While I do not find flying particularly enjoyable, there is a definite feeling of exhilaration during the take-off phase of the journey. Flight WS 701 is an attempt to capture that feeling in words, and was inspired by my recent flight to Vancouver. Fasten your seat belts!
All the passengers are seated. Emily* has just completed a walk through to check that all the overhead storage compartments are closed. The seat belt lights are on, and a reminder to wear them is announced. The passenger area goes quiet, presumably with anticipation (or perhaps expectation) as the aircraft is clearly being prepared for imminent movement. Emily* once again walks down the aisle between the seats, checking that everybody is secured with their seat belts. Her feet on the carpet make no sound and, in fact, the only sound is the air flow into our area and muffled jet engine sounds from outside. A few moments ago, there were the sounds of numerous conversations in progress but now, just the sound of forced air being blown into our area accompanied by muffled engine sounds.
The silence is broken as the pilot appears and introduces himself. He then introduces the cabin crew who will be looking after us and, after injecting a little humor into the situation (we’ll probably never see the cabin crew during our flight as they tend to hide), he thanks us for flying with WestJet and returns to the cockpit.
With the exception of one or two muted conversations, all is quiet. Window seat passengers are looking out of their windows, but there is little of interest to see out there. Aisle seat passengers are generally looking down the aisle, although nothing is happening there, and most of the passengers in the middle seats are looking at the small video screens in front of them. The video screens show nothing. Meanwhile the sound of air being blown into our area continues.
In this quiet and tense atmosphere, and with our departure time just past, the aircraft gives a sudden lurch backwards as it is slowly pushed away from the airport structure. We are moving backwards for probably only a few minutes before we come to a stop.
Our cabin crew position themselves so that they can go through the safety procedures. The only sound is, once again, the air being blown into our area, accompanied in the background by the muffled sound of our engines. The cabin crew start their safety presentation during which time we are aware of a new sound. We can now hear the engines building up speed. The aircraft suddenly moves forward very slowly, and then turns to the right and starts on a surprisingly bumpy ride.
The video screens now show a map of our location, the orientation of the aircraft together with specific flight data. It tells us that we are moving at 12mph! Looking out of the little windows gives a very poor perspective on the start of our journey, but we can hear the steady sound of the engines; the air being blown into our area, and feel the many irregularities in the surface over which we are moving. It does seem rather surprising that an aircraft of this size is reacting so noticeably to ground irregularities. The cabin crew continues with their presentation during this time, despite having to occasionally steady themselves by holding onto a seat as the aircraft continues on its rather bumpy journey!
The sound of the engines changes as we clearly slow down and make a turn. Looking out of a window, I can see another aircraft but then it is lost from view. Our engines once again build up speed and we slowly move off until, once again, we make a turn and then come to a stop.
The passengers are very quiet. The cabin crew are nowhere to be seen. The sound of the air flowing into the cabin, accompanied by the background drone of low speed running engines are the only sounds heard. We all await the inevitable.
Suddenly, the tone of the engines changes dramatically as they quickly start to increase speed. The aircraft starts to reverberate as it holds its position despite an obvious desire to move and, within a few moments, pressure is felt in our backs as we start accelerating down the runway. We can still feel the ground surface irregularities but they are coming faster and faster as we continue to accelerate. Looking out of a window, I can clearly see that we are moving at a considerable speed. The sound of the engines reaches a pitch, and a volume, which totally dominates any other sound as we continue this headlong dash down the runway. How long are these runways? The engines continue in their constant effort to power this aircraft up to such a speed that it can defy gravity! Just how long are these runways?
While I am absorbed by the sound of such power at work, I look towards the front of the aircraft just in time to see it rise upwards as we start to leave the ground. After a few moments of still feeling surface irregularities, our ride suddenly becomes smooth as the whole aircraft becomes airborne. The sound of high speed engines still dominates as we smoothly climb upwards into an early morning sky.
Soon we will reach our cruising altitude. Soon the engines will be moderated for efficiency, and for keeping our scheduled arrival time. Soon (if we are lucky), we may even see the cabin crew offering refreshments. Soon, all we will hear is the drone of cruising engines; the sound of air being blown into our area, and the chattering of passengers. Soon all those things will happen but first, we will just hear those high speed engines. The video screen tells me that we are approaching a height of 15000ft, and so we have quite a way to go before reaching our cruising altitude!
*Fictitious name to respect the privacy of the individual.