I have a friend, who maintains that, ‘If God intended humans to fly, He would have given them wings’. I too am a reluctant flyer, but my reluctance to leave terra firma stems from the three hour long airport procedures – an ordeal which must be endured before catching international flights and the condition is further exacerbated by the fact that I get terribly airsick. I have during a career spanning more than three decades driven across the length and breadth of Pakistan, not only enjoying this beautiful country, exploring local cuisine and most importantly, forming new friendships - something which cannot be done, while imprisoned in a metal capsule, streaking across the sky at 36000 feet.

This takes me back to a time, when travelling by air was not a hassle. Lahore airport was located at Walton. The facility consisted of a small terminal building topped by the control tower. There were no steel fences or concrete walls separating the tarmac and the only barrier (if it could be called one) was a well-trimmed knee high hedge. Friends and relatives stood on this side of the hedge (some even went along almost to the aircraft) to see off or receive their loved ones. There was no threat of terrorism or other activity in those golden days of the nineteen fifties, there was no Airport Security force nor stringent search and authentication procedures one encounters, when undertaking air travel today.

I remember visiting the airport at Walton on numerous occasions, with my grandfather and father. Thanks to the former’s young aviator friend Humayun (Humayun Uncle to us) and almost the entire Pakistan Airlines flight crews landing or taking off from Walton, we had unrestricted access to all types of aircraft that operated from the airfield.

At the bottom of the national airline’s list of flying machines were the ‘Dakotas’, the commercial version originating from the C47. These were twin propeller ‘tail wheeler’ workhorses that had proved their sturdiness during the Second World War. Standing on the tarmac with their front end pointing at the sky and their tail only a few inches off the ground, they formed the backbone of Pakistan’s domestic fleet.

Then there were the ‘huge’ Super Constellations. With three parallel tail fins and four propeller engines, these wonderful metal birds flew passengers on international flights and between West and East Pakistan (now Bangladesh). These luxurious machines were joined, a few years later by the first turbo props known as the ‘Viscount’.

My father was then working for a large industrial group in East Pakistan and lived in a beautiful house on Green Road in Dacca (now spelt Dhaka). He made frequent trips to Lahore and had a lot of friends amongst the flight and cabin crew. My visits to the airport were all the more memorable because I was treated and pampered by these wonderful people, given a tour around the aircraft and leaving with my pockets full of candy. Yes, dear readers, these were times when on embarkation, every passenger was served with candy so that he or she could equalize air pressure by ‘sucking and gulping’ the delicious stuff. Whenever my father missed a trip because of his commitments, he would send us a huge armload of dahlias through the crew. These were some of the best and biggest flowers that I have ever come across.

My first airborne experience was through the courtesy of Humayun Uncle, who was an instructor in the Lahore Flying Club. The Club was then equipped with biplanes and some Auster monoplanes. The biplanes consisted of two pairs of wings – above and below the fuselage. The pilot sat in the front seat, while his passenger sat in the rear one. I can still recall the excitement as we took off, with the air rushing into the open cockpit and my stomach doing ‘somersaults’. We must have been in the air for about 15 minutes, when the pilot decided that I had had enough and returned to the ground. This was one flight I shall never forget and deep inside, I have a nagging notion that my airsickness is a result of these memorable fifteen minutes.