There are few things in life with the potential to be as simply awful as flying. A few weeks ago, I was traveling from New Jersey to Ohio to visit family for the week of Thanksgiving. It had been close to a year since I had spent much time with them, and I was looking forward to it.
The first leg of the flight took me from Newark to Washington, D.C. and was completely uneventful. But during the second leg, things got interesting.
The plane was one of those small, regional jets where anyone taller than 5’2” is likely to stumble off looking like Quasimodo. Luckily, I measure in at a barely respectable 5’0”, so I had no problems on the head bumping front (this is one of the many underrated advantages of being what I like to call “fun sized”). But despite my shrimpy legs, I wouldn’t exactly describe the plane as comfortable.
As we took off, my aisle mate and I made with the requisite pleasantries, then turned our attention to our solitary distractions – she to a game on her phone, me to Anne Lamott’s Small Victories. Everything was going swimmingly. But about 20 minutes into the 50-minue flight, the pilot informed us that a light had come on indicating an engine problem, and we’d have to go back to Washington. Here are the thoughts that went through my head:
- I mean come on. SMH. I’ve driven the car with the engine light on for like days and lived through it (not that I advocate such reckless behavior). I say screw it, let’s keep going.
- We’re almost halfway there! It’s only 10 minutes longer to get there than it is to turn back. Will 10 minutes really make that much of a difference? If the answer to that is yes, I’m going to have to re-evaluate my stance on air travel.
- *Sigh* – I guess it’s better than a fiery death. But just barely.
After a few minutes, the plane U-turned back toward our lovely nation’s capital. Once we were on the ground, we marched back up the runway, broken, defeated people. There was no word as to when we might take off again, and we started to settle in for the long haul. We were in the Z terminal which, as you might imagine, is way the hell far away from pretty much everything else in the airport. Our food choices were limited to Subway and Dunkin Donuts. Since I’m gluten-free (yes, I know, I’m that person) literally the only things I could eat were salad, baked chips (I hate those, they taste like styrofoam), and apple slices that were turning brown.
I sat down on the cold, hard floor with my food next to an outlet so I could charge my phone and iPad and started watching The Mindy Project (oh that Danny, he cracks me up with his Staten Island Italian antics!).
Just as Mindy and Tamra were making a fabulous joke about Caramel Princess Time, I saw one of my fellow passengers storming off down the terminal in a huff and giving crap to an airport employee, like she was Queen of Snarklandia. But seriously, I got it. Our situation sucked. Do you remember that reality show Airline? If you haven’t had the distinct pleasure of viewing this particular piece of television gold, it chronicles a bunch of Southwest passengers who totally lose their shit when there’s a snag in their travel plans. It’s basically a Leslie Nielsen movie meets Real Housewives. Now, those folks might have taken the crazy train one stop too far, but traveling really is a giant pain in the ass. So I wasn’t surprised by my fellow passenger’s little tantrum.
What did surprise me was that she was the only one on the whole flight to melt down. Everyone – including myself, astoundingly – seemed more bemused with the situation than angry. Those silly airplanes, they’ll get ya every time!
People were actually striking up conversations with one another! They were smiling and laughing! It was like one of those wacky alternate universe episodes of Star Trek.
Finally, as if we were being rewarded for our good behavior, it was announced that the plane was now in working order, and we’d be taking off again shortly. We had been waiting for close to two hours but, all in all, it could have been way worse. So, we boarded the plane, the flight attendant went through her spiel again, and we were off!
Turns out, we might have been jumping the gun a bit with our optimism. After we’d been in the air for about 15 minutes, the pilot came on the intercom.
“I was trying to think of way to sugar coat this,” he began – definitely not a good sign, “but there really isn’t one. The same thing happened again. We’re going to have to go back to Washington.”
Why? Why was God punishing us like this?? We had been good! We hadn’t shouted at airport employees (most of us)! We hadn’t taken out our frustration on our traveling companions! We hadn’t acted like little snots! You might think this would be the end of our little love fest. You would be wrong.
Once we found ourselves in sunny Washington, D.C. yet again, it was as if this most recent snafu had just made our outrageous story even more hilarious! LOL LOL LOL! It’s really true what they say – when there’s a situation that’s out of your control, you can either laugh or cry. That day, we chose to laugh.
My travel mates were joking about how we should get double the frequent flyer miles, and how the flight crew owed us dinner. One guy who had also been on my first flight from Newark said something along the lines of, “Eh, ya know once we’re in the air, we all deserve a free, stiff drink!” (imagine Jon Stewart doing his impression of New York Guy).
Luckily, our wait this time wasn’t as long, and we were put onto a new (fully functional!) plane.
By the time our harrowing journey finally came to an end and we landed at the Wood County Airport like hobbits returning to the Shire, there was a genuine sense of camaraderie. The trip would have been so much crappier if everyone had been bitching and moaning the whole time. So kiddos, the long and short of it is this – only a part of your happiness is determined by external circumstances. The lion’s share really is in your own hands.