Finally, I now believe I can fly…

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iol travel sep 3 first flight ss Noni Mokati

INDEPENDENT NEWSPAPERS

A moment of reflection and feeling at home after all the anxiety.

Johannesburg - I had been to OR Tambo International airport before… but this time was different. Instead of dropping off friends and bidding them farewell, I was the one leaving.

And, for the first time in my 26 years, I was boarding an aeroplane for the very first time.

The thought of it left me feeling embarrassed but also like a child given sweets. It was a “tell-someone” moment.

I arrived at the airport two hours early for my flight, as advised by family and friends. I walked through a throng of airport personnel and passengers pulling their luggage to and fro. Although I was well-prepared and had my ticket and passport in hand, my brain plunged into a state of confusion. Departure times on the announcement boards read like Greek to me. The airport personnel at Terminal B were “kind enough” to tell me that the international flights were at Terminal A after I walked halfway down the airport floor with heavy luggage.

My 16kg suitcase, laptop bag and cabin handbag suddenly seemed impossible to manoeuvre to the other side of the airport and down the escalators. It never dawned on me that luggage trolleys were available – I was simply determined to get there on time. So I scurried across the floor with every ounce of power in my body. Bags were checked and weighed. My body creams and hand lotion I purchased the night before were tossed into the bin with no questions asked. Before I could ask why, the customs official simply gave me the “it is the airport regulations” look.

Nonetheless, I got through to Gate 7.

And then, there it was.

The large piece of metal I had seen so often roaring in the sky stood gracefully as men in overalls worked on it. The words Singapore Air were inscripted on it. I was flummoxed and excited all at once. Keeping a close eye on the announcement boards, I secretly took a picture of myself with the airplane in the background.

Moments later my boarding call was announced. I felt a lump grow in my throat and followed the crowd, pretending to know it all. But truth is I didn’t.

I was extremely anxious. I handed over my boarding ticket and walked towards the aircraft. Thoughts of the plane crashing into the sea or being hijacked suddenly ran through my head. I panicked but forced myself to calm down. I knew these thoughts were all a figment of my imagination, influenced by what I had seen on TV throughout the years

Inside the plane, I picked a seat next to the window, only to realise that seats were allocated. Flustered, I carefully scanned my ticket and walked to my designated seat. Our captain’s voice blared through the speakers, announcing temperature, departure and estimated arrival times. A safety video popped out from screens attached to our seats instructing passengers to fasten their safety belts and how to wear protective gear in case of an emergency landing.

Pretending yet again to know it all, I wrestled with the seatbelt and realised that I needed to ask for assistance again!

“It’s my first time,” I told the stewardess, discomfited with every word I had just uttered. And then the plane slowly accelerated. This was it. I knew there was no going back now. The aircraft gained momentum and my stomach tensed. I gripped the armrest for dear life. My head spun into a frenzy. The aircraft then took off. I’ve been scared of heights throughout my childhood but the take-off proved too much for me to bear. My lips dried up instantly as the plane soared even higher. It felt like a rollercoaster going up. However, I knew that this rollercoaster was not going down anytime soon, so I prayed. Not for safety but for sanity. I glanced at the sick bag and wrestled the sudden urge to throw up. Later on, the aircraft was level.

Passing through the white clouds was quite special, something I would have never imagined. I was greeted by a beautiful sight. I stopped myself from asking the lady next to me if I could change seats with her. I wanted to see it all. Take pictures to show everyone back home. But I could not take any because the only camera I had was on my phone – which had to remain switched off through the flight…

We experienced turbulence from time to time. But I was happy. I was flying and that’s all that mattered. Thoughts of the plane crashing reared again but I fought them with everything I had. I was determined to enjoy every minute. So as my nerves steadied, I revelled in the glory of flying.

Halfway through our flight it felt peculiar to wend my way through the long aisle to the lavatory. I couldn’t believe how complicated, clean and yet so comprehensive the toilet was. Awesome.

Meals were served, to my delight, and the movies kept me entertained. I suddenly felt at home.

My 10 hours of flying for the first time… unforgettable. - Saturday Star

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