My best day trip ever – and a poem about flying

(Neil Lock, 30 November 2022)

(Note: The image comes from Wikimedia. As far as I can work out, it is free from copyright, and its creator Alf van Beem has waived any requirement for attribution. Thanks, Alf.)

The week-end before last, I took a day trip. A trip which many people would find totally insane, and some would say damaged the environment. But it was the best day trip of my life.

I’ve always loved flying in planes, since my first experience way back in 1968. I’ve been on almost 350 flights since then, and (despite many delays, some scary landings, and a few bumpy rides verging on the sick-making) enjoyed them all. But one part of any flight, for me, stands out as the most enjoyable by far; take off. I strap myself in to the max. I love the anticipation as the engines get noisy. I love the back-in-the-seat moment; I feel I’m going for a ride. I love the comfy pressure back into my seat. I love riding faster and faster and faster along the ground. I love the speed buzz as buildings disappear behind me. I love being tipped back and lifted into the air. I love a steep climb. And if the take off ride bumps and bounces a bit, I love it even more.

I confess that, many times, when flying on leisure trips I have taken indirect routings when there was a direct one available. Sometimes I have justified this to myself by arguments like “the departure time is more convenient.” But more often, I thought: “it’s not much more expensive, so I’ll get two take off rides for the price of one.”

I also value comfort very highly. Leather seats, in particular. Every car I have had since 1982 has had leather seats. When flying around Europe, I have always preferred leather seat airlines like Lufthansa, Swiss or British Airways to those like Air France or KLM, who have been slow to offer leather seats to economy passengers. I once even flew (for an extremely cheap fare) from London to Amsterdam via Hamburg, for this very reason. As it happened, I missed the connection at Hamburg due to no fault of my own. So, they had to re-route me via Frankfurt, and I got three leather seat take off rides for the price of one!

Everyone has his or her particular turn-ons. Taking off in a plane is one of mine. And an innocent one, if you ask me; though deep green environmentalists, of course, would disagree. But, until this recent week-end, I had never taken a plane trip just for the ride.

Now, I have never been a great worrier about my personal future. Che sera sera, is one of my mottoes. But I’m 69 now, and I’m becoming aware that my remaining time on this planet is limited. Also, that my resources are starting to run out, both physical and financial. (But not mental!). And that I still have much work to do to promote, in my own inimitable way, the individual liberty of all human beings.

I decided, a few months ago, that despite my declining financial position, it would be stupid to stint myself. If I can enjoy a good experience, which could help to bolster my liberty work, then I should go ahead and do it. Within a reasonable budget, of course. So, when I discovered that British Airways were offering day trips at very cheap prices by today’s standards, I went to find one. And I came up with: Heathrow to Aberdeen day return for £92!

Seat selection was extra. But it only cost me £5 each way to secure my window seats as near as possible to the very back of the plane. (But never in the rearmost row; they often don’t recline, and sometimes don’t have windows.) Why do I choose these seats? Because they leave the ground last, so give the best speed buzz! Also, because not many people want to sit right at the back of the plane, so you’re far more likely to have an empty seat next to you. Moreover, I enjoy the inside-cabin view from the back of the plane when everyone is strapped in and we taxi out for take off. A calm, comfortable scene, in which a long, thin ocean of dark blue leather is punctuated by heads gently bobbing up and down.

I bought the ticket mostly for the ride. But also, because every time you fly, you’re hoisting your middle finger in the air to the greenies! And you can argue: The seat was going there anyway, so why shouldn’t I sit in it? Fun for me, and good for British Airways too.

But I went further. I decided to make a week-end of the trip. Now, I’m a Premier Inn fan, having spent more than a year of my life staying in their hotels, and even having bought one of their Hypnos beds for my home. So, I booked two nights in my favourite airport hotel, and a return ticket on the RailAir coach (leather seats, of course) to Heathrow from Guildford.

The coach on the way out was 20 minutes late, but otherwise the trip was uneventful. And I noted in my little A6 book: “This is the comfiest bus I’ve ever ridden in.”

