I am generally not a nervous passenger when it comes to flying, in part no doubt because other than some hefty turbulence, luckily not a lot unsettling has happened to me. (It is probably stating the obvious, but as well as the keyboard I am touching wood as I type this.) This is extremely fortunate given that I have been on well over 500 flights. But there was one especially nervous exception to this situation, which occurred because I wasn’t in an aeroplane at all. I was in a helicopter.
It was in September 1990. I was being picked up from a golf tournament outside Paris to fly to Orly Airport, from there to fly to Marseille. I was doing this with the late Seve Ballesteros, who was the raison d’être for the whole gig (people do not routinely lay on transport just for my benefit), because we were going to look at a golf course, Pont Royal, that he was designing in the South of France.
I was fine about getting into the helicopter, a state of serenity which lasted about 10 seconds beyond getting airborne. “Look at the view,” the pilot said, gesturing at the distant Parisian skyline which was easily in sight given that the bloody thing seemed to be made of nothing but glass. I may have kept my eyes closed pretty much the entire journey, which took under 10 minutes and seemed to last about 10 hours. It was hell not on earth. I was horribly aware of how non-aerodynamic it was; at least a plane could glide for a while if there were engine problems. Not having wings, this felt like you were flying a stone. The word ‘plummet’ came rapidly to mind. If it had been invented by that stage, I’d have preferred to take my chances on a broomstick for a game of quidditch.
Eventually the ordeal was over. We got out of the helicopter and, for our journey on to Marseille, into a Lear Jet. Much more like it! I think I may at that point have had a glass of wine. Actually, when I say the ordeal was over, it wasn’t. We were driven by car from Marignane Airport to the site of the golf course, where I overheard the project manager telling Seve that there’d be a helicopter back to Marseille for the return leg. You could say that preyed on my mind a bit. When he told us the next day that there was some problem and we’d have to go back by car, it was one of the most blissfully relieved moments I can recall.