I went to Auckland to take photos for a school's new website. We had rainy Auckland weather on Thursday, but Friday played ball and the sun shone brightly for most of the day. I might muse (in a good way) about teachers and children in another entry, but I have to say I had a great time with great adults and completely adorable year one to eight children.
Dean had already warned me about the distinctive, and unsettling thump thump thump sound of the regular hydraulic test that takes place generally during the flight attendant's safety demonstration. I listened for it, but didn't hear it.
And what's that safety demonstration about? Most people listen but take none of it in. If the plane starts to plummet, am I going to be thinking about the life-vest under my bum or the lights along the floor guiding me to the emergency exit? I don't think so. The demonstration would be a lot more effective if they just said "in case of an emergency, just look for Jen, the cute chubby flight manager, and do what she says"!
But as I shuddered beyond the point of certain death if anything went wrong (which is what? two, three, five hundred feet?) in the belly of one of Jetstar's A320s, I wiled away the time asking the obvious questions.
Anyway, we were about 500 feet up when the first question jumped into my mind: What are the chances of survival if the wing fell off right now? I figured about 30%, but with 100% chance of serious disfigurement and/or life in a coma.
I took a few snaps but the City was cloud-bound and the Sky Tower was just a pin sticking up into the sky.
A few minutes later, as we pulled into the cloud cover, there's really only one relevant question. What happens if some other A320 is floundering blind in this same cloud formation? And is mistakenly on OUR flightpath? Would the pilot have time to react if suddenly another plane came sailing through the cumulus?
Of course he wouldn't. So the next obvious question is: How instant would death be if another plane slammed into this one? Would my whole body just explode in a fireball and I would feel nothing? Or would time slow down just enough for me to feel the full effects of the burning and exploding? Knowing my luck, that's more likely
Of course, I assumed, there are at least a dozen or so people all around the country - in the cockpit, in Auckland Air Traffic Control, Christchurch Air Traffic Control, and probably a few smaller Air Traffic Control centres along the way - all dedicated to keeping me and this plane completely safe in the air, and by and large out of the direct path of other planes.
But what if they're all idiots? What are the chances the whole ATC system is staffed by idiots? Morons? Pretty slim. I know some of the controllers, and they're not idiots at all. Phew.
But... they don't all need to be idiots. Realistically there only needs to be one idiot on duty to secure disaster at my expense. One idiot, like those ATCs we heard about recently in the US who fell asleep while they were supposed to be directing planes? What if one of THEM is in control of this plane???
There's something reassuring and calming about breaking out of the cloud. I had asked myself what if the whole way to Christchurch will be in thick cloud. Does that increase the chances of a mid-air collision?
So when we break through the cloud, I think now, at least, the pilot can see if there are any other planes in the vicinity, specifically ones that will imminently smash into us.
But being above the clouds means we're pretty high now. What? 3000 feet? Who knows such things? Hopefully the pilots do. How high are the clouds, normally? Does it differ according to conditions? Maybe we were at 10000 feet. No idea.
The idea I did have, however, was: Surely now there's zero chance of survival of the wing fell off.
Which leads to the next logical question. Failing an instant death by explosion and fireball, what happens in those two, five or ten minutes (however long) it takes for the intact but wingless plane to plummet to the ground? Is it a mayhem of screaming and confessions, like in the movies? Or subconscious scrambling for the life-vest because somewhere you remember hearing there's a life-vest under your seat. But what the hell good is a life-vest going to be if you slam into the ocean at terminal velocity? Perhaps there's a lot of stoic arm-rest grabbing silence waiting for the inevitable.
So, once we're cruising above the clouds, though, time for a little relaxation. Wings intact; clear visibility with no planes in sight. What can go wrong? Time for a few photos.
So then I get preoccupied with catching the sun as it slips below the clouds on the horizon. Moderate success.
But that raises the flying in cloud questions, except now we're flying in complete darkness. Well, almost. What's the visibility like up front? Just how far can you see those little flashing lights from? Hmm?
And then there's the landing. Isn't take-off and landing the most dangerous time of the flight? I can't imagine that's true, but I've heard it somewhere.
So then we're in the clouds and it's dark. Does that double the collision chances? Is that one idiot ATC on duty right now in Christchurch?
Apparently not. Or at least he/she managed to do her job without dozing off, it seems. We landed safely and on time.
Thankfully, I don't fly very often. I can't handle the stress.