself in that exact scenario. Which I do quite a lot, actually. ( WHY?) The steward offered to let me sit in the back of the plane, next to him, but this would have entailed separating me from Terry, and also, I don’t think they could have wrenched my hands off the armrests at that point, so I stayed where I was, and after someone on the ground had finished winding the plane up (presumably), we took off, sounding a bit like a car struggling to get up a hill.

I should probably admit at this point that the actual flight wasn’t too bad. For one thing, it was only 45 minutes long, and for another, I am a freaking idiot who really shouldn’t be allowed out in public. Terry did a stellar job of keeping me calm (seriously, he was brilliant – mad props to Terry, folks. Sorry you married a madwoman!) and we entertained ourselves by looking at the in-flight safety card, which had little diagrams showing the plane crashing onto the ground and lots of little stick people running away from it with their hands in the air. There was also one showing the plane crashing into water, but there weren’t any little stick people in that picture, and that’s because all the stick people DIED in that diagram.

I promise I’m not making this up.

Landing was fun – and by that I mean, landing was no fun at all, GOD. Even Terry admitted it was bumpier than in a real plane, with the aircraft accelerating noisily every time it dropped down a bit (I say “noisily” – it sounded a lot like my hairdryer, actually) and also, wobbling from side to side. Those little stick people popped into my head, and remained there,waving their stick arms in terror. And then we were down. And alive. Needless to say, I was one of the first off the plane. (I actually kind of wish I’d thought to take it with me, for the baby whose christening we were flying to, but you always think of these things too late, don’t you?) I went straight to the airport rest room to try and calm myself down, and also wash the cold sweat off my hands, but unfortunately, I went into the mens by mistake, which succeeded only in frightening a bunch of my fellow passengers. Seriously, you never want to fly with me, you really don’t. Sorry, Terry.

You would think that would be the worst thing that could’ve happened to us when flying this weekend, wouldn’t you? And actually, you’d be right: it was the worst thing that happened. But another trial was to come, as we flew back from Luton last night. No, this entry is STILL not ever yet! In fact, in the words of the Carpenters, we’ve only just begun!

So, we flew back with Easyjet, who, despite having been the objects of a fair amount of criticism from me over the years (I’m not naming the other airline here because, aside from having purchased their aircraft in Toys-R-Us, they actually did nothing wrong) do at least have real aircraft. I know, because I made Terry phone them to check. Sorry, again, Terry! So as we boarded the plane, in the usual cattle truck fashion, with Terry having to sprint ahead to make sure we could get two seats together (my hero!) otherwise I would’ve freaked the hell out again, I was actually feeling fairly calm. See, this is my favourite size of plane: it’s not so big that the idea of it getting off the ground at all is implausible (also, the roar of the engines on jumbos terrifies me) and it’s not so small it looks like a clockwork toy. So I handled the take-off, and the entire flight, almost like a normal person.

I was sitting there feeling rather smug, and preparing for landing, however, when the pilot spoke to us.

“We should be landing at Edinburgh,” he said, “but there’s mist there, so we’re currently in a holding pattern over Peebles. Which is really quite pretty, you should take a look out of the window!”

OK. This was fine. Slightly puzzling, because yes, of course there was mist at Edinburgh. I mean, it’s Edinburgh. It would be more surprising if he’d said the weather there was fine. But whatever. I continued to leaf through my magazine, and then the pilot spoke to us again.

“Yes,” he said, “we’re still in that holding pattern, and also, our equipment on the ground at Edinburgh is broken, so we’re going to either land there in the fog with the broken equipment, or we’re going to divert to Glasgow. Also: the view to left really is smashing. Bye!”

Okaaay. My vote was for not landing in fog with broken equipment. Because I’d already used up my entire stock of hysteria on the other flight, and I was all out of dramatics. So when he came back on the intercom, reminded us that the view was pretty and said we’d be diverting to Glasgow, I was sort of OK with that. They would bus us back to Edinburgh, it would take an hour, we’d still be home soon, and also, we’d not be landing in fog with broken equipment. So we resigned ourselves to a quick trip to Glasgow.

