Top-Ish Lists: Frequent Flier Crazy

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Here’s something new and different … I was traveling this week.  Yeah, strange, isn’t it?  No seriously, I was traveling this week, like I did last week, and like I will take next week.  I’m cranking a lot of flight miles right now; but then again, I have been for most of the last 18 years.  I don’t travel as much as some business travelers, but I have seen some things, some crazy weird things.

In fact, this week, I added to the list of crazy weird things that happened when flying.  It made me reminisce about all those crazy weird things, and next thing I knew, a list was coming together.  One of my favorite “Top-ish lists.”  So let’s do this.

As with all these lists, there must be rules … because without rules I can’t overexplain things.  The rules this time are:

  • This is a list of weird and crazy things that I remember happening to me when traveling by air.  Which means:
    • I have to be the one traveling, that leaves out the time I watched a plane land without landing gear from a hotel bar.
    • It has to be when traveling by air, so the time I almost was blown up on a subway doesn’t count either.
    • By ‘happened to me,’ I only mean I was on the plane when it happened – it could have been others that it really happened to.
    • I have to remember it.  Like, I swear there was another aborted landing, but I can’t remember it.  I want to blame Milwaukee.
  • The list includes times when I was in danger, but in no case was I injured, wounded, or killed.  I mean, I might have been killed, but I would think an afterlife would mean I will be writing a heck of a lot more blog posts (either as a reward or punishment, if you get my drift).
  • I am not listing airlines here because, honestly, it may paint the wrong picture.  Except in a couple of cases, I really can’t blame the airlines or airline personnel for any of these items – in fact, most cases the airline personnel performed admirably even in the face of overreacting passengers.  That being said, if you know me well enough, you may know I have an airline preference and can connect the dots from there.

So here we go.  In order of “none of your business what order this is in” here is…

My Top-6 Weird and Crazy Stories from Air Travel

1) This Just Happened! – The aborted take-off

When I say “this just happened” I mean, it JUST happened on Wednesday.  After a long six-hour flight, I had a short layover in Phoenix before the final leg to Burbank.  Tired, cranky, and ready to see the pup, I was set for a 4pm arrival.  We were delayed at gate for an issue with the pilot’s oxygen mask, something he apologized enthusiastically about.  Yet after just about 15 minutes, we headed out, reached the runway, then the fun began.  The plane powered up, we rolled down the strip, and just as we were closing in on takeoff speed, there with a bump and a rattle.  The pilots immediately powered down, slowed, and pulled us off the runway.  Many of us were laughing about it being a blown tire, but in a couple minutes, we learned the truth.  Something was ingested into an engine.  It could have swallowed a blade or picked up some foreign object debris, but the pilots said that it made the warning lights go off like a Christmas tree.  It was a pretty safe situation, it happened early enough on the runway that we had a ton of it left to slow.  Of course, a few seconds later and we are talking about being underpowered on liftoff, and in an emergency situation.  Instead, after a two-hour delay to get a new plane, we were on our way.

2) The Legend of the Phantom Cousin – Emergency Landing #1

This is actually a story that’s passed around our family for over a decade, and I think I even shared this in the blog once.  My cousin Ed was getting married in Minnesota.  I had set myself up for a great weekend, flying up from Wichita to Rochester through Chicago on a Friday, renting a convertible, and ready to chill with the family.  Leaving Wichita, the plane headed out and took off without any sign of trouble.  About five minutes into the flight there were a couple of alerts from the pilot to the flight attendant until at some point we got the explanation.  Apparently, the onboard computer believed we were still on the ground and wouldn’t allow the landing gear to retract.  The plane couldn’t be flown like that, so we had to return to Wichita.  Problem was, there was no way to know if the gear were locked in the lowered condition, so they had to declare an emergency landing.  The plane landed safely, though the fire trucks following us was a little upsetting,  As we prepared to deplane, they announced that the plane couldn’t go to Chicago – and they wouldn’t have another plane come in that night.  Despite the fact we just were in a frickin’ emergency landing, many of the passengers lost it in anger.  Despite the fact their world almost ended, having to reschedule a flight was like a world had ended to them.  Of course, my options were pretty limited … not a lot of flights to Rochester, not a lot of ways to get to those flights.  I would basically arrive about 12 hours before I would have to depart.  So I chose to stay home.  For nearly a decade afterward, my new cousin-in-law thought I was phantom, a ghost, a myth that didn’t exist.  Then again, I was in an emergency landing, so … I could have died.

3) Something Wasn’t Right – Aborted Landing

I tell you what is unsettling – aborted landings.  I watched a ton of them in Milwaukee from my patio overlooking the airport.  From the ground, you see that plane getting close to the runway, and then the engines power to full and the landing gear pull up.  It sounds like a final act of desperation to safe an ending.  The quirky lake weather in Milwaukee could mean a bad night could have a half dozen of them happening over the hours.  So when I was coming into Boston once and felt the engines start to roar, I knew something was up.  The weather was a little shaky, there was some turbulence, but other than a little rain, things didn’t seem too out of place.  Yet when we cleared the airport, I could see we were higher than normal.  The pilot came on and said ‘something wasn’t right on approach.’  My guess is he missed the approach.  But what do I know?

