x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

There's a kid in the cockpit

Travelling with Kids: Christine Iyer takes her nine-year-old son on board Mutahida's flight simulator at Abu Dhabi's Bateen Airport.

My son flew a jumbo jet on his ninth birthday. Well, he pretended to - for a full hour at Mutahida's flight simulator at Bateen Airport.

We arrived at 11am sharp and were directed to a small hangar, at one end of which was a small cabin. "This is it, Calvin," said my husband, barely concealing his excitement. "Are you ready to fly a plane? Are you?"

"Yeah, Dad," said Calvin, rolling his eyes. "Let's do this already."

We pushed open the door and stepped into the cockpit of a Boeing 747-400, the lights and buttons on the instrument panel twinkling in the darkness. A look through the cockpit "windows" revealed a gorgeous purple sky.

Then a smiling man emerged out of the shadows. "Hi, I'm Serge," he said, shaking hands all round. Another man materialised behind him and added, "He's an Etihad captain."

"Nice to meet you, Captain Serge," said Calvin. "Can I be in charge of this flight?"

"Sure thing, Captain Calvin," said Serge. "Buckle up."

Calvin took his seat (it had to be pushed forward a lot to allow him access to the controls), and Serge sat beside him. My husband and I settled in the back on stools.

"My flight path," Calvin announced, "is from Abu Dhabi International Airport to Bali Ngurah Rai International Airport."

"Wow," said Serge. "You know your stuff. Well, we'll be doing it in an hour flat, after we've picked up a sheikh from Dubai airport."

Things got busy as they messed about with various gauges and switches and the "fasten seatbelts" button (Calvin's favourite, because it pinged in a realistic way every time he pressed it). Then we were "airborne", Calvin pulling the yoke towards him with all his might.

"Can we put the plane in auto-pilot now and have some hot chocolate?" asked Calvin, already restless 10 minutes into the flight. "Which button do you press to call the stewardess?"

A few minutes later Calvin landed the plane in Dubai - it wasn't exactly smooth, but the sheikh got on board with time to spare. Finally we turned towards Bali, Calvin and Serge chatting amiably about ailerons and wheel brakes and altitude.

"You know, Captain Serge," said Calvin, "I prefer Airbuses to Boeings. When I grow up, I'm going to fly an A380. It'll be my personal plane. I'm going to live in Bali, which is a beautiful place."

"You have a girlfriend there, do you? In Bali?" Serge asked casually.

"I never said that," said Calvin evasively, as we careered towards Bali airport at an alarming angle. Suddenly, lights started flashing and Serge began pulling levers and slamming switches urgently. My husband, his face anxious, began to bounce on the balls of his feet. Then a siren went off like a banshee.

"Look, Captain Serge," shouted Calvin. "We've landed on water! Haha! How cool is that!"

A one-hour "flight" costs Dh350 per person. For more details, visit www.mutahida.net.