This post is from our contributor Andyboy. To catch up on his controversial articles and commentaries on Israeli and Jewish affairs you can visit his blog at:http://andyboy1.com/
This is the third, and final, episode in my short series of anecdotes about flying incidents and adventures having a Jewish or Israeli connection.
Today I have a couple of stories about Arkia, one of the local airlines.
Booking a flight
The first story never gets off the ground, in the sense that it has to do with Arkia as it once was. Specifically with the reservations system in the 1970′s B.C. (No, Arkia’s not THAT old – I am referring to the years “Before Computers”).
Yes, difficult as it may be for the majority of readers to comprehend, there was once a world without computers. In so many ways, a much better world. And airlines WERE able to function by employing the magical technique of a phenomenon known as – writing!
So how did this operate in practice? Well, in Eilat for example, making a reservation and/or buying a ticket, involved a little trip to the Arkia offices in the New Tourist Centre. It’s still called “New”even though it’s about 40 years old – which for a city that is, itself, only 62 years old, makes the Centre one of our ancient monuments.
Upon making a reservation, the clerk would reach behind her desk and take a large index card from a carousel. Every flight had its own card. She would enter your details on the card, in pencil. This was a critical element, in case the entry needed to be erased in the event of a change of plan. Having done this, she then telephoned the Arkia office in Tel Aviv to give them the details. Reservations made in Tel Aviv were dealt with in the same manner, in reverse. A lot of phoning!
Then the ticket was issued. This was the standard three part carbonised paper ticket, examples of which you can still find in aviation museums. If you’re really curious you can just use Google to see what they looked like! Having written the ticket, payment was made by cash or credit card (no cheques).
In those days, not only did the planes usually fly on time, but on the morning business flights they even served a full breakfast! During the rest of the day it was possible to have tea, coffee, cold drinks, sandwiches and cakes.
Today they fly bigger, faster and more luxurious planes – and you’re lucky to get a glass of water and a packet of peanuts.
Yes, now we have ticketless flights and computerised booking. No more index cards. But at least in those far distant days, the clerk did not look up and tell you; ” sorry, can’t make the reservation now, the system has crashed”.
All she had to do was sharpen her pencil……….
Fear of Flying – a trip on a Dash 7 - from Tel Aviv to Eilat
This little adventure took place in the early 1990′s. After entering the world of aviation relatively late in life – I was 24 before a flew for the first time – I made up for the lost years by flying domestically in Israel. Eilat is very isolated from the rest of Israel. It’s 350 kilometers from Tel Aviv and most of that is desert. Flying was the only practical option.
In those days, the Government had a vested interest in trying to get people to live in Eilat. It wasn’t an easy life. The city was undeveloped, and summer temperatures were,on average, a blistering 40 degrees Celsius (105 Fahrenheit). Airconditioning in private homes was almost unknown, and airconditioners in cars were considered a luxury, and taxed accordingly.
One way in which the Government, the Municipality and the Airlines worked together to persuade citizens to live in Eilat was to subsidise their airfares, and provide them with a special pass, which eliminated the necessity of going through the security check. This meant we could treat the plane almost like a bus. Since the airport is, literally, in the centre of the city, I could leave home 20/30 minutes before departure – and still have time to spare. As the planes were small Dash 7′s, with a seating capacity of around 50, it didn’t take long to load them. I should mention that the planes were not all that new – I don’t know how many “previous owners” there had been.
I was obliged to fly at least two or three times a week, sometimes more. Then, it was possible to fly not only to Tel Aviv, but also to Haifa, Jerusalem, Kiryat Shmoneh, Rosh Pina and, for a short time, even to Be’ er Sheva. Those days have long gone!
So I was on one of my regular trips, returning to Eilat in the late afternoon. The flight time was around one hour. Occasionally we had to enter a holding pattern for a few minutes if the single runway was busy. This was normal, but on this flight something was not normal. I noticed that we were spending an unusually long time circling. The stewardess (yes, those were the days before the PC term of ” cabin crew” became obligatory) – seemed slightly agitated, which was unusual for her. I knew her quite well; she was – let us say – somewhat more mature than the regular stewardesses and had been with the airline for years.
After about 20 minutes came the announcement from the flight deck that you have nightmares about: “Ladies and Gentlemen, this is your captain speaking. I have to inform you that we have a small technical problem. Our dashboard light is indicating that the nosewheel is not locked. I will give you more information later.” Amazing that all problems connected with keeping these heavier than air machines up in the sky are always “small“!
Of course, the initial announcement was in Hebrew, which I understood even less then than I do today. Consequently the first reaction came from the Israelis, who are somewhat more excitable than us ” stiff upper lip” British. There was a fair amount of screaming and crying so it was fortunate that our mature stewardess was able to act in a calm and rational manner. She tried to reassure everyone that it would all be OK – which she didn’t believe any more than we did. The fact that a few passengers started throwing up didn’t do a lot for the atmosphere.
Eventually the captain announced that we would have to continue to circle in order to burn up fuel. Very reassuring!
After about an hour he told us that he was going to make a low pass over the control tower so that engineers could study the condition of the nosewheel with binoculars. Seemed absurd to me, but what did I know. As we passed the outer marker and flew low over the runway, those of us in window seats witnessed an amazing sight. Every ambulance and firetruck in the city was lined up next to the runway!
And so we arrived at the moment of truth, and another announcement you could live without: ” Ladies and Gentlemen, I am about to attempt an emergency landing. Please remove spectacles and any sharp objects from your pockets. Adopt the brace position when you hear the command “Brace! Brace”.
Which begs the question of which of the two brace positions, as shown on the flight safety card that nobody ever read, until now, should one adopt? The ” rest your arms on the back of the seat in front and cradle your head there” or the “bend down and place your head between your knees” The problem with the second alternative is that I can never resist the temptation to add: ” and kiss your arse goodbye!”.
And so to the landing. To the conflicting cries of ” Brace! Brace!” and ” Shemah Israel” we bumped along the runway, pursued by the screeching sirens of the emergency vehicles as they chased after us. The more astute among you will have deduced that the nose wheel did not, in fact, collapse; otherwise I would not be here to tell the tale, as the saying goes. It turned out to be a defective indicator light.
You may be wondering, what were my thoughts after the initial announcement. Did my past life flash before my eyes? Well, sort of. I did think back to all that I had done with my life, and all that I yet hoped to do. But I forced myself to stay calm and optimistic, which is no mean feat, as anyone who knows me can testify. Basically I willed myself to believe that the landing would be OK, whilst mentally trying to recall survival rate statistics, and calculating how quickly I could get to an exit. Anyway, the situation was not in my control.
By the way – I was an Atheist before the flight, and remained an Atheist both during and afterwards. I didn’t think that God, if there was one, had done such a great job until then, and this trick didn’t impress me.
I didn’t feel any emotional reaction until I actually stood on the steps to disembark. Then my legs collapsed under me and I fell into the arms of my (then) sister-in-law, who was an Arkia employee.
I subsequently learned that the Municipality had procedures for dealing with emergency situations like this. These included shutting down half the city to ensure that the road to the only hospital remained clear. Being such a small community, everyone knew someone, or knew someone who knew someone, so a large reception committee awaited us.
Fear of Flying?
I don’t know.
I flew again the next day!
Images from :http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arkia_Israel_Airlines