Stories of flying

Recently, a friend of mine was on a plane hit by lightning. Seemed scary enough, but the pilot had quickly explained very calmly that it was nothing to worry about. A bit later the plane landed safely. Most of my stories of flying have been more funny than scary. And whenever I’m bored, I snap pictures from above.

Stories of flying
Northern Zealand, Denmark

In just a few hours, we’re off to the USA. I haven’t been there for nearly 20 years. In the 80s I frequently flew trans-Atlantic and I do remember a few stalls. (Or at least that’s what I think it’s called when the plane drops a few hundred metres, leaving your stomach up there). This was during my uni days; back then I thought it was thrilling. Today, I imagine I would have freaked out a little.


In the 90s, I had several meetings in Norway’s beautiful Valdres Valley. The Oslo – Fagernes route was operated by Coast Air, a small airline operating Twin Otter air craft. More often than not, the flight was cancelled due to bad weather conditions. Only once was I actually able to fly. The rest of the time the airline had to pay for a taxi to drive me the 200 kilometres. Back then, the stunningly located Fagernes airport saw only a few flights a week, mostly chartered, bringing in ski tourists from the continent. The little airport is locally known as The Heavenly Peace Square (like Beijing’s Tiananmen Square).


In 2000, on a flight to Alta in Northern Norway, the cheeky pilot announced that as the weather was absolutely gorgeous, he would “do a visual”. Down we went, practically touching the mountain sides along the way. I thought it was a thrilling ride, but the woman next to me didn’t agree. Afraid of flying even in normal circumstances, she asked to put her head on my shoulder although we were total strangers. Amazingly, she told me afterwards she frequently operated small boats in stormy weather off the rough weather-beaten coast of Finnmark; rationally speaking, much more dangerous than flying. Nothing rational about her fear of flying, she agreed.

Southern Norway

Eastern Norway

On a cold, wintry December morning in 2006, I was off to explore a few Central European Christmas markets for an article assignment. The Norwegian Air Shuttle flight had almost touched ground on Ferigehy airport in Budapest, when the pilot suddenly turned the nose back up. A certain unease seemed to spread among the passengers; nothing more than a murmur of voices, mind you. That, and a feeling of people holding their breath. Or perhaps it was just me. The fog was thick as pea soup, visibility was practically nil and the pilot had to abort the landing. A somewhat sinister expression, that, don’t you think? Fortunately, he was very good. After being redirected to enter from another direction, he landed the plane successfully. The thrill of the ride wasn’t over, however. As we had landed far from the gate we had been allocated, we had to cruise through most of the airport without being able to see anything. Only a few centimetres above ground was clear. I tried not to think about how surprisingly many plane accidents occur on the ground – most notably the largest one ever, when two 747s crashed on the ground in Tenerife in the Canary Islands in 1977. Once we were at the gate, sighs of relief could be heard thoughout the plane.

Clouds over Vienna

Stories of flying – in Africa

In November 1993, I flew Alitalia from Rome to Johannesburg and the male flight attendants sang opera for much of the flight. It was terrific!

Qatar Airways, on the tarmac in Doha

A few days later, the captain on a South African Airways flight announced a competition: whoever came closest to guessing our distance could sit in the cockpit for the landing. Sadly, I wasn’t the one who got to see Bulawayo airport from the flight deck. Probably won’t get a chance like that again, either. Not many airlines allow passengers in the cockpit these days, I expect.

Five years later, I was flying with Sabin Air, a small private Mozambique airline. On the way from Manzini in Swaziland, we flew through a thunder storm in a small Embraer aircraft. The only passengers were three American business men and myself, all of us white-knuckled from holding on for dear life. When we landed safely in Maputo, the men laughed and slapped each others’ backs. The pilot had been cool and collected during the whole flight; not a drop of sweat to be seen. Even after we landed, his shirt looked like it had been freshly starched. I just googled Sabin Air and it seems to still be operating. Looks like the airline has only experienced one accident – in February 2000, with only one ground fatality.