I’ve done the journey this way to the Heathrow hotel many times before. The last stretch to the hotel can be done either by “hotel hoppa” bus, or by (expensive) taxi. But the hotel bus system at Heathrow has recently been gutted. There used to be a two or three an hour service all day and evening. But now, there are gaps in the schedule during the day, and only one bus an hour in the evening. Useless for arriving travellers – the taxi drivers must be loving it. (It also doesn’t seem to serve the re-opened Terminal 4 at all!) In this case, the scheduled bus didn’t turn up, so I shared a taxi with a lady going to another hotel on the same route.

Arriving at the hotel, I soon set out to walk to my favourite Heathrow pub, “The Three Magpies.” It’s about 25 minutes, straight along the A4 and close to the North runway. In the pub, I had a great conversation with one of the chefs on his break and a new (3 days into the job) barmaid from Kenya. Then I walked to the White Hart in Harlington, the best eatery in the area. I had had excellent experiences there before, but this particular evening was not one of them.

So, to my day trip. This, I think, is the time for my alter ego, the “Darn-Poor Rhymer,” to take over.

I began this poem in November 2007, after a nasty experience with a security goon at Gatwick Airport. I decided to contrast that with the pleasures of flying. It has taken me 15 years to get these words to this point. And during those years, the pleasure I get from flying has only increased. So, you can find in it echoes of the Beatles, Cliff Richard and Rodgers and Hammerstein. And little remains in the poem of the bad experience that sparked it.

Ride the sky

I love to take a seat inside

A flying bus, and go for a ride.

Strap in, sit back, ride fast, and fly;

Ride the take off, ride the sky.

A long, thin tube, with seats. And, if you dare

To take one, you’ll be launched into the air!

And then, as if by prestidigitation,

You’ll be transported to your destination.

Rushing to get to the airport,

Queuing for check in and bag drop,

Being harassed by “security,”

Waiting, and waiting, and waiting.

But I’m in my seat now. A bit firm,

But it’s leather. I like leather.

And there’s carpet under my feet.

I feel safe in my comfy seat.

In a few minutes, I’m going to fly;

Back in the seat, up in the air!

I’ve got a ticket to ride the sky;

A ticket to ride, and I don’t care.

With a tall wall of leather in front of me,

It’s like the back seat of a big comfy taxi.

But this big taxi’s a flying bus;

We’re going for a sky ride, all of us!

I look round at my fellow passengers,

Relaxing in seats like mine.

Different races, different faces,

Different thoughts, but one in common:

We’re all going for a ride together,

We’re all going to sit back and fly.

Pressed back into comfy seats of leather,

We’ll ride the take off and we’ll ride the sky!

As we push back from the terminal,

My seatmate looks a bit apprehensive.

I think: My friend, put all your fears aside;

Sit back, relax, you’re going for a ride!

Now through my window I see

Another flying bus move on to the runway.

I can see the heads of the passengers,

I wonder where they’re going.

I hear the roar of engines,

And all the heads go back together.

I envy the passengers seated inside,

That looks like an exhilarating ride!

Soon, we’re on the runway,

Another minute, it gets noisy.

The machine rolls slowly forward;

Then suddenly, it’s our turn to ride.

I’m pressed firmly, comfortably back in my seat;

The ride goes faster, and faster, and faster,

Till I get a buzz from the speed, and still it goes faster.

I love take off; it’s the best passive experience in life.

This one’s a boisterous take off ride,

Up and down, and side to side,

As faster and faster the airport goes by;

I love the take off ride into the sky!

We bounce and sway for thirty seconds,

Then the machine stands on its tail;

And lying back, climbing steeply, we fly

Into the big blue boundless sky.

Oh, what a beautiful feeling,

Oh, what a beautiful day!

My fellow riders are smiling,

Happy that we’re on our way.

We’re all happy, babe and dude,

In the back seats of this flying tube.

That launch was on the bumpy side,

But we all enjoyed the ride!

Even those who before were scared

Now seem relaxed, and glad they dared

To take a leather seat inside

A flying bus, and go for a ride.

Not every sky ride is the same;

Some are delightful, some are tame,

Some may make you feel a bit sick.

What will we get? Treat or trick?

We’re soon up among the clouds;

For a while, the ride is bumpy.

I feel a little bit queasy, but not much.

As we climb above the clouds, the sun comes out.

Soon we’re high above the ground.

I can see for miles.

The Earth is moving beneath me,

Seemingly slowly.

I can see the mountains and the valleys,

The sea and the ships, the coasts and the cities.

I can see the windmills, too.

It’s all beautiful, except the windmills.

