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A bit of weather too

Having been raised on tales like Dad’s landing at Luqa, I’ve never been a nervous passenger, and a bit of bumpiness on a flight doesn’t worry me.  Perhaps it should.

Some years ago I had to go to Johannesburg for a couple of days on IBM business, and flew back to Cape Town late one night.  It was a standard scheduled commuter flight, probably in an Airbus.

The weather was a bit rough, and got worse towards Cape Town.  I happened to be sitting next to a traffic light engineer, and, both being complete and utter nerds, we got into a fascinating conversation about the mathematical intricacies of programming traffic light systems.  I think we were onto stochastic processes and queueing theory (don’t ask!) when the first cup of coffee sailed through the air and we heard a few shrieks.  The seatbelt lights came on, and we realised that we were bouncing around a bit.

“Bumpy tonight,” I said.

“Yes,” agreed my new friend casually, and went on to tell me about some rough flights he’d been on in the US.

Neither of us were perturbed by the weather.  It certainly wasn’t a smooth flight, but we didn’t think it was exceptionally rough either.  I don’t have good enough instincts to judge updrafts and downdrafts accurately, but I would be surprised if we bounced more than a couple of hundred foot up or down at the worst.  It was enough to chuck the drinks around in the cabin (and the cabin crew promptly cleared all liquids away), and there were a few unhappy souls puking and crying, but that was as bad as it got, and my friend and I simply carried on our conversation about traffic lights.

Time flies when you’re having fun, and in what seemed to be no time at all,  we were making the approach to Cape Town International.  The pilot made a very steep, fast approach to get through the weather as fast as possible (more puking and wailing) and we popped out of cloud at a comfortable height and came in to land in a typical Cape Town North-Westerly storm; plenty of rain and cross-wind, but nothing to write home about if you’ve been brought up by the cream of the Royal Air Force!

The landing was uneventful if a little untidy, and we rumbled along to the end of the runway…and then stopped.

“What on earth!” I thought. “Don’t tell me we haven’t got clearance to taxi!”

Then the cabin intercom came on, and the First Pilot addressed us in a trembling little voice.

“Ladies and gentlemen,” he said, “I have been flying this route for twenty-two years and I have never in all that time seen weather like we experienced tonight.  Thank God we got down alive!”

The rest of the passengers erupted into spontaneous applause.  My travelling companion and I turned to look at each other with identical expressions of horror.

“My god,” I thought, “they’ve given us a bloody amateur for a pilot!”