The night the crew saved my flight from hell

Written by admin on June 22, 2009 – 5:27 pm -

When I see a plane, I want to be on it. But after last Friday’s unplanned red-eye between Los Angeles and Washington, I’m having second thoughts.

I’ve been commuting regularly to the West Coast for family reasons and even though it frequently feels as if these flights are like traveling on overcrowded buses, I’ve learned to grin and bear it. So far, I’ve arrived at my destination in one piece and not too much the worse for wear. The revving of airplane engines is a soporific for me.

But this flight was not like the others I’ve experienced and it gave me an entirely new perspective on jetsetting. I’ll call it the flight from hell because it was; and I’m still recovering.

The LAX to IAD flight was scheduled to depart at 4 p.m. and land at Dulles just after midnight. I arrived at the terminal more than two hours early and headed to the Red Carpet Club.

At the appropriate time, those of us who were DC bound headed to the gate, boarded and were set to go. Because the airlines are using smaller aircraft and have cut back on the number of flights going from one destination to another, there wasn’t an unoccupied seat. But this was going to be an on-time departure until the head flight attendant announced that everyone was there with the exception of the pilots, who were detained because of bad weather in the Midwest.

No one wants to hear, “Please deplane, take all of of your possessions and return in two and a half hours.” Some passengers grabbed their cell phones and booked seats on different airlines. They were business types who were flying on full-fare tickets and had nothing to lose since their return was refundable.

I was amazed by how well most people took the delay. There weren’t any visible meltdowns. All was attributed to the weather gods and so be it.

Some people headed to a restaurant. Others went to the bar. Some remained in the waiting area while members of the Red Carpet Club walked back a few gates to make phone calls and continue talking business or vegging out in front of the TV.

At the appointed hour, passengers boarded again. This time, some seats were empty but there wasn’t a lot of griping. When the pilots entered the cockpit, the passengers literally applauded.

The flight attendants were responsible for much of the relatively cheerful mood of the passengers. They had been apologetic, accommodating, scurried to find blankets and pillows and maintained their smiles and sense of humor.

As the passengers were settling in, the captain announced there were some technical problems with the aircraft and it was being “retired.” Another plane would be rolled out within 30 minutes and the passengers would repeat the boarding exercise. The captain was up front about refusing to fly this plane. No one booed — I suspect the Air France crash is too fresh in everyone’s minds.

When we boarded for the third time, the crew maintained its graciousness. Clearly, everyone was fading but we were going and what was supposed to be a late flight had morphed into being a ‘red eye’ since the flight didn’t land until 6 a.m.

No one was happy but there weren’t any unpleasant incidents. Indeed, there was a feeling of solidarity as the pilots navigated through turbulent weather that dictated we keep our seatbelts buckled during the majority of the trip.

After finally landing at Dulles Airport with the sunrise streaking across the sky, the passengers and crew, rather than complaining, talked about surviving a difficult time together. Perhaps this was because of the open communications between the crew and passengers. Everyone knew what was happening and could understand it.

The flight crew was 100 percent professional and didn’t let their frustration or exhaustion show. They were the essence of calm.

I did learn something new about myself and flying — unplanned red-eye flights are a killer. Had I planned to take the red-eye, I would have been prepared and would have slept. I’ve been a zombie for the past two days and am suffering from acute jet lag. Today is another day and thank goodness, I don’t have to board a plane.

I thought I was immune from jet lag as one who lives in any and all time zones. Wearing earplugs and noise canceling earphones can block the sounds generated by crying babies and excited children.

How much of flying has to do with being psychologically prepared? What do you think?  Would you have remained in Los Angeles overnight and taken the morning flight? How many Tripso readers have been subjected to flights from hell? What was your reaction? Sign me tired and curious.

Karen Fawcett is president of BonjourParis.

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