The accidental flying museum

I flew to London this morning on what can only be described as an old-ass plane. It wasn’t in any way dangerous or below standard – it was operated by British Airways, for goodness sake – it was just, well, quite obviously nearing the end of its life.

The '436' means Version 4 of the type of plane. They're now on Version 9. And they don't bring new versions out like upgrades for Windows. That's how old this plane was.

Because I’m a bit of a nerd, and also like to know things in advance to help deal with a pretty serious fear of flying, I knew before I arrived at Edinburgh Airport at 4.30am that I’d be on one of the older Boeings in BA’s fleet. Even putting that knowledge aside, though, it was pretty clear this bird had racked up a fair few air miles in her time (pun intentional). The ‘OneWorld’ sticker by the door on the way in was ripped and faded, little chunks missing from the edges. I glanced inside the cockpit and saw rows and rows and rows of tiny dials bobbing away on a grimy grey console – a stark contrast to the bright, clear computer screens most new passenger jet cockpits have. And the grey plastic inside looked decidedly grimy.

The seats consisted of sagging, cracked faux leather, the kind that may once have been blue but was now closer to another shade of grey. Although I was completely banjoed and although my row was completely empty, I swiftly went off the idea of lying across the chairs when I did a quick mental calculation of how many bums had sat on the cushions since the jet went into service (about 10,000 by my count).

Outside, streaks of black soot ran down the flaps, with further evidence of touching up with not-quite-matching paint atop the wings. More black trails poured downwards from the tail in a manner alarmingly reminiscent of my old flatmate’s Renault 5, and the big Union Jack logo on the tail appeared to have been attacked several times with a blunderbuss. You can probably guess what the toilet was like (but let me be clear, for the avoidance of all doubt, that I could not in any way fault its cleanliness. It had just been, how to put it, well, ahem, used…)

Nothing five minutes' work with a sponge and some warm soapy water won't sort

I checked out the registration when I next went online (I only remembered it because it was G-DOCT, and I too am a DOCTor of sorts) and it turns out the jet I was on is nineteen years old. It was zipping around the sky when I was still in primary school and when Thatcher was Prime Minister! Hell, people were having discussions ten years ago about when BA were going to retire this section of their fleet, and they’re still rocking around today and kicking ass.

And that, I guess, is the key message here. There was nothing at all dangerous or untoward about the machine on which I traveled this morning, it and its crew did a damn fine job just like the hundreds of other British Airways flights do day in, day out. There is just something a little entertaining about stepping aboard and thinking to oneself ‘man, this is one old-ass jet’. And old-ass jet or not, it was still a billion times better than any budget flight I’ve ever been on.




Note the streaks of soot, wobbly paint lines and chipped paint...


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