I probably should have titled this post, “Why I Hate To Fly,” instead of “How to Survive Air Travel,” but then again, I’m still here, and since I survived, the title sticks.
There are two types of people who fly: good flyers and bad flyers.
I used to be in the former group, but after more than a handful of heart attack-inducing experiences, I now classify myself with the bad flyers group.
Will it stop me by traveling by air? Nah. But here is what has made me second guess my choices:
Southwest Airlines, return trip from New England (from Rhode Island back to Texas):
As typical with any Southwest Airlines flight, you tend to have multiple stops before finally arriving at your final destination. For example, I flew from Rhode Island to Charlotte, NC to Houston, TX until boarding my final flight to get back home to Dallas. Everything was hunky dory until we were speeding down the runway. Prior to actually lifting off of the ground, I heard a high pitch sound that made me a little nervous. We finally lifted off, but it wasn’t smooth by any means. The high pitch sound continued until I heard a small explosion that made the aircraft bank slightly to the left. I gripped the arm rests until my knuckles turned white and instead of shitting my pants right then and there, I looked up to gauge the reaction of the flight crew. All but one disappeared, who stuck her head into speak to the pilots (this was prior to 9/11). She quickly shut the door to the cockpit and while looking rather nervous, headed back to her seat to buckle up. Since I was sitting on the right side of the plane, I stretched my head up as far as I could to look over the passengers to my left. I saw smoke billowing from one of the engines mounted under the wing. All of a sudden, the pilots voice could be heard over the PA system:
Pilot: Folks, we’ve experienced a bit of a problem, but I assure you that everything is okay. It seems that we’ve lost the function of our engine under the left wing. It’s not going to prevent us from arriving in Dallas, but we will be delayed by about 30 minutes. Just sit back and relax and enjoy your flight.
Me (thinking to myself):Assuring us that everything is okay? Huh. Famous last words. Enjoy the rest of our flight? I think not.
I was still gripping the arm rests, but not as hard as before and I started to get feeling back into my digits. Just as I talked myself out of an anxiety attack, I relaxed a little. Not too much though.
All of a sudden, the roar of the remaining engines went silent and we hadn’t really left Houston airspace, because I could still see the skyline in the far-off distance. The captain comes back onto the PA system:
Pilot: Folks, it seems that the engine on the right side of the plane is also giving us some issues. As a precaution, I’m going to shut the engine off and we’re going to return back to Houston. Please remain seated with your seat belts securely fastened.
Me (pulling my seat belt tighter): Ya think?
My stomach started to roil and I was sure that I was going to shit my pants. You could have heard a pin drop. No roaring engines. None of the passengers were talking. We were all staring straight ahead and I think I saw a few of them with their eyes closed, silently mouthing prayers. I said more than a few myself.
The pilot circled back toward Houston and we were literally gliding back down to earth. As the ground grew closer, I could hear the pilot trying to start the right engine again, to no avail. I finally heard the landing gear as they were lowered. He tried starting the engine again. Nope. As we neared the runway, I saw fire trucks and ambulance crews out in the full force. They began following the plane closely as the rear wheels touched down. As we bounced for a moment on the runway, the pilot finally got the right engine fired up. As he reversed the engine, we began to slow down, but it took us a long time. In fact, we almost made it to the end of the runway, before we finally came to a complete stop.
We didn’t taxi back to the terminal at all. I guess protocol for emergency situations doesn’t allow for that, so we were told that buses would be by to pick us up and take us back to board an alternate flight. It didn’t take them long and we were soon packed into another jetway to board another flight. After an hour of waiting, one of the flight attendants monitoring the gate informed us that the plane we were about to board was having mechanical issues and we would need to walk down to another gate to wait for another plane. We were all rattled to say the least and the growing situation at hand wasn’t helping.
Suddenly, someone said, “Anyone want to share in the cost of a rental van and drive back to Dallas?” Several people took him up on his offer and while I was tempted, I knew I had to get back as soon as possible, because at the time, I was working nights at EDS and was scheduled to work a few hours later.
See what happens when you’re stressed and have lost your funny? You tell stupid stories like this. Sorry about that!