Sure enough, just a few minutes later, we were over Glasgow. We admired Glasgow from the air. For quite some time, actually. Then we turned round and started flying down the west coast, heading south.

“We’re over the west coast,” said the pilot. “It’s really quite pretty, isn’t it? Also, Glasgow won’t let us land, so we’re going to Prestwick now, kthnxbai.”

Yes, Prestwick. It’s in Ayrshire. Which is approximately nowhere near where we were meant to be. (It’s also the only place in the UK to have been visited by Elvis, but that’s beside the point.) The airport is called “Glasgow Prestwick”, which has always puzzled me, because it’s only close to Glasgow in the way that, say, Edinburgh is close to Glasgow. And they don’t call it “Glasgow Edinburgh Airport”, do they? But I digress. And actually, so did the plane, which landed at Prestwick and then sat on the runway for 40 minutes, with us all trapped inside, its helpless prisoners, while the staff at Prestwick entertained the novel idea that hey, there was a big white thing parked outside and they’d need stairs to get people off it.

In Prestwick Airport’s defense, I think it was actually supposed to be closed at the time, which would explain why they didn’t surrender our bags for another hour, by which time a further SIX flights had landed there, all diverted from Edinburgh. Really, it was no fun at all. On the plane, they’d told us that coaches had been ordered. From EDINBURGH. Because, you know, that makes sense? If you needed coaches in Ayr, you’d send for them from Edinburgh, not from the nearest large city, which would be Glasgow, wouldn’t you? You’d also only order two coaches, for 300 people. And you’d not really bother to tell the stranded passengers much about any of this, so by the time those coaches turned up, at 12.45am, all of those 300 people would have to act like savages, all streaming out of the airport en masse, and biting and scratching their way to the front of the queue. Because that would be fun, no?

Also fun: the sight of Terry picking up our cow-print suitcase, slinging it onto his shoulder and then sprinting for the bus, like Tarzan. Well, as like Tarzan as a man with a cow-print suitcase can be, obviously. Yes, Terry was damn sure we were getting on that bus, and we did, although as I climbed the steps, I could feel the crowd all trying to pull me back down again, and it was a bit like being in 28 Days Later, with all the mad, rabid, infected people battering off the sides of the bus, as we drove away.

Not that we drove very far, though.

(No, the entry is STILL not over! Sorry.)

We drove as far as the turnstiles that let you our of the airport. There is a barrier. You need a ticket to get out of the barrier. There were two cars and a bus in front of us. The driver of the first car did not have a ticket. Rather than going to the ticket machine a few metres from the barrier, he elected to go back to the terminal building, leaving his car abandoned at the barrier, blocking the way. We all waited patiently while he did this.

Once he’d driven away, we realised the second car was also driver-less. Where was the driver? Why, in the terminal, of course, getting a ticket for the machine! So we waited again. (Actually, I have to say, everyone was really patient throughout all of this, as by now we were all survivors, pulling together by God!)

Then it was the turn of the bus to go through the barrier. Instead, it chose to wrap itself around a nearby pillar. “I knew he was going to do that,” remarked our driver, who went on to assure us all that although the bus in front was good at going up hills, our bus could go really fast on the flat, so we would still beat it. Which was good, because obviously by now we all had but one objective in our minds: to beat the other bus. And we did, although by the time we ran into the sheer wall of fog that had, indeed, settled upon Edinburgh that night, the other bus had pulled ahead again. If you have never raced a bus through Glasgow at 1am, my advice to you is this: don’t.