4) We Show You Departed – Powerless in Dayton

For the record, this is the one story that reflects badly on an airline – but I don’t fly them anymore.  Most of these stories tend to be about commuter flights, but that is the nature of a lot of my lifetime travel.  For instance, I judged a lot in Dayton when I lived in Wichita.  While I could drive the 45 miles to Cincinnati to fly home, adding the extra leg to Dayton sometimes save as much as half the price of a plane ticket because of demand.  Rarely was this an issue with the 25-minute flight, but on one morning it was.  It was 6:30am, and I was about five minutes from boarding when the power went out at the airport.  All of it.    I thought it didn’t mean much since the plane wasn’t affected, but security came through, and things changed.  All the doors in the terminal were electronically locked, and for safety purposes, loss of power unlocked them all.  This meant everyone had access to the runway – which from a post-9/11 world is a problem.  They ushered us all out past security, which now started the next problem.  No power meant that we couldn’t re-enter, no metal detectors.  Until the power came back, none of us would get access to any airplanes – no one was leaving.  After four hours (all of it spent sitting on a marble floor), enough power was restored that they could let us reenter the terminal.  Problem was, computers were back up yet, so they couldn’t figure out what to do with everyone.  This was when I found out my plane left.  I called the airline (rather than wait in line), and I was told I was in Cincinnati, mind you … I wasn’t.  The Dayton staff, knowing they had no control over rebooking anyone without computers, did the one thing they thought would help.  There was a plane scheduled to go to Atlanta, and enough people were around that they thought they could fill it … so they did.  A couple of hours later, we arrived in Atlanta.  I met a representative, and she proceeded to tell me … 1) Dayton didn’t lose power, because her computer didn’t say it did, 2) I wasn’t in Atlanta, and 3) I missed my flight to Wichita during my layover Cincinnati.  After a great outpouring of patience on my side, and some hand waving to prove that I was physical, in fact, standing in front of her in Atlanta, I was booked on another flight.  Not to Wichita, mind you, to Cincinnati, because that was my route.  So, about nine hours after I should have boarded a 20-minute flight for Cincinnati, I was finally in Cincinnati.  Where my flight to Wichita was delayed.

SOAPBOX moment — Just so it’s out there.  If you ever find yourself in a crazy travel situation, my advice is to show as much patience and respect to the airline representatives.  For one thing … it’s not their fault … mostly.  I mean, sometimes the ‘airline’ is at fault, but the representatives at gates or counters can’t change that.  While most will help you regardless of how you act, you get better service if you show that patience.  If you really think you deserve better than you are treated, contact customer service after you get home … they’ll take care of you.

5) Spoiler Alert, Alcohol was Involved – Landing for the Authorities

On a fun trip from DFW to ‘Strugglebus International Airport’ (Moline, IL), I was lucky to score an upgrade to first class .. on a commuter jet.  I wasn’t the first one on, but the only one I remember ahead was a professional looking woman.  As I was putting my bag up, I accidentally bumped her, and she reacted … well … weird.  Shortly after takeoff, she got up, like really shortly after takeoff.  I thought I saw her move into the bathroom, but could hear some conversations with the female flight attendant who sat through the take-off up front.  It wasn’t long, maybe a few minutes, and the woman returned to her seat.  The male flight attendant, who sat in the back, had made his way to the front and pulled out the drink cart.  The woman got up again, had a quick chat with the male but was doing so over top of the drink cart.  At this point it seemed pretty clear they weren’t doing anything with the cart, just letting it sit there.   … and that’s when the pilot said we were returning to DFW, no reason given.  We landed, started pulling up to the gate, and the pilot announced that we should remain seated until told otherwise.  No sooner than the door opened, and two officers boarded the plane.  They walked up to the woman, asked her to grab her things, and come with them.  Another officer stepped on and started talking to the flight attendants.  After a few minutes, the pilot finally gave us an explanation.  Turns out the woman in question felt mistreating the female flight attendant.  The rest I found out from a web search (I mean, it wasn’t hard, I basically found the article on ‘bad passengers’ Facebook group).  It turns out the woman asked for a nice nightcap, and the flight attendant feeling the woman had a few already, refused.  The woman disagreed and showed her disapproval with grace and dignity … with a slap across the flight attendants face.  Yeah … by the way … don’t slap flight attendants.  You get jail time.

6) All This for an Inflight Movie — Emergency Landing #2, and then some

Hold onto your butts on this one.  I had just finished 6 days on the last minute, highly visible, and potentially career-limiting stay at a supplier in Torino, Italy.  Yes, Italy is great, but this was a really tough situation; I mean, I had to reschedule my return trip because I didn’t find the smoking gun all my management expected me to find.  I just wanted to come home, just wanted to let life go back to normal, but this wasn’t going to be a normal flight.  The flight was from Milan to JFK, before a couple of connections back to Wichita.  About 30 minutes into the flight, the pilot made us aware of a minor electrical issue.  He stated the flight controls, avionics, and all other things to keep the plane flying was fine … but the entertainment system wasn’t working.  For some reason, the pilot said this was going to be needed for the overseas flight, and we needed to land to fix it.  The thing was, they couldn’t repair it in Milan, the airline maintenance was in Rome.  So we had to fly to Rome … to fix the entertainment system.  After about an hour, the pilot comes on again and tells us that we should expect a routine landing … except for the fire trucks.  Because we had a full load of fuel, the plane would be coming in a little hot, which means officially we would be making an emergency landing … again, for the entertainment system.  We landed, got isolated on the runway until fire trucks could make sure things weren’t on fire, and then we started taxing to someplace where we can park.  That’s when this story goes from weird and crazy, to REALLY weird and crazy.  It turns out that Italian laws state that if a plane lands on Italian soil at a different location than on the flight plan, the pilot needs to be immediately detained.  So … our pilot was arrested.  Let me restate … Our Pilot Was Arrested … for an entertainment system.  We couldn’t get off the plane because then we would be arrested, because, yeah, the entertainment system.  We eventually arrived, with our pilot, five hours late into JFK.  It led to a ridiculously short night at a Chicago airport hotel before getting me home, but at least I stayed out of jail.

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