Monday, October 3, 2011


My first memories of flight are from the late 1960s and early 70s. We traveled from a small regional airport in Minnesota to St. Louis, Missouri to visit relatives every other year. It was in economy class and not luxurious like the tv show Pan Am. I was young enough to sit on my mother’s lap and my siblings were nearby. The flights were crowded and people smoked. I didn’t enjoy the experience. I only fly because it is fast, though expensive.

About fifteen years ago I experienced a near mid-air crash from Minneapolis-St. Paul (MSP) to Nashville, Tennessee. I could see the faces of the people in the other plane as we suddenly gained altitude. The meal had just been served and I don’t think that anyone else realized our peril. The Flight Attendant noticed my shock and brought me a free beverage. I profusely thanked the pilot when we landed. He and the other plane’s pilot had only moments to avoid the collision. The flight was mentioned in an expose in the Star Tribune a couple months later. There would have been no chance for survival at that speed and altitude, strike number one.

Another misadventure was from MSP to Los Angeles, California about ten years ago when the co-pilot’s windshield cracked at 30,000 feet. An odd flat tone sounded in the cabin and the Flight Attendants turned pale and went running up to the front. When my area’s Attendant returned I asked him what was going on, he looked grim, shook his head, and wasn’t allowed to say. He urged me to go to the bathroom if I needed, I did. The pilot came on with a somber voice and calmly explained that we had to return due to an issue with equipment. Thankfully, no one panicked and the Attendants made sure that every item was stored away.

The plane turned around and I could hear the loud whoosh of a full load of fuel being dumped as we descended for an emergency landing. We were greeted by a parade of emergency vehicles flashing in the night. Everyone cheered as the wheels touched down and then the Attendant could tell us about the windshield. Again, I thanked the pilot and co-pilot upon exiting. The crack looked like a spider web and would have been deadly if it had blown into the cockpit. We had to transfer to dirty plane and didn’t get any compensation. I was irritated because I missed a dinner party in LA and had to endure another alarming circumstance. A friend of mine worked for the same airline and told me the seriousness of the situation. Apparently, the leak was beginning to decompress the pilot’s cabin so they had to wear oxygen masks, strike number two.

Most recently, on a flight from Atlanta, Georgia to MSP the navigation computer ceased functioning. The plane itself was fine but they didn’t want to rely solely on instruments. Considering how busy the skies are these days, I understand completely. It was disconcerting to have to return to Atlanta, switch to another plane (which was clean but very hot in temperature), and take off again. At least we were never in danger, but I wonder if I should avoid flying.

I generally take the Blue Van airport taxi service since it picks me up from home, ferries me to my gate, and is cost effective. Sometimes I share the ride with other passengers but that is okay. I neither want to park my car in an airport lot for several days nor burden my friends with a ride to/fro. Public transport is not feasible from my home to the airport at this time. I have to convince someone to check on the cats and that is enough hassle.

I’ve learned to eat lightly, take an aspirin before boarding the plane, settle my nervous stomach by chewing several Altoids, bring along snacks, gum for the ascent and decent, and an empty bottle to fill up with water from the bubbler/drinking fountain. I wear headphones to listen to on-flight music. I wish that I could listen to the cockpit communication, but I suppose that is a security issue. I bring a book to read, eye-visor and earplugs if I want to rest. I rarely sleep because I’m too nervous. I like to sit next to the window because I feel better when I can see the earth. I despite flying through clouds or at night. I’m plump but can still squeeze into the seat. Most of the time I have a friendly person sit next to me who will chat a bit and let me lift up the armrest for a little more wiggle room. I try to get up once during the flight to stretch my legs and go to the bathroom. My sister has had thrombosis so I am careful about monitoring for blood clots.

Statistically it is safer to fly than be in an automobile. I’ve been in several car accidents but none were life threatening. America’s public transportation system is pathetic. I wish that the United States had super-fast trains (curse Wisconsin’s Governor Walker for blocking the fast train service from Chicago to MSP). I’ve enjoyed train journeys from San Diego to Los Angeles and north to San Jose, California and from MSP to Chicago. Sadly, Amtrack is slow, never on time, and the routes are limited. I don’t like driving; it takes too much mental energy and is physically stifling. Buses can be uncomfortable for many reasons. I love to visit new places but loathe the journey.

Beam me up Scotty!
© 2011

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