Airplane 2015

Can you fly this plane, and land it?
Surely you can’t be serious.
I am serious and don’t call me Shirley. – from Airplane

Airplane_screenshot_Haggerty_NielsenEveryone who has flown more than a couple of times has a horror story about flying. I’m not talking about lost luggage or a seatmate who needs a shower or a child kicking the back of your seat relentlessly for three-and-a-half hours. I’m talking about one of those experiences where you’re pretty darn sure you’re going to die midair.

Here’s an example: On September 11, 2002, Court was flying out of an airport in NYC. The plane had only been in the air a few minutes when suddenly the cabin began filling up with smoke. As you can imagine, he (and likely everyone else) FREAKED OUT. It turned out to be some sort of kitchen problem. (Flight Attendants, please remove the aluminum foil from your breakfast burrito before you put it in the microwave. Thank you for your attention to this matter.) Unfortunately passengers weren’t made aware of this fact until the plane had turned around and was heading back to the airport. Since it was the anniversary of 9/11, you can imagine what they were all thinking. Yikes.

The flight between Phoenix and Denver, while only an hour-and-a-half long, is notoriously bumpy. Either the plane encounters the 115 degree air of Phoenix or the windy conditions of Denver International Airport or the warm air meeting the cold air over the Rocky Mountains. Somewhere, somehow, the plane bounces.

Jen and I have made that flight together many times, and there have been many instances where we have held each other’s sweaty hands as the plane bounced around. One flight in particular bumped without stopping for nearly the entire flight. There was more puking than fraternity pledges at the first party of the semester. Not Jen and I, though. We were too busy saying Hail Marys.

Bill and I flew from Phoenix back to Denver yesterday on a Southwest Airline flight. It wasn’t a good sign when, even before taking off, the pilot began warning us that we were going to encounter turbulence near Denver due to extremely high winds. Awesome.

It also wasn’t a good sign when the flight attendants began collecting trash nearly an hour before we were supposed to land, explaining to us that the pilots made them do it.

And as expected, suddenly, as we neared Denver, the plane was hit by what I presume was a gust of wind that knocked it to hell and back. At that moment, while everyone else was shouting in terror and reaching desperately for their loved ones, I grabbed my guitar and began singing Bridge Over Troubled Water in an effort to calm everyone down.

When you’re weary, feeling small
When tears are in your eyes, I will dry them all.

Yeah, well, of course that’s not what really happened. What actually happened is that I grabbed hold of Bill with enough force to send pain shooting down his legs and began to cry. I couldn’t help it. One by one, my grandkids’ faces flashed before my eyes. I was 78 percent sure I wasn’t ever going to see them again. Addie, Alastair, Dagny, Magnolia…..

Bill, who is a trained pilot (who thankfully no longer flies small airplanes) patiently explained to me what was happening. It had something to do, he said, with the snow on the ground and then patches where there was no snow and so warm air met cold air and ….. Kaiya, Mylee, Cole…..

“We’re not going to come around and check to see if your tray tables are back in place and your seats are fully upright,” said the flight attendants as they clung to their seats. “We’re on the honor system today.” Joseph, Micah…..

Well, I posted this entry on my blog, so you have surmised that we survived the plane ride. As we taxied towards our gate, I asked Bill if he had been nervous.

“Naw,” he said. “Not at all.”

“Really?” I asked him. “Not even a little bit?”

He finally admitted that he had been a little bit nervous.

I’m pretty sure the only thing that kept him from panic equaling mine was that he was more concerned with the fact that he had no blood flowing from his left extremities.