Wednesday, February 18, 2009
"Make voyages! Attempt them... there's nothing else."
Following an announcement that we were about to make our descent into Calcutta, passengers began scooping up luggage and jackets, setting their seats upright, folding tray tables and sighing loud relief that the long flight was drawing to an end.
The stewards had retired to their respective corners for landing and we were moments from reaching Indian soil.
Spouse and I and our seat neighbour watched miniature screens in front of us: they offered a map and details about altitude, the time and distance left until we reached our destination, and the current local time.
I would wager that we were three of a small handful of people bothering to watch the screen at such a late stage in the journey but it was captivating to watch the number of miles run from 200 to 100, to 50, and to see the altitude numbers as they plummeted.
Our travelling companion- let us simplify matters and call her 'A'- sat beside the window and commented on the cars and trees that she could identify.
After a time Spouse nudged me.
"Look," he said. "We must be circling." He indicated the screen, and both A and I noted that the miles did not appear to be tumbling as they had been.
It happens on occasion that a jet might arrive too early and is forced to complete a few laps of the sky while waiting for the path to be clear.
The figures soon stated that we had in fact flown ten miles from the airport. Spouse shifted a little in his seat at the temporary suspension of our landing. He was thinking of his family, waiting to greet us at the airport at one hour after midnight.
Frequently, in that instant before touching down, I find that the moment seems painfully protracted as though the flight might never end.
When we were twenty miles from the airport I wearily began to wonder if that sentiment was becoming justified. Thirty miles outside Calcutta Spouse, A and I sat bolt upright in our seats, unable to suppress the alarm that had been quietly growing inside us.
Then we were fifty miles away and not a single word from the pilot; nor at seventy, nor at ninety, nor at one hundred miles. Notably, neither was there a whisper of alarm from our fellow passengers who were perhaps not so fully engrossed in the information screens as we three were, perhaps not so aware that we had been on the verge of landing when we flew away again without a hint of explanation.
"This is your captain speaking," the voice finally broke the eerie silence one hundred and twenty miles from Calcutta. I was glad to hear any news at all.
"I'm afraid that we won't be able to land in Calcutta as planned. We're going to land instead in Hyderabad."
"Hyderabad?" Spouse was visibly shocked.
"Hyderabad?" A could only repeat the captain's and Spouse's words.
I, poor thing, did not know where Hyderabad was, but Spouse knew, and A knew. Hyderabad was, as I soon learned, almost one thousand miles away from Calcutta. There were a good number of airports in between that might have served us, but it seemed destined to be Hyderabad. Passengers were grumbling about the matter, but something far more troubling seemed to go unnoticed.
Posted by Phyllis Hunt McGowan at 12:17 PM