The Khartoum Flight

When does travelling feel more like commuting?   Travelling should be fun, but commuting evokes thoughts of tedium.  Perhaps I’m becoming a little jaded but recently all my flights have felt like commuting rather than travelling.  Or maybe it’s just flying in and out of Brussels where the flights are always full of boring men in suits.

The silence in the cabin is marked only by the gentle tap on blackberry keys or the quiet rustle of pages of The Economist.  No one talks to each other. Everyone keeps themselves to themselves. Everyone’s done this a hundred time before. Even flights back and forward across the Atlantic are now much the same predictable affair.  And because there’s never any decent wine in the galley, no one drinks to liven things up.

Things felt a little different then at Heathrow the other week as I waited to board BD997 to Khartoum via Beirut. The  Khartoum flight was packed, loud and buzzing, and a real contrast to the Lufthansa flight that was boarding at the next gate.

The rickety Airbus A321 was showing its age.  The flight felt like more of an adventure than a chore; like flying in the 1990s, before everything got ruined by the low-cost revolution; when the wine flowed freely and the crew were attractive. Or maybe I’m wearing my rose-tinted glasses again.

There wasn’t a boring businessman in sight. Quite who was going to Khartoum I wondered. And why?  And were there any marathon runners on the flight, en route to Beirut?

Despite the interesting mix of people on the flight, it’s becoming clear that I’m destined to spend my life on flights  sitting next to boring or ugly people – or people who drool in their sleep. I’m convinced there’s a module in the online check-in system that always puts me next to the least interesting person on the flight.

As the flight climbed out over the North Sea, the cabin’s single isle became a hive of activity as people moved about the aircraft.  Maybe it was the thought of weeks without alcohol in the Sudan that got everyone drinking and talking and sharing stories and visiting friends a few rows forward.

Some five hours later the plane swept low along the cost of Beirut, the lights of downtown twinkling just outside the window. Apart from the approach into Hong Kong’s old Kai Tak airport, it’s rare that you get such a good view of the city, as you do on the approach into Beirut.

The wheels hit the ground and the surge of reverse thrust kicked in. I couldn’t help but think that this very same runway had two huge holes blown in it by Israeli fighter jets just two years ago. That’s not something you get on the Brussels commute.

Those of us getting out at Beirut started to gather our stuff together. The crew were getting off too. For safely reasons, bmi don’t let their crew stay over in Khartoum, but fly them in and out of Beirut in one rotation, before they return to London on the next days flight.

I noticed that the more interesting-looking people were staying on the plane and hunkering down for the night flight to Sudan. I was suddenly in two minds. I wanted to explore Beirut but I felt sad not to be going to whole way to Khartoum for a bit of adventure. Would they take a stowaway, I wondered?

As we taxied off the runway, music started to fill the cabin from the public address system. The retro beat of “Sweet Harmony” by The Beloved, somehow energised the cabin, and gave my swift dash for the jetway a very 1990s feel.  Khartoum would have to wait.