Memories From my First Flight...

Read about Eric's first flight which he dreamed about for years! Have you ever been on a flight? Can you relate a similar experience, with mixed feelings?

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An Ethiopian aircraft at Addis Ababa Bole International Airport.

For countless times, I’ve always yearned to be on a flight but there’ve been no possibilities of making this happen. Sometimes I was envious of air travelers and I always wished to fly, but this anxiousness kept bewildering me unceasingly until during the final months of last year. 2016 was truly dreadful and I resolved to end it on a high note. I had to make myself proud, so I buckled up!

My resolution to fly was made without even knowing where to go but I thought of some significant destinations. In 2015, I had assured my family in Chipata, Zambia that I’d return the following year. So Lusaka had to be my first air travel destination. I hit the internet to search for air ticket fares from both Nairobi and Entebbe to Lusaka. Different sites gave confusing rates (in addition to their ‘booking fees’), so I went directly to the airlines’ websites (it’s important to book a flight directly from the airline’s website). Though I had preferred to fly from Nairobi for a two hours’ flight to Lusaka, this trip was very expensive compared to flying from Entebbe in Uganda.

After a price comparison between Kenya Airways, RwandAir, and Ethiopian Airlines, I settled for the latter as its prices were moderate than the first two, though the trip would take longer. I booked the ticket and paid online, just more than two months before departure. This was a connecting flight through multiple cities including Addis Ababa and Harare. Due to the volatility of flight fares, I needed to secure a cheaper ticket well enough in advance since it was the festive season. To enjoy the view of the aerospace while airborne, I needed a seat near the window and to snap some photos during the flight.

Snap taken while cruising over the Tanzanian airspace...
A snap while cruising over the Tanzanian airspace…

Ever since I booked the ticket, I’d often ask myself ‘Did I really secure the flight?’, ‘Am I for real that soon am gonna fly and soar high into the clouds, something I’ve never done before?’. A lot of things about this flight consumed the better part of my mind and sometimes I became nervous. At night, I’d often have dreams related to this flight, some frightening and others just cheerful. During the day I’d hit the internet for ‘Tips for a first-time flier’, What to do at the airport?’, Is this or that item allowed on flight’, and others. Sometimes I would read how people breathed at the altitude of more than 10000 meters, how do aircraft engines operate, and the changes in body functionality while at cruising speed.

Gradually the flight date inched closer and I began my preparations. All travel documents were secured in a separate pouch (passport, national ID, Yellow Fever certificate, etc), personal items were placed into the carry-on bag while other belongings were stuffed into the main baggage. I tried to mold my mindset to be mentally ready for the first flight though the timid feelings wouldn’t forsake me. I am a keen follower of global news and I admit that news about an air crash really scares me a lot! Throughout 2016, I read about fatal air accidents that resulted in the loss of 325 lives with very few survivors. The LaMia Airlines Flight 2933 that crashed just a few weeks to my flight really alarmed me and I had to regularly check aircraft emergency standards online. Good enough Ethiopian Airlines has a renowned safety record with minimal incidents that occurred a long time back.

The sumptuous meals aboard...
The sumptuous meals aboard…

My outbound flight was from Entebbe International Airport in Uganda so I left Nairobi by an overnight bus. I went with a well-stuffed backpack and a suitcase while bearing in mind that I shouldn’t exceed the airline’s baggage limit of 43kgs. After resting the entire day, I had to book a taxi to take me to the airport which is 45kms away. I always adhere to minimizing travel costs but this time I had no option b’se there’s no direct public transportation to the airport, so I parted $30 for the ride. Traffic along this route is extremely disreputable especially during evening hours as the road is one lane (though an express dual-carriage way is under construction). I left at 21:00hrs and the ride took approximately 3hours but my flight time was scheduled at 01:05 am, so I wasn’t in any haste. As we approached the airport, my nervousness grew and the sight of the heavily armed soldiers drew up my worries. ‘What if I’m stopped and interrogated about the destination and my intentions there?’, ‘What if I am prevented from boarding the flight b’se there’s something I’m missing?’. Those were my mixed thoughts about the situation.

