Come fly with me...


A bottle of captains choice from a shop in Kathmandu; it's just how
you want all your pilots to be...drunk on whiskey!

I think that I might start a job as an airport reviewer, but without all the reams of lonely planet waffle.  Admittedly I’ve not been to as many airports as frequent international business travellers, but for a common tourist I’ve done my fair share.

As a child I loved the feeling of airports.  I can always remember my first ever flight from Manchester Airport to Douglas in the Isle of Man with my Dad – a staggeringly long 30-45 minute flight.  The excitement built as I saw the Co-Op bank pyramid by the side of the motorway, a beacon pointing upwards towards the passing planes.  On each holiday I would always see this beacon thinking back to the excitement of my first trip – however more often than not it misled me as it was along the same route to the Manchester office where I often worked.

I also remember how boring it was once I actually got to the airport.  It felt like ages before you could get on the flight and then you are likely to be hit with a delay due to some ‘technical problem’.  When you hear that it just fills you with confidence that the big bird will actually get off the ground.

So back to my job as an airport guide.   I think I’ve been to around 30 airports in my life with me on my way to airport number 12, Hanoi (I’m writing this on the plane).  What I’ve discovered in all these visits is that people really need to just chill out. 

You get those who panic when they have an hour to check in, worried that it will take longer than an hour to get their bags onto the plane a mere 400 meters away.  You then get those, like I had yesterday, pushing through the aisle of the plane to get to the front as they only have 45 minutes to make their transfer – I only had 15 (but still made it, with a gentle jog through the terminal).

Then there’s the drunks, which I’m sad to say, mostly appear to be British.  Loud, loud, loud.  Loud in the airport, loud on the plane.  You think please don’t tell them you’re British, then they burst into “you know what’s great about our country….?  We had the world, this used to be ours and then we got bored” (and too my fellow colonials I assure you this wasn’t me this time).

Some of things you discover at these airports are some shortcuts.  For example, at huge airports, arrive about 5 minutes before check in closes and you can be guaranteed you’ll get rushed through security and passport control then straight onto the plane without the hanging around on the tarmac. 

Getting a legroom seat without paying is pretty easy.  Just ask for it at check in, rather than paying for it beforehand.  This works best if you’re travelling on your own of course as they can usually slot you anywhere.  (I’ve not had an upgrade yet though).

You also discover how lack or overly robust security is at these airports.  Now whilst I won’t say which airports have incredibly lack security, it shocks you though how bad it is.

One airport I visited checked my hand luggage (and I mean x-ray and searched it) five times.  Now they did this to everyone before you think it’s a ginger thing.  Whilst others didn’t even bother looking at the machine.

I’m often impressed at how well designed some of the airports are, and the wealth of free amenities that come with them, but for this trip here is my short Kermodian (for those that listen BBC Radio 5) review…

  • Heathrow – Past its sell by date
  • Tokyo – Scarily logical
  • Osaka – On an Island and a bit dull
  • Taiwan – Was clearly Made In Taiwan
  • Hong Kong – Bloody big, but not as nice as I thought
  • Manila – Shocking – their first class lounge resembles that of a Glasgow public toilet
  • Caticlan – strip of grass with a desk and chair by the side of it for check in
  • Beijing – Best airport by a mile
  • Kathmandu – Post apocalyptic
  • New Delhi – Need to run fast to make the 15min transfer – humongous
  • Bangkok – Surprisingly modern and a lot like Dubai Airport

Linking in with airports is the flight itself.  I must say that the planes in South East Asia are pretty darn good and are a par (if not better) than what we have in Europe and the US.   The one thing I must say though about flying is that boy are they turbulent.

Yesterday (Thurs 27th May), I took two flights.  The first from Kathmandu to New Delhi was like a roller coaster.  It was if the pilot decided to fly the plane moving his hands from left to right, like you see in the old movies when the actor pretends to be driving when in fact they’re in a studio in front of some green screen.  So landing was a sense of relief…or so I thought.

Now, I’ve never really been a person who’s scared of flying.  In fact I love it.  My two favourite moments are taking off and landing.  I used to love playing flight sims, X Plane for the iPad is one of my favourites, that’s if my brother Sam doesn’t steal it from me and tries to land the plane on it’s roof!  I also took gliding lessons with one of my best friends Trev for half a year.  I can always remember the first moment when my heart sank as the glider hit its first thermal (to gain altitude on an engineless plane you have to chase the thermals).

The feeling of hitting a thermal I can only describe as being on a rollercoaster that’s shooting upwards at speed ready to do the loop the loop.  I had one hand on the control and one hand on my parachute cord.  But then after the horror of the first thermal it was all okay and I quickly got used to them.  Turbulence on a jet is just the same (except your smashing through thermals at 600mph rather than 40mph).

As we take off from New Delhi on our way to Bangkok in Thailand we hit a little turbulence, nothing to bad.  Then a bit more, a little stronger than before, but still cool.  And then bang, we hit a big one.  The plane dived a little bit and the corrected itself.

I was sat next to an Indian couple that got married two days ago, and they were off on their honeymoon.  We joked about the turbulence and started chatting about Indian wedding ceremonies.  Our food began to arrive shortly after.  The aisles had about four attendants with their carts, serving veg or non veg food (which I declined as it wouldn’t stay down in my stomach for long; still suffering from food poisoning the day before).

Bang.  We hit some major turbulence.  The pilot re-flashed the already lit fasten seat belt sign.  Bang.  Another hit of turbulence.  The announcer came on to say that the serving of food would be suspended until we get out of this turbulence.  Then the plane swayed to the left and then right, up and then down, followed by successive bangs and more swaying.  Food trays started falling off people’s tables, the cabin crew in the aisles’ crouched down on the floor.  You could really feel that you were travelling at 600mph - which wasn’t good. 

The lady next to me squeezed her new husband tight and began to cry, another person a few seats behind me also began to cry.  At each bump passengers harmoniously went ‘whoa’, ‘ooooh’.  The pilot seemed to try to fight the plane through it but kept getting punched at every angle like an exhausted boxer losing his final fight.

One thing that amazes me, and I admit I do this myself, is that when you hit a bit of turbulence, you grab your arm rests.  Now when you think about it, that isn’t going to make you more secure or even stop the turbulence from happening – but you still do it.  I think it must have something to do with the built in reflex we get when we are born (from what I remember from watching Dr Robert Winston on the BBC, and I could be wrong, is that we are born with two instinctive things that freak us out; loud noise and the fear of falling).

So ten minutes into this rollercoaster, the wings flapping like a bird, we finally broke through it.  Which was much to the relief of all the passengers and more importantly, my stomach.

So if you’ve not travelled to SE Asia before, be prepared for some bumps, some shockingly bad airports (and some world class ones), stressed out westerners and good clean planes with fantastic food.

Happy Flying.


  1. Sounds good and scary at the same time Dave...

    Certainly sounds like you're having a great time though...

    Keep us posted... ;o)


  2. hahaha david thanks for including me. i do recollect that i am much better than that. hope your having fun. :D x


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