Stansted airport, London

I’ve flown around most of the world – almost. Not in one go, but when added up. So have my daughters. A trip between somewhere west in the Americas and Samoa, and we’ve completed the loop. Hours and hours above the vast Pacific, however – slightly spine-tingling. But that trans-Pacific flight will happen in not too remote a future. Tahiti, Easter Island, Tuvalu, even the not-so-accessible Pitcairn: you’re all on my list.

Sunset over the Caucasus Mountains



17 Responses to “Stories of flying”

  1. Ayngelina 29 December 2010 2155 #

    Very cool Sophie, I usually delete the photos I take because they look so boring so you’ve inspired me to try again!

  2. Louise 29 December 2010 2223 #

    Cool photos, esp the sunset one and that first one from Denmark. Looks like a hurricane.

  3. Jason 29 December 2010 2253 #

    Nice photos…the first one looks like a big mushroom. It’s good to know that a plane being hit by lightning is not fatal.

  4. inka 30 December 2010 1438 #

    I can only join the others. I’ll also try again to take pictures from above. You got some very stunning angles. I love the story about the flight attendant singing opera. Safe flight for your next journey.

  5. Nancie 3 January 2011 1037 #

    Great shots Sophie! Enjoy your trip to the States.

  6. Robert G 25 January 2011 1125 #

    Love that Caucasus sunset. Can just barely see the mountains below.

  7. Marie Rivet 25 January 2011 1245 #

    I like the color of the ocean in the Bahrain pic. Stunning turquoise.

  8. karen 3 February 2011 1902 #

    I am emailing from a leading advertising agency based in London.
    I am getting in touch with you as I am looking for quality websites, such as yours, to place some adverts on your website and would like to know if this is something which would be of interest to you?
    The placement of our adverts are contextually matched to the content on the page, therefore relevant.
    Do let me know if you are interested to discuss any partnerships with us as we feel the positioning of your website will have strong benefits for both parties.
    Please email me back with your thoughts or questions.

    Kind regards,
    New Media Specialist
    +44 207 099 4960

    Legal Disclaimer. The information in this email is confidential and may be legally privileged. It is intended solely for the addressee. Any opinions expressed are mine and do not necessarily represent the opinions of the Company. Emails are susceptible to interference. If you are not the intended recipient, any disclosure, copying, distribution or any action taken or omitted to be taken in reliance on it, is strictly prohibited and may be unlawful. If you have received this message in error, do not open any attachments but please notify us on +44 207 099 4960, and delete this message from your system. The sender accepts no responsibility for information, errors or omissions in this email, or for its use or misuse, or for any act committed or omitted in connection with this communication. If in doubt, please verify the authenticity of the contents with the sender. Please rely on your own virus checkers as no responsibility is taken by the sender for any damage rising out of any bug or virus infection.

  9. Scott 8 February 2011 0009 #

    Wow, brilliant pics. I love the Kuwait and London ones… it’s as if you can tell what the whole country looks like just from one plane photo.

    • Anne-Sophie 13 February 2011 1434 #

      You know, I remember thinking just that when taking off from Kuwait.

    • Anne-Sophie 13 February 2011 1435 #

      … and thanks, by the way 🙂

  10. Tina 9 February 2011 1647 #

    Oooh, look at those cotton clouds over Vienna!

  11. Sabina 13 February 2011 1149 #

    Sophie, you have great tales from the skies! I don’t think I have ever had an eventful flight in my life. Not even any very bad weather to speak of. I do remember my very first photo I took out of an airplane window though – Greenland when I was on my way to Europe for the first time. It was an amazing sight to me 🙂

    • Anne-Sophie 13 February 2011 1433 #

      Greenland is a particularly interesting sight – in clear weather, you can actually see the earth’s curvature.

  12. Anne-Sophie 13 February 2011 1437 #

    An overdue thanks for your nice comments, everyone.

  13. Katie 24 October 2011 1228 #

    Beautiful photographs! I love the clouds above Vienna. I’ve never really though about taking photos from the plane but will definitely be taking a few as I set off on my luxury holiday next year where i’ll be taking four flights!


  1. Tweets that mention Stories of flying | Sophie's World -- - 9 February 2011

    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Marie Rivet, Christian M.. Christian M. said: Stories of flying […]

Leave a Reply