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Saturday, February 05, 2005  

Final Descent

This morning’s flight home to my family from Flint, Michigan represented a number of firsts:

1) The first time I had a three-seat exit row all to myself. I debated putting up the armrests and stretching out along that whole empty expanse. But by the time the “fasten seatbelt” sign went dark after takeoff, I was already fast asleep sitting up.

2) Sat awake on a plane for more than a half hour with nothing to read. The flight back from Hawaii doesn’t count; I had stuff to read, I just couldn’t reach it without waking the wife sleeping on my shoulder. My plan this time was to spend the flight working on the laptop, but of course there are those lacunae around takeoff and landing where portable electronic devices aren’t permitted. I figured that those were short enough that I’d be able to keep myself “entertained” by the in-flight magazine. Upon return, the wheels came off that theory, because see #4.

3) Spotted my actual house from the air. In the dozens of flights we’ve taken in and out of Minneapolis over the past decade or so, we’ve never managed to spot our house from the plane, even though we live a mere eleven miles from the airport. We’re always on the wrong side of the plane, or using the wrong runway, or it’s dark, or there’s a blizzard and visibility is about ten feet. Until today, when I watched our neighborhood scroll beneath me on the right, spotted the school in our neighborhood, and triangulated our house from there. From above, it pretty much just looks like a gray roof with a freakishly large triangular driveway. From which I was pleased to see that most of the ice had melted.

4) Sat next to an emergency exit and gave serious thought to the possibility that I might actually have to use it.

About a half hour out, the captain came on the PA. I planned to tune him out and go right back to sleep, but his opening made that a little tricky.

Just wanted to update you on a situation we’re having up here in the cockpit…

As he explained it, there was a problem with an indicator light on the control panel. It wasn’t indicating, you see. What it’s supposed to indicate is that the landing gear door has closed properly after the landing gear is deployed. Which surprises me for two reasons. First of all, why is it normal for the door to close on something that’s sticking out of the bottom of the plane? And secondly (although this didn’t occur to me until later), how did they know there was a problem with a post-landing-gear-deployment item when we were still a good long way from deploying the landing gear in the first place?

The pilot continued to explain that this was a minor problem, really. We were just going to be landing on an inactive runway, just in case. And those fire engines and other emergency vehicles that would swarm around the aircraft once we came to a stop were simply a precaution. A formality, really.

I was pretty much awake after that.

The pilot updated us later, somewhere over rural Wisconsin (a phrase which sounds pretty redundant when you're looking down at it from 25,000 feet). We would in fact be using a regular runway. It’s just that we’d have to wait a little bit longer because they wanted to clear all of the planes ahead of and behind us. You know, in case we hit the ground and blew the fuck up. Although he didn't swear.

It occurred to me that this was the first flight I’d ever taken since watching the premiere of Lost. I was stuck in that episode of The West Wing, but since we weren’t on Air Force One, weren’t no one gonna send up an F-14 Tomcat to check on our ass.

I still wasn’t worried, because this wasn’t the kind of problem that was going to affect us until we were already on the ground. The chances of a landing-gear door failure resulting in, say, the back of the fuselage breaking off and dumping me somewhere outside Eau Claire. Worst-case scenario, the landing gear would collapse, the fuselage and engines would scrape along the tarmac, sending up a shower of sparks that would ignite our remaining fuel and immolate us in our seats. Except for me, sitting next to my emergency exit. I just hoped there would be time to grab my laptop out of the seat pocket before the inferno commenced.

Another reassuring fact was that the pilot didn’t come on the PA and give us permission to use our cell phones during approach, in case there were people we wanted to call. That would have scared the bejeezus out of me. And also Trash, because you think I would have been brave enough to protect her from that shit? Hell no. I don’t know if we would have gotten permission to use our cell phones even if we were headed for certain death. I prefer to think so, and if you know different, keep it to your own damn self.