And so we made it to Edinburgh. The bus driver had told us the journey would take “an hour”, which had terrified me as this would only have been possible had the bus sprouted wings, and as we’d already travelled on a bus with wings that weekend, there was no way I was going through THAT again. Instead, it took closer to two, and then we had to free the car from the short stay car park, and drive home in thick fog, arriving at 3am and realising that we could actually have flown to Florida in the time it had taken us to get home. Again, you only think of these things when it’s too late…

So, that was our weekend, and I have told you absolutely nothing about our time in the Midlands, my reunion with my two best friends, the cuteness of the baby, the christening, the barbecue, the Chinese restaurant where I drank too much wine, the news that one of said friends (the one who isn’t the mother of the baby who was christened) is pregnant, or the fact that I really DID take the iron with me to Hertfordshire.

That’s a post for another day…

[Photo by Ashim D’Silva on Unsplash]

P.S. I write a weekly diary which goes out every Friday to my subscribers. Sign up below to get on the list...

books by Amber Eve
  • Terry


    Air host: Would you like to come and sit at the back of the plane with me

    Terry (Silently): Err would you like my foot transplanted up your ass, Sideways?


    Despite the case of the two planes the weekend was fantastic, the sun friends and food were just super 🙂


    Husband Out…

    July 28, 2008
  • Wow, that transportation experience sucks. I recommend the antianxiety drugs, btw. They work splendidly with flying phobia…

    July 28, 2008
  • OMG What a journey indeed, at first I was going to say ''Oh Amber you have me in fits of laughter here!'' and then as I read on, I felt your pain,eek…and you still had the strength to come on here and blog about it, that's our Amber!
    Glad your back safe and sound, and you both had a great time too, except for the journey, the break sounded great, looking forward to hearing all about it, after you've had a rest from this post of course!

    July 28, 2008
  • Stephen


    Ho-leeee shit.

    July 28, 2008
  • I feel your pain, but I still have to say I'm in absolute fits!

    And I'm feeling very smug about having booked in for an EIGHT HOUR coach trip from Birmingham to Glasgow next weekend (at less than half the price of the SIX HOUR train journey – which came in at over £100) for my brother's gf's baby shower. All those people who told me flying would be faster – HA! You tell 'em for me Amber!

    Also, my flatmate now thinks she lives with a crazy woman who huddles over her laptop cackling hysterically!

    July 28, 2008
  • CRYING with laughter. I'm sorry. I know it was traumatic. But FUNNY to someone reading from the other side of the world

    July 29, 2008
  • Erik (Sorrento)


    Regional jets are the bane of air travel and they’re going to be used more often as time goes on (something to do with lower pay scales to the crews in the companies they contract out to). Tiny seats, no leg-room and a small airplane style of flying that’s an acquired taste. I took one to Edinburgh all the way from Copenhagen and thought I was going to pass out from claustrophobia by the time we landed.

    For that return flight, it would’ve been more convenient for you and Terry to have rented Bigwheels.

    July 29, 2008
  • wow that sounds traumatizing. As you were describing getting on the small plane I felt the butterflies in my stomach at the thought of getting on one of those.
    I like the twitter speech bubble by the way!

    July 29, 2008
  • Manda


    OMG this was the funniest entry ever. I mean ALL your entries are hilarious, but this one topped it for me. I have the exact same fear of flying and we're off to Scotland (from Australia) next week so the anxiety of a long haul flight is already kicking in. I forwarded this to my mum and husband who both got a kick out of it and wondered if I had some sort of secret internet identity.

    Having said that, I felt your pain. However I would have run from the toy plane upon sight. I can picture it in my head.

    July 29, 2008
  • Oh Amber…!

    That said, I like to think the tiny planes are kept up by the sheer terror of people like us when on them…

    July 29, 2008
  • Here in the states, we refer to planes such as the one you describe as "puddle jumpers". They are precisely why I will not fly less than 400 miles, which I can drive in about 7 hours. Here's hoping your next flight will be on a real plane…

    July 30, 2008
  • You have the worst luck traveling. I flew one of those small planes from San Francisco to Arizona, which is like a 2 hour flight. It was the closest I got to puking on a plane.

    July 30, 2008