Contrary to my fears, I encountered no obstacles at the airport since I managed to compose myself mildly and boosted my self-confidence. I was well prepared for the flight and never forgot any important item, so no panic mode was activated. The airport staff were really helpful and wouldn’t mind satisfying my insistent queries about my flight. Additionally, I tried not to ask about everything but instead applied my common sense into play to ensure no one suspected that this was gonna be my first flight.

The airport security checks were so rigorous and I had to heed to all the instructions while following what other passengers did; removing shoes, belts, jackets/sweaters, and all jewels. Suitcases were scrutinized by the eagle-eyed security personnel and then screened through an hi-tech x-ray baggage scanner. We were requested to walk through a full-body scanner and to my relief, I wasn’t stopped. The same procedures were applied even at other airports I passed through while on this flight.

Inside the flight to Lusaka at 35000 ft cruising altitude
Inside the flight to Lusaka at 35000 ft cruising altitude

The next step was to approach the airline’s counter for checking in and handing over my baggage. To my relief, it didn’t exceed the weight limit, so I was given a baggage claim tag and two boarding passes, one for boarding at Entebbe and the other at Addis Ababa. The next step was to get the exit stamp from the immigration, only the duration of my stay abroad was queried. After this, I wasn’t so inquisitive but I knew that the only thing left to do is sitting in the departures lounge and wait for the signal to board. Some passengers were leaving the lounge for the boarding gate at time intervals and this confused me, but later I discerned from the screens that some flights were taking off before mine. In the meantime, I caught up with fellow passengers on the ET 0337 flight and waited with them. To make use of the time left, I also did some shopping in the airport’s duty-free zone and sipped a few cups of coffee while keeping an eye on the watch.

Eventually, the boarding time for our flight approached and we went through the final security screenings before the boarding. I was expecting to walk on the airport apron and then climb up the stairs into the plane but this didn’t happen. Instead, we walked through a jet bridge and straight into the aircraft. Since I had browsed through images and footages of how airplanes look inside, so I wasn’t startled. I placed my hand luggage in the overhead cabin and then sat comfortably while expecting no confrontations from anyone concerning misplaced seats – a scenario that I am used to during bus travels.

Viewing through the rains at Lusaka Airport, Zambia
Viewing through the rains at Lusaka Airport, Zambia

As the plane taxied to the runway, aircraft safety procedures were relayed across the overhead screens. All devices had to either be switched off or placed in airplane mode so as not to interfere with the aircraft’s communication systems with the ground staff. Seatbelts had to be tightened and interestingly, I keenly followed the aircraft’s movements from the taxiing to the take-off. During the steep ascent, I noticed that my fellow passengers were undaunted by the plane’s roaring engines and the frightful wobbling. At this moment, my heartbeat increased and the dreadful thoughts of an immediate crash engulfed my already terrified spirit. ‘What if the pilot does a mistake and the plane crashes?’. At once, I decided not to bother myself with such irrelevant thoughts, but this was unyielding.

It was so dark that I couldn’t see anything outside except the aircraft’s blinking lights, and some scattered stars in the sky. Afterward, the flight captain announced that the plane is at its cruising speed and the altitude was 35000ft so we can now use our devices but these should be switched off just before landing. The plane’s deafening engine noise and my overexcitement with mixed feelings never allowed me to sleep like others did. Only when I was starting to doze off in the middle of the flight, then meals were brought in. The food and drinks were superb but their taste wasn’t so casual maybe due to the high altitude which was unusual to the one am used to.

A few minutes later, it was announced that we are about to land at Addis Ababa Bole Airport and when I looked out of the window, I saw glowing city lights of Addis Ababa. The lights increased and some buildings became more visible as we approached the airport. The touchdown scared me a bit due to the landing impact caused by the aircraft’s front gear. We disembarked the plane and headed for the transiting passengers’ terminal where I waited for two hours before a three-hour connecting flight to Lusaka, Zambia.

A fleet of Ethiopian aircrafts at Addis Ababa Bole Airport
A fleet of Ethiopian aircraft at Addis Ababa Bole Airport

At this Addis Ababa Bole and Lusaka airports, we never used the jet bridge but instead, we were ferried to and from the aircraft using a shuttle bus. The transits I had in both Addis Ababa and Harare (on my return) added Ethiopia and Zimbabwe to the list of countries I’ve been to. This was the first flight in my life and I’ve never felt so excited, anxious and nervous at the same time like I did. Thanks a lot for reading…

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