Seeing my house from the air actually scared me worse than anything. It was for purely superstitious reasons, and I recognize that. It’s kind of been on my unofficial mental list of things I hope to do before I die (an admittedly boring list, which isn’t surprising given the fact that I’m scared of, like, roller coasters), and checking it off seconds before we met an uncertain fate on the ground didn’t fill me with confidence. It didn’t fill my pants, either, so there’s that.

The control tower apparently decided that once we landed, it would be a good idea to keep our taxiing to a minimum. So we got an arrival gate real close to the runway. I never realized how quickly a passenger plane could come to a complete stop after landing if it really wanted to. In terms of plane-lengths, it felt like we used about as much runway length as the equivalent of an aircraft carrier. I was quite impressed. Of course, after reading The Right Stuff, I always say that any landing you walk away from is a good one. Or at least I did, until Trash asked me to stop saying it.

But today, after we were safely on the ground, not even a little busted open or on fire, with maintenance and emergency vehicles swarming around us and other passengers applauding, I was glad to be able to call Trash and have the first thing I said be “Hi, I just landed.”

Today's best search phrase: "FUN FACTS AND ANIMAL THAT TURNS ITS STOMACH INSIDE OUT" Both at the same time?


posted by M. Giant 8:58 PM 6 comments

6 Comments:

Congrats on the whole avoiding of a fiery death thing.

Oh, and the only animal that can turn its stomach inside out is the starfish. That's something I learned one night when I was very drunk and watching the Discovery channel.

Shortly thereafter I was inclined to disagree...

By Blogger CanadaDave, at February 6, 2005 at 2:41 AM  

Wait, no. There's a species of frog that throws up by expelling its stomach, scraping out the context with its hands, and then swallowing it stomach again. That counts as turning it inside out, doesn't it?

And there's the sea cucumber, although that doesn't turn its stomach inside out, so much, as when feeling extremely threatened it expells, completely, its entire digestive tract, and leaves that to distract/feed the predator while it gets away and finds somewhere to hide while it grows a new digestive tract.

Rae

By Anonymous Anonymous, at February 6, 2005 at 6:59 AM  

Wow. The Velcrometer readers are making me sorry for the first time in over a decade that I should, by all rights, have flunked Biology. (I had a kick-ass lab notebook because of the time-honored strategy for the squeamish: hook up with the person who has terrible note taking skills and a strong stomach.) That's the only reason I got a C instead of an F. (Physics and chemistry, yes. Biology not so much. I actually changed my first degree over from A.S. to A.A. in order to avoid taking it again, and did double chem instead.)

Glad you made it safely, M. Giant. (I never developed the "flying over your own house" paranoia because my dad had his pilot's license and I had done it several times before I was old enough to know that planes can be dangerous.) As a fellow person frightened by roller coasters, I salute you for your aplomb.

By Blogger parcequilfaut, at February 6, 2005 at 10:35 PM  

MG, I'm mighty impressed that you didn't expel your entire digestive tract upon landing. That might have been another first, a first you don't want on your to-do list. ~Laura

By Anonymous Anonymous, at February 7, 2005 at 10:06 AM  

I might be flying in March, for the first time, at age 30. My own stomach nearly turns inside-out at the prospect of flight. I'm not sure if this entry helps with that anxiety, but I'm glad that the landing gear was OK.

By Blogger sisyphus75, at February 7, 2005 at 10:14 AM  

A similar thing happened to me on a return trip from Switzerland. Halfway over the Atlantic (we'd just spotted Iceland) our pilot realized the landing gear wasn't working and thought it would be good to crash and burn in France, so we turned around and dumped our fuel before we went feet-dry. (Sorry, shores of England!) We had an impressive retinue of flame-retardant foam and emergency vehicles on the runway to greet us. Unfortunately--because I was a thrill-seeking 12-year-old--our gear went down successfully at the last minute, and we had to wait a few hours in France for a new plane.

By Anonymous Anonymous, at February 7, 2005 at 11:10 AM  

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