The ride becomes less smooth. It jolts and sways

As it takes us back down towards Earth.

It’s a turbulent ride down through the clouds,

A little bit scary, but not much.

We make a couple of sharp turns,

Then we’re coming in for landing.

A big bump, then some air time,

Another bump, and a sudden slowdown.

And I muse, with pleasant anticipation,

On my next take off acceleration.

We’ll bounce and sway along the ground,

Then we’ll fly near the speed of sound!

I love to take a seat inside

A flying bus, and go for a ride.

Strap in, sit back, ride fast, and fly;

Ride the take off, ride the sky.

This is Neil Lock speaking again. Did you notice that the total number of words in the poem, including the title, is 737?

But it was in Airbus A320s that I flew from London Heathrow to Aberdeen Dyce and back. I expected that this trip might well be the last time I would be able to afford to fly, so I was quite keyed up. I compared the experience with my very first flight, Dan Air from Gatwick to Venice in 1968. Far more formalities now, but far slicker processes. And far comfier seats!

On the way up, it was an almost full flight, but I had an empty seat next to me. £5 well spent! The seat was soft leather, but not very wide. The flight was almost metronomic; left on time to the minute, arrived on time to the minute.

I traced the flight experience, as it unfolded, against my poem. It mostly checked out. This time, we weren’t close enough to the runway for me to see heads go back; but I did see two flights all but jump out from the starting gate. One an Air France 319, the other a BA flight three places ahead of us in the queue. Those lucky passengers were surely going for a ride!

When it came, our take off was routine. But it bumped and bounced enough to give some fun too. And the climb was really steep. It was sunny up there, but too much cloud to see anything below.

The flight was smooth until coming in to Aberdeen. Then we enjoyed what must have been a late or over-speed landing. The slowdown was the fastest in my almost 350 plane rides.

Dyce airport isn’t the greatest place in the world. I took a quick look outside, but it was raining. I contemplated hiring a taxi for a tour, but I had less than two hours available, and had brought some work (reviewing a friend’s latest novel). So, I stayed in the terminal.

When I got into a different 320 for the return trip, I saw that my seat selection had been perfect! A fairly full plane, but no-one else in my row, or the rearmost row behind. I could hear the cabin crew’s chat, and could have joined in if I’d felt like it. But the seat was BA’s best ever. Wider than the seat I’d enjoyed on the way up; and the squab, seat back and headrest were all beautifully soft. It was like having the back seat of a limo all to myself. The best economy class airline seat I’ve ever sat in, without doubt. Not much leg room, but that doesn’t worry someone of my (lack of) height. Then my mind strayed to my business trips in Qantas first class in the 1980s, and I thought: No, this seat is comfier than those. It’s leather.

And then came the take off ride. I felt acutely aware that this might well be my last take off. Now, I’ve enjoyed some truly great take off rides in my life. Including one from Odessa, Ukraine, generally regarded as the bumpiest runway in the world that takes commercial jets. Unwary passengers, who failed to strap in tight enough, were almost bounced out of their seats! I also enjoyed a 15 second short runway take off from Bandung, Indonesia. Dyce has quite a short runway, so I hoped our pilot would give us a really good ride on the take off.

The pilot must have caught my mood. He gave us a sports car ride. We were pressed right back into our seats. The ride was rapid from the start. We swayed from side to side as we rode faster and faster. I loved every moment of it! The combination of exhilarating motion and soft, comfy leather seat made it one of the best take off rides of my life. Probably top 5.

As soon as we left the ground, we hit a pocket of bumpy air. But they were the kind of short, fast bumps that are fun, not scary or sick-making. I enjoyed the bumps, too. And all the way, my flight continued to be a sports car ride in the back seat of a limo. I just sat back and enjoyed it. And we arrived at Heathrow 15 minutes early.

I had already decided to take a taxi from Terminal 5 to the hotel, stuff the cost. My luck held; my TX4 had leather seats!

After a pleasant evening and an excellent night’s sleep, I embarked on the final leg of my journey, the RailAir bus back to Guildford. It was as comfortable as on the first journey. But alas, the bus broke down en route. I was stranded for an hour, waiting for the next one. Which was a lot less comfortable. And very slow, due to traffic.

But I cherish my memories of this week-end, and of my best day trip ever.

Leave a Reply