This entry was going to be about how sad it is to leave Turkey, how exciting it is to be going on safari, and how neat it is to be setting foot on three different continents in a single day. However, my plane broke shortly after taking off from Istanbul and had to immediately return to the airport, so I’ll write about that instead.
First, the caveats: the plane was newer and in better condition than most of what we fly on in the US, so any issue had nothing to do with Turkish airlines. Second, whatever happened was probably the flight equivalent of getting a flat tire when driving, i.e. something that just happens from time-to-time that isn’t anything serious. And third, Turkish airlines landed us safely and got us on a new plane in less than an hour, a turnaround time that I doubt any American airline could have pulled off. With that said, the plane took off, and immediately started shaking in a way that felt weird – maybe we hit a bird, or a rotor in the engine cracked or something. A weird smell accompanied this, but any time you fly there’s something that feels a little out-of-the-ordinary, so I figured it was nothing. Then we stopped ascending, and flew low out over the ocean. Also weird, but airspace around Istanbul is congested. Then the pilot came on and made a terse announcement: “there is a problem with the plane, we are returning to Istanbul”. That was it – he said nothing else for the remaining thirty minutes that we were in the air.
I’m an engineer, studied aerospace, and know that commercial airplanes are built like tanks. They can fly across the ocean on a single engine, stay aloft with damage that seems catastrophic, and everything is double or triple redundant. Still, when you’re on a plane, boat, or any vehicle travelling in an environment where you don’t want things to go wrong, there’s still a little voice that lives in the pit of the stomach that is hard to ignore. Knowing that nothing serious was wrong as we repeatedly made circles over the ocean was a different feeling from finally landing again in Istanbul, with the entire plane full of passengers breaking into very loud applause. We taxied directly to the maintenance hangar where six guys immediately descended on the left engine, but beyond that I never found out what had happened.
I’m chalking the experience up to Turkey simply not wanting me to leave, and also treating it as yet another good reminder to almost always let the engineering logic in the brain drown out the dumb guy in the stomach. I write this from the new plane, which took off smoothly, with thoughts of lions to be seen in the coming weeks, fond memories of so many historic sights seen over the past twelve days, and appreciation for the fact that planes are by far the safest mode of transportation.