Monday, March 18, 2013
Up, Up and Away — Part I
Some people just know how to fly.
~ Northwest Airlines Slogan
More than a few friends have mentioned their fear of flying to me recently. They believe, mistakenly, that because I fly a lot, I must love it. Whoa, Nelly! While I don't hate it, I'm not a particularly comfortable airline passenger. Eyes closed and fingernails clawed into the armrest (or my husband's palm if he's unlucky enough to be on a flight with me), I try to breathe normally and ignore any change in noise or vibration (More on that later.)
It wasn't always like that, though. The first time I flew, I was a recent high school graduate, and our Spanish teacher was taking us on a seven-day trip to Mexico. While I remember almost nothing of the flights we took, I do remember praying that I would not have to use the little bag in the seat-back pocket in front of me. There's no better way to scatter friends than by losing one's lunch on them.
My discomfort with flying started when I was about 30. We were moving from Columbus, Ohio, to Las Vegas, and Mike and I had come out together the day before he started work. He spent the week settling in to his new job, and I traipsed from house-to-house in search of one we might buy. The following week, I went back to Columbus alone to pack up the house and get Jason and the dog ready for our cross-country drive to Nevada.
My 11:00 am Northwest flight was packed. I had window seat in the third row of the economy cabin, and there was an older woman seated next to me. We were chatting as the pilot started down. . . . the. . . . .run. . . . way. The. . . . plane. . . .jerked. . . .down. . . the. . . run. . .way. . . . and. . . . never. . . .picked. . . . up. . . . much. . . . speed. (If you've ever had the alternator on your car go out, you know the feeling.) Suddenly, we stopped in the middle of the runway.
"Ladies and gentlemen," our pilot said, "we have a valve that won't close, so we're gonna pull off to the side and try to get it to close." No one, at that point, seemed to be too concerned, so we all continued chatting or reading or trying to sleep. Every so often, we'd hear the pilot rev the engines, but we never moved from the side of the tarmac where he had parked. (At this point, I guess I should mention that this was July 12, and the temperatures in the desert were above 105 degrees.)
"Ladies and gentlemen," one flight attendant announced after about 30 minutes, "we know it's uncomfortable, but we are unable to turn on the air while the pilots try to get the valve to close."
People were starting to grumble at this point, and call buttons went off all over the plane. "Ladies and gentlemen," the same flight attendant announced probably an hour later, "we know you're hot and uncomfortable. However, FAA regulations prohibit us from providing drinks to you while we're on the tarmac. We apologize for any inconvenience."
Inconvenience? Sitting in a hot, stuffy, crowded plane did more than inconvenience us.
"For God's sake," a man somewhere behind me yelled. "it's been TWO HOURS. IF THE VALVE HASN'T CLOSED BY NOW, IT'S NOT GOING TO CLOSE. LET US OFF OF THIS PLANE!!"
He was barely finished with his rant when the engines whirred again. KAAAAABOOOM!! BANG! BANG! BANG! The plane jumped and shuddered. The cabin was eerily silent.
Tomorrow: Up, Up and Away, Part II