March 20th, 2006


Landmark Spotting...

One of the aspects of air travel that I have never stopped enjoying, is being able to spot landmarks of cities from the air, as we land or take off. After decades of flying, I still feel thrilled if I am able to spot buildings, lakes, or other major sights from the aircraft.

Alas, most airlines make it a point of telling you which seats are the best from the point of view of smoking,movie-watching, pinching the stewardess, and so on...but no one tells you whether it would be better to sit on the right-hand side or the left-hand side of an aircraft to see the sights your aircraft is flying over. So nowadays, I first find out if the flight is going full, in which case, of course, I take the seat allotted to me and hope for the best...but if it isn't, I always ask the stewardess when boarding, if she could find out from the pilot which would be the best side to sit on. As the weather dictates which way the aircraft will take off, the pilot is often able to give me this information. This has, over the years, ensured in some memorable sights during take-offs and landings.

I remember one beautifully clear day when the pilot did a complete circuit of Manhattan Island after taking off from JFK, at such a low altitude that I could even spot the Chrysler Building, the Lincoln Center and the Empire State, apart from the proudly-standing Twin Towers....little did I know that the skyline would change within a year of my leaving New York on that visit.

I took a flight from Chennai via Tiruchirapalli and Thiruvananthapuram to Colombo....on each stage I asked the pilot where I should sit, and got to see, as a result, the beautiful Rock Temple of Tiruchi, the squat Gopuram of the Anantha Padmanabha Swamy Temple in Thiruvananthapuram, and then the Galle Sea Face and its beautiful hotels as we glided in to land at Colombo!

This piece was prompted by the flight to Pune I took a few days ago. As we rose into the air, the pilot did practically a "Bangalore Darshan" circuit of the city...there was Vidhan Soudha, the Utility Building, the Ulsoor Lake, the TV Tower....I had my "paisa vasool" for the flight in the first ten minutes!

Even on long night-flights, I love looking at the map the airline provides, and speculating about the cities we must be flying over. And indeed, sometimes, the sight of the Alps, the Grand Canyon, or the Great Arabian Desert called the Rub-al-Khali (the Empty Quarter) in the evening or the early morning light rewards my sleeplessness.....frustration, for me, is sitting in the left-hand side when the pilot announces, "Those of you who are sitting in the right-hand side...we are passing over X landmark", or vice-versa!

Having a daughter living in St Louis, I always like to see the Gateway Arch both on my way in and out.., and make sure that I am sitting where I can see it. It is a most inspring construction and the sight of it never fails to thrill me.

On one such flight, I had a little girl sitting at the window in front of me...I pointed out the Arch to her and was delighted that I could share my joy with someone else. I was very tickled when the little girl's mother turned to me and said, "You must have been living in St Louis for much longer than I have, to be able to spot the Arch like that.... and it's nice to see you taking such pride in spotting your landmarks from the air!" I told her I was the visitor, and she the resident!

...So, whenver you take a flight, do take the time to ask the pilot if you can sit so that you can see the wonders that Man and Nature have created on the earth below you. The sights out of the window are more than compensation for the struggle to get into the aisle (or to the toilet) during the flight!