Hindustan Times (Jalandhar)
Happy landings, Sir
In the 1990s, I was on one of my frequent Indian Airlines afternoon flights from Delhi to Hyderabad aboard an Airbus A-300. I had meetings lined up in Hyderabad with cigarette, biscuit and pharmaceutical companies for the packaging machinery orders. It was a smooth flight until midway to Hyderabad. A tornado had hit Andhra Pradesh that afternoon, one of the fiercest to date.
The airhostess had served lunch when we hit the eye of the storm. Plates, glasses, knives and forks were flying all over the cabin. Everyone was shaken up. An old Gujarati woman sitting next to me on the aisle seat was on her maiden flight. As the aircraft vibrated in the turbulence, she asked me: “Yeh hawai jahaz kya aisay hee urta hai hamesha (does the aircraft fly this way always)?” I replied: “Hanji mataji, koyi ghabrane wali baat nahi (Indeed. There’s nothing to worry).” Ignorance is bliss. She kept eating her lunch without panic.
The landing at Hyderabad was bumpy, as the ground head wind speed was almost 120 km per hour. Everyone heaved a sigh of relief when the aircraft came to a final halt. As I was disembarking from the front door, I saw a very familiar face in the cockpit. I went up to him and said: “Happy landings, Sir”. It took him a while to recognise me and smile with a thumbs-up action, which took me back 15 years to my days with the Indian Airlines in New Delhi as a summer trainee.
The day at the Palam airport would start early. The technical staff would get busy getting the aircraft ready for the morning flights. After the inspections and pre-flight checks, the aeroplanes rolled out to the departure bays on the tarmac. The starting of the jet engines raised the adrenaline in me, as I loved the revving-up noise and the smell of aviation fuel. During the predeparture technical parameter checks, the ground engineer would communicate with the flight captain through intercom headphones. When the flight was clear for takeoff, the tyre blocks would be removed along with the intercom plug. Before the aircraft started to roll, the last message from the ground engineer to the flight captain would be: “Happy landings, Sir,” with a thumbs-up sign. The captain would reciprocate with a thumbs-up sign from the cockpit.
During my training, I was particularly fond of a Sikh captain of Airbus A-300. He was always smartly dressed in his uniform, wearing Ray-Ban sunglasses, exuding confidence and making it a point to greet the ground crew. I did exchange pleasantries with him once in a while for the six weeks I was under training. That afternoon, on my flight to Hyderabad when the cabin crew made the pre-departure announcements, I heard the airhostess announce: “Indian Airlines flight IC-427 to Hyderabad is ready for departure. Captain Anoop Singh is in command.” And I knew that I was in safe hands. It had to be ‘Happy landings, Sir.”