Just when I thought I had been cured of travel trouble

…it struck again.

Now, if you’re familiar at all with this blog, you will see that I have slowly moved away from my initial subject matter, which were travel mishaps ranging from 3-day long mid-winter trans-Atlantic crossings (in planes, not boats, though the duration might suggest otherwise) to 3-day long mid-winter trans-Atlantic crossings (sorry for the repetition – is that because for a few years I got stuck at some airport EVERY SINGLE TIME I tried to make it home for Christmas? Perchance). There are some crazy stories under the label ‘Travel Trouble” up there, and some even crazier ones I haven’t chronicled here yet, maybe because they were so horrible I have repressed them and only wake up sometimes in the middle of the night to chilling scenes of French high-speed rail cars thundering away into the darkness while moonlight drifts in through the knocked-out windows to shine on the faces of terrified passengers (yes, true story).

But the other, strangely eerie explanation is that I have been *knock on wood* lucky with travel/flights lately. The last time I had my flight from France to the US cancelled, I actually managed to get rebooked onto an airline that had better food, comfier seats, and arrived BEFORE my original flight was supposed to. Of course, I did manage to have a few episodes of say, flying 10 hours while suffering from food poisoning on New Years Day, but it would be irrational to blame the airline for the fact that the previous night’s salmon dinner had not agreed with me.

That was followed by a few in-country flights and bus rides which were characterized by the fact that there were no crazy fellow passengers, there were no huge delays, nobody lost my luggage. Journeys that were, well, completely, uneventfully, extremely successful and… horribly boring.

But the adrenaline never goes away for long, nor does the travel curse abandon me completely. This past Sunday, I was able to experience the best of travel troubles – making new friends, pushing my endurance, and pursuing sociolinguistic observations while I sat in a completely full jumbo jet squeezed in between a former military officer and a hungover soccer player waiting to fly from Paris to Washington. The soccer player wasn’t very conversationally-inclined, but that’s OK, because I understand being hungover and flying is even worse than having stomach flu and flying. In fact, being hungover and doing any sort of travel is extremely painful – not that I would know how it feels to be stuck on a Russian bus for 30 hours with no food, water, working bathroom, or bathroom breaks after an eventful goodbye party. How would I, after all?

I digress. The soccer player didn’t talk, but my other neighbor had no such qualms, and his running commentary on all things plane-related was actually quite useful in explaining the numerous delays we were experiencing. I spoke French, he spoke plane, so between the two of us we got a fair idea of what the French pilot was trying to communicate.

These were two-fold. First, the pilot explained to use that there were ‘refueling issues’ which would be promptly resolved. Then he explained the AC would have to be turned off. After an hour, he explained that the refueling issues continued and that we would be transferring to a different plane. But never fear! We would be served refreshments at the terminal. I guess they assumed that everyone else, including non-French people, would primarily be concerned with when they would eat, not insignificant details such as, say, whether the plane that would take them across the Atlantic Ocean had enough fuel in it.

So, 3 hours and one plane change later, we were on our merry way. The military guy talked, the hungover soccer player didn’t talk (indeed, he left his seat more or less halfway throughout the flight and only returned for landing), and I slept. I slept pretty much through everything and would potentially have slept through the landing, only to awake when the plane wheels smoothly hit the runway and the plane pulled to a halt. Except that I woke up because at the moment the wheels were supposed to hit the runway, they didn’t, and instead we got yanked back up into the air only to admire Dulles airport from the sky.

Now, there is probably no good way to explain to your passengers that you, as a pilot, have not succeeded in landing the first time. And presumably you, as a pilot, are busy saving our lives by trying to maneuver the plane into the air again, and stuff like that. STILL. It is not exactly comforting to be wobbling in the air again after you almost touched down, so maybe you could, you know, tell people what actually happened rather sooner than later?

Apparently the pilot had averted a crash by pulling us up in what felt like the last moment, as we were landing in a tailwind. My nice neighbor (who in spite of – or maybe because of? – his aviation knowledge and experience clutched the seat in front of him with both hands) explained that tailwinds can increase plane speed so that the plane can actually not end up stopping on the runway. And that apparently such failed landings happen very rarely on commercial airliners.

Well, that was reassuring… We circled about in the air for another half-hour and the pilot declared he would ‘try to’ land again. Maybe it was just his English… but please, don’t “TRY TO” land for a second time. Just land. OK? Thanks.

He did, in spite of the plane rocking from side to side as we approached the runway, and the ovation he received as we slowed down was far from standard.

The cabin crew proceeded to thank us for our ‘confidence’. Probably, again, something that was lost in translation… but the English word ‘confidence’ was probably the last thing I had in mind as I swallowed my breath and tried to tell myself that after all, it is more likely to be killed by a camel than to die in a plane crash. That calmed me down until I realized that, dang it, it’s fairly easy to avoid death by camels (just, you know, don’t go to countries where there are camels, or zoos) but it’s not so easy to avoid airplanes. That was not a realization I enjoyed at however many thousand feet above ground in the wake of the first landing attempt.

Nor did my fellow passengers look ‘confident’, either, as they gripped the seats in front of them or their spouse’s hands.

Still, all’s well that ends well. We landed safely, the second time.

I’ll be staying away from camels, and planes, for a while though, thanks.


7 responses to “Just when I thought I had been cured of travel trouble

  1. Oh yeah, but what about a submarine shaped like a camel?

  2. Yikes! How scary!!! Of course all of this would have been averted if you hadn’t gone to Europe and instead visited the BH family at the national spelling bee… Btw, is the camel/plane stat for real?

    • Ah well you chose the one week of the year where I actually take vacation and go off to Europe! And for the camel/plane stat, I’ve heard it bandied about but I can’t find the actual source.

  3. I just heard a similar incident by a colleague last week. But that was not tailwind instead a mis-communication which could have led to head on collision.

  4. Pingback: Don’t Fall In (Love With) The Pool | Where Is My Suitcase

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