I’m sitting here in Dublin Airport about to head to Spain – chowing down, if you must know, on a delicious French onion tart from the Harvest Garden restaurant in Terminal 2.
And for once, I’m not freaking out about the prospect of getting on a plane. I’m not drowning my nerves in beer, and I’m not torturing my unfortunate girlfriend by alternating between manically chatty and intensely silent without warning.
For once, I’m all pretty chill about the whole process.
And why wouldn’t I be? After all, I’ve just taken off and landed a Boeing 737 myself – twice, in fact – and never has the process of commercial aviation seemed more safe, routine and, well, normal.
Even the most regular passengers of Dublin Airport may have missed the uPilot 737 simulator – after all, it’s partially obscured by the Burger King restaurant on the upper balcony of Terminal 2, and only by chance did I spot the poster advertising it on the way through security today.
But there it is – open for walk-in sessions (and advance bookings), and resembling the cockpit of a 737 so closely that only the infrequent announcements outside remind you that you’re actually safely on the ground.
On a whim, I booked a 30-minute session – these cost a steep-sounding €80, but understandable given the kit they’re using, plus the fact that you’re accompanied by a qualified pilot to show you the ropes.
And while it’s not my first time having stepped into a flight simulator in order to ease my fear, the fact that I’ve done it mere moments before boarding a real aircraft has me feeling a level of ease that I’m just not used to in this setting.
My first flight was a fairly routine take-off, about-turn and landing on Dublin Airport’s Runway 28 – the one from which I’ll most likely be departing in just over an hour. And despite my expectation that I’d be a passive partner while either the instructor Stephen or the autopilot did all the work, the emphasis was very much on manual flight with myself leading up the controls.
And guess what? NOTHING EXPLODED!
Like, literally nothing. Apart from my own sense of how deadly I am, of course.
That said, I wasn’t getting involved with the litany of switches and toggles and digital interfaces that I saw before me – but even watching the ease with which Stephen navigated these was a startling and timely reminder that these guys really know what they’re doing.
His help was all the more welcome during our second flight, for which we took off and landed on Cork Airport’s hilariously short Runway 7 – not something you’d see attempted in real life, but reassuring nonetheless to know that it can be done.
Even if you do have to cut off the engines before touching the ground so that you don’t come in too fast.
I’m not going to cod myself into thinking that any of this is easy, or that I’d be able to pull off the real deal. There's also the small matter of cost if you were to do this every time you boarded a plane...
But if you’re looking for a reminder of just how sophisticated and intuitive these incredible machines are – or indeed if you’re looking to have a bloody good time in the airport before your gate is finally opened – then this is basically the coolest toy you’ll ever come across.