February 5, 2014
It was an unflight to remember. Yes, an “unflight” –a 10-hour “flight” during which the airplane did not move. Actually, I take that back: it did move. More times than I can remember; but each time it began a take-off, the attempt was aborted. The funny thing about it all was that, like most memorable incidents, the trials of it ended up creating a sort of communal [familial] goodwill among the 2-hundred-some lot of us. I’ll explain that later. But first, the beginning . . .
It began with a sprint. My first leg of the journey was slightly late so that, with only a 45-minute layover, I had to make a mad dash through the airport in order to catch the main leg of the journey. Or so I thought. As it turned out, I could have turned that sprint into a 26-hour stroll.
We started off well, boarding as usual. They played the safety video, and we began the taxi. Nearing liftoff, a thud came from below, after which the airplane slowed and, soon, came to a stop. After a few minutes, the pilot’s voice came over the intercom. He explained that, as some of us had heard, a noise had come that made him decide to return the aircraft to the gate for further inspection. We came back for the first 3 hours of waiting time. At this point the aircraft was determined to be safe for take off and we started over. Another no-go. Thus began a string of issues, ranging from mechanical to pilot shift changes to FAA regulations to medical emergencies.
Did you know that each time an aircraft comes to a stop, it has to replay the safety video before taking off again, even if all passengers are still seated? After a few repetitions, however, the crew members just might begin to introduce the video with jokes about how well we all know it . . .
And did you know that if a pilot times out on his allotted work time before the flight begins, they might have to call another pilot in who will have to drive two hours from his home in another state in order to take the trip? Mind you, he might just discover, once he has boarded the aircraft, that federal regulations will prevent the flight from taking off at all, after such an extended delay . . .
Have you ever observed a passenger become so irate that she stands up in her seat and begins ranting about how we should all join her in attempting to get off the aircraft because we have the “power” if we will “join together?” Happily, in this case the campaign was unsuccessful . . .
Were you aware that your stowed luggage, if composed of just the right materials, can clash with another bag in such a way as to imitate mechanical failure? Consider factoring this knowledge into your next baggage purchase . . .
I mentioned “familial” at the beginning of this piece. At first glance one would assume the use of this word to indicate a purely ethereal feeling: what I felt as I neared the gate on Flight “take 2” and saw so many people I had spent the day prior bonding with; In fact, as I walked by I said out loud to all who could hear, “Look at us—we’re like one big happy family!” And indeed, we were acting like it. In the midst of conversations about artificial insemination and bees [yes, I do in fact mean the real versions of each of these two topics. No pun intended], we began to take photos together and exchange contact information. After one photo, a recent acquaintance answered his phone and I could not help but hear the words of two intersecting street names that I know very well. After he hung up, I asked him if he was talking about an area near my old home. Turns out, he was. A few more queries in, we discovered that he spent time there many years ago and knew some of the same people I did. To be more precise, he knew my grandfather from business, and was pleased to hear that I had just come from a happy visit with two still active-and-chipper grandparents. What astounded me the most, however, was when he mentioned that he recalled meeting my father. This conversation happened as we boarded the aircraft and was the cause of a few distracted document-handlings and a good number of amused heads shaking and smiles from neighbors in the queue.
The second day of this flight’s attempt was almost smooth. We could not, I suppose, be all together without a few “apologies for the delay” and one start and stop. But this time, the second trip down the runway was completed. The pilot prefaced with “Let’s get there!,” and when we actually lifted off, the cabin erupted in cheers and applause. Onward ho, with 14 hours and 27 minutes of an actually-in-the-air flight :-)