Aviatophobia has plagued me through a greater part of my childhood. The fear peaked when I lost a second cousin of mine to an air crash. I never knew him well. Id probably only met him thrice in my life even though we lived in the same city all our lives. And then he was no more...
Taking up a placement in West Africa was probably one of the toughest desicions I ever took in my life. The mental preparation was immense... way more than the 11 hour flight time from Dubai to Abidjan.
The second time I went to Africa was the worst time Ive ever had flying!
I missed my flight from Dubai to Abidjan for starters. To make matters worse, I was bundled onto a Kenyan Airways flight, which hopped like a frog from Dubai onwards.
Kenyan Airways... a different saga altogather! I was flying on the same route where a crash had taken place 4 months ago. The flight was mostly empty. I managed to get 4 seats all to myself somewhere on the plane, knocked myself out on a few shots of liquor and crashed for most of the 6 hours from Dubai to Nairobi.
When the flight landed, almost every passenger on the plan broke into an applause - directed towards the gods and not the pilots who stood there with faces beaming with the glow of achievement!
After a wretched, boring and expensive 9 hour wait at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (Nairobi, Kenya, E Africa), the next Kenyan Airways flight took me from there to Cotonou Cadjehan Airport (Cotonou, Benin, W Africa).
From there on, it was one flight to Kotoka International Airport (Accra, Ghana, W Africa) and then the final one to Felix Houphouet Boigny International Airport (Abidjan, Cote d'Ivoire, W Africa).
I reached my destination almost 24 hours later, dead tired and with a broken back and sadly had to report for a 4 hour meeting almost immediately.
A close second to this experience was my my flying experience from Lagos to Abidjan. I flew Ethiopean Airlines from Murtala Muhammed International Airport (Lagos, Nigeria, W Africa) to Accra, before changing over to Air Ivoire for the last leg to Abidjan.
My plane landed in Accra like a bouncing tennis ball and sscared the life out of me. In fact, I held onto my boss like there was no tomorrow!
Simple conclusion: African Airlines - A Strict No No!
A few things worth mentioning however...
Any first timer into Africa would be pleasantly surprised seeing this Airport. Modern in architecture and facilities, one would surely not expect something like this after seeing the larger, more popular airport in Accra. Great duty free outlets, nice waiting rooms and 100% aerobridge enabled, the airport is a great entry point into probably the most exciting country in the West of Africa.
The take off from Abidjan.
With the airport located on the edge of the ocean, the flight takes off into the ocean. The beautiful African skies, mixing with the serene blue waters dotted with a few thousand fishing boats (almost all of them sporting white sails) bordered with the Golden Sandy Beaches is one of the most amazing set ups to take off into.
The take off from Nairobi, West ward Ho.
The weather at Nairobi was amazing when I happened to be stuck there (in the month of September). The air was chilly and laden with rain. The flight took off and almost instantly flew over the Masai Mara. One of the most beautiful sights I have ever seen, the green canopy is only broken by brown peaks and blue water bodies (Lake Victoria being one of these). The Africa sky is in general very different from the sky elsewhere, and more so in the case of Kenya. The clouds stretch across it forming patterns which will make you gape in awe.
Flying over the Nile and Luxor (Egypt).
The flight from Abidjan to Dubai flies over the Nile while over Egypt. Ive done this leg thrice and each time, it has been dark. Despite the darkness, the Nile is visible very clearly. On the banks of the Nile lies the Egyptian City of Luxor. From the air, this looks like a collection of lights forming squares and dashed lines (of light again), connecting the three squares. A very pretty sight, more so since it signals the end of Africa and the on set of the Red Sea!
Ever since I moved back to India, flying has been a weekly affair for me. Somewhere along the way, I got over my fear of flying. In fact, I feel at home when I am flying now.
A few great sights I came across recently...
Taking off from Mumbai, Northbound.
The flight takes off over Juhu Beach (on the right) with Versova Beach further to its right. The number of people dotting the beach is amazing. Coloured dots cover almost every inch of the beach and extend into the water. The plane then turns rightwards over Madh island and comes back over Versova beach on its way up North. This sight is particularly pleasing to me, since Versova Beach happens to be a personal favourite (for whatsoever reason!).
Landing in Mangalore.
The landing strip in Mangalore lies on the falttened top of a hill. Trees stretch on either side of the runway and along its length. The entire set up is like landing in a rain forest! A very beautiful landing on the whole, with green hills on either side beyond the trees.
Very international in feel and a somewhat smaller version of the Dubai airport, Hyderabad airport definitely ranks high up on my list of favourites. Well designed both externally and internally, the entire experience is a welcome change from the regular rigmarole of boring airports like Delhi/Mumbai and Kolkata. A lot, of course, is lacking when compared to Changi and Dubai (my top two, in that order).