Friday, August 22, 2008

The Friendly Skies

Before I had to stop and build an Ark (see last post), the Phildadelphia Freedom blog explained that the shortest route between two points is a straight line. A very simple mathematical concept, I believe postulated by Euclid around 300 BC. Euclid didn't fly Delta.

Linda says I have to tell this story because no one believes her. But I was there, and I can vouch for it.

I don't remember the flight from Seattle to Memphis. I do remember the Memphis airport, characterized not by brain surgery advertisements, but rather by alternating Elvis memorials and Fed Ex logos. I also remember sitting on the tarmac waiting to take off for about the same amount of time it would have taken to rent a car and drive across Arkansas.

The flight, once it finally got off the ground, was uneventful until we began our descent into DFW. I had the window seat, and I commented to Linda that I'd never flown close enough to the control tower to wave at the air traffic guys.

Then, instead of landing, we proceeded to fly around East Texas for about half an hour. While we find this odd, no one is panicking. Yet.

Finally, our Captain comes on the intercom with an explanation. Now, to fully appreciate his announcement, you have to appreciate his stutter. I don't know if he normally suffered from a speech impediment, or if it was simply the circumstances. And I certainly mean no disrespect to him whatsoever. The announcement went like this:

"Ladies and uh, uh, uh, Gentlemen, this is the Captain from the uh, uh, uh, flight deck. You may have noticed, uh, uh, uh, that we did not land in Dallas - Ft. Worth as scheduled. That's because we've discovered a problem with the, uh, uh, uh problem with the uh, uh, uh, landing gear. We cannot determine if it is in the uh, uh, uh, down and locked position. We attempted to have the ground crew get a visual but they were unable to make a positive evaluation. So we're going to continue to circle while the uh, uh, uh, co-pilot comes through the cabin and attempts to visually confirm the status of the landing gear."

I remember that our reaction collectively was something like, "you've got to be kidding me". I also remember thinking that I was really just not in the mood to deal with dying today. That thought surprised me - when faced with a true emergency, my feelings about possibly having to crash in an airplane were pretty much the same as when I get a flat tire or get stuck in the elevator. It's annoying, and I really don't have time for this kind of crap.

So, presently, a uniformed gentleman emerges from the cockpit. Now this is where it gets really weird. He's carrying what appears to be the "737's for Dummies" manual, and he proceeds down the aisle to the over-wing area. He lays down in the aisle and removes a hatch cover from the floor of the airplane. And then he sticks his head and shoulders down the hole and lays there, looking at whatever is down there, and consulting the manual. For about 15 minutes. The entire plane full of passengers is rubber-necking trying to see what he's doing.

Finally, he gets up and heads back up to the cockpit. As he goes by, Linda and I are trying to read his facial expression. Does he appear calm? Or is he saying bad words or the Lord's Prayer? We really can't tell.

We continue to circle East Texas for about another 20 minutes. Then our darling pilot comes on the intercom. "Ladies and uh, uh, uh, gentlemen, the co-pilot has confirmed that the landing gear appears to be uh, uh, uh, in the locked position. We'll be circling for a little longer while we, uh, uh, uh dump our excess fuel, and then we will attempt to land at Dallas-Ft. Worth. Thank you for your uh, uh, uh, patience."

Collective sigh of relief from some passengers. Some of us are not quite so confidence-inspired. Only one reason to dump the excess fuel. We continue to fly for what seems like another hour. Finally, we come in for our attempted landing.

I'm looking out the window during landing. I think maybe we were supposed to be in crash position, I don't really remember, but I was looking out the window. Funny. We're on a runway a looonnnggg way from the terminal. And look, there's a security vehicle on the tarmac with flashing lights. Hey, there's a fire truck. Lookeee, another fire truck. And a whole fleet full of ambulances, emergency response vehicles and airport officials, all with lights and sirens, lining the runway from one end to the other.

It was actually one of the smoother landings I can remember. Apparently, the landing gear was in the down and locked position.

"Ladies and uh, uh, uh gentlemen, we apologize for the delay, and thank you for flying Delta. Welcome to Dallas - Ft. Worth. We hope you enjoy your uh, uh, uh stay in Texas. Local time is 7:20 pm"

Since we were supposed to land at about 5:00, we were only a little bit late, and just a titch rattled.

And it's a GREAT story. Except I don' much care for landings anymore. They always make me just a little nervous now. I'm pretty sure Sir Isaac Newton wouldn't want to fly Delta either.

1 comment:

Vanessa said...

I've had this happen to me before. I am also sure the co-pilot was carrying the Landing Gear for Dummies book!

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Jenn and the City

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