Sunday, December 27, 2009

Air Travel Stories

It seems there’s no shortage of great air travel stories.  During the late 1990’s and into about 2004 or so, I was flying a lot more than I do now (which is about zero, actually).  But during that brief period of travel, I amassed a few stories of my own.  Here’s a few to start my list off…

Lost Engine at Newark

One early afternoon, while waiting at Newark for my connecting Northwest flight to Chicago, we were told our flight was late getting in.  So we waited and waited until the announcer told us the plane was on approach.  We moved to the window (because we were really bored and this was the only entertainment).  As the plane touched down, there was commotion and louder talking, and one guy says out loud “was that the engine?!”  We looked intently and saw something bouncing and rolling into the field to the side of the runway but couldn’t tell what it was.  It was the port-side tail engine of our DC-9, which cracked off, and rolled off into the field.  The plane slowed to a stop on the runway and the emergency vehicles scrambled out.  The passengers were loaded onto a bus and the plane was towed back as we were re-scheduled to a different pane.

Lost door latch at DC/Reagan

On an early morning United flight from Washington DC to Denver Stapleton in 1974, we were told that we might be delayed due to mechanical problems.  We heard loud thumping and bumping from the front of the plane.  It was the crew taking turns ramming the door shut, but it wouldn’t latch.  Turned out that a latch bracket had come loose and couldn’t grab the counterpart.  They tried for about ten minutes before we had to “de-plane” and get on another plane.  All of the passengers and luggage had to be unloaded and reloaded onto another plane several ramps over.

Lost fuel cap at Detroit

While waiting for departure at Detroit/Wayne, we felt the plane shaking and caused us (passengers) to look out the starboard windows.  We saw a 300+ lb ground crewman trying to walk on the wing to disconnect the fuel line but he slipped and fell, sliding down the wing slope and onto his ass on the concrete below.  The gas was seeping from the connection.  He climbed again, slowly, awkwardly, and managed to disconnect the hose but was struggling to get the cap back in place.  After three more people arrived to help, the captain announced that this was a “recurring problem and was on an official “watchlist”” but that we had nothing to worry about.  We took off fifteen minutes behind schedule but arrived on time.

Lost luggage at Norfolk

While waiting to depart Norfolk (VA) for Chicago in 1991 on our US Airways flight, we were quietly watching luggage being loaded onto the plane to our left (port side).  The winds were gusting to about 30 mph that day, but it was otherwise sunny and mild temps.  The conveyor on the adjacent plane was busy with luggage, packages, and suit covers going up and into the plane’s holding bay.  As the ground crew tossed one hard-shell suitcase onto the conveyor, it popped open and the wind took hold of the contents and immediately blew it all out onto the tarmac. The crewman just waived it off as if saying “f—k it” and loaded the next, which was a suit bag, which also caught the wind and blew off.  Neither of the items were retrieved.  The owner probably thinks they were sent somewhere else instead of into a perimeter fence.

Iced Plane at Detroit

Waiting to depart Detroit in 1992 on a Northwest airlines flight to somewhere (heading home to Norfolk), it was snowing hard.  De-icing crews were sweeping all of the planes and then turning around to do them again since the planes would ice up by the time the others were visited.  It was really nasty.  We were told they might cancel flights, but they continued on as if that wasn’t decided yet.  One of the passengers in the front of the plane started getting angry and pounded the stewardess call button with his fist repeatedly.  When she came to him, he yelled out that “blue stuff” was dripping on his head and shoulders.  I know I’ve seen pink and green fluid used, but this was blue indeed.

The stewardess tried to calm him down by saying that it was normal for some of the de-icing fluid to leak in through cracks in the fuselage seams until the plane was at cruising altitude and the cabin pressurized.  The passengers went completely silent.  Then one guy near us, in the back, said “we have cracks in the fuselage?”  That caused even more commotion and the crew spent another ten minutes calming everyone down.  We also slid sideways while taxiing out onto the runway and had to rev up the engines several times to get the starboard wheel back onto the pavement from the soft ground.  We almost didn’t get un-stuck.  We took off and got to our destination only a few minutes behind schedule. We were the last plane allowed to leave that day.  The rest were grounded.

Bounced landing at Dallas

On a day of heavy cross winds, we landed at Dallas, on our Delta route connecting to LAX.   The plane came in at a noticable angle from normal alignment with the runway, as we could see the right edge of the runway ahead out through the starboard windows.  We touched down hard and things fell out of the overheads, the engine speed went up and down and we picked up and touched down again twice.  The last (third) time was good contact and we rolled but not after a violent backthrust slow-down the put everyone almost face-first into the seats in front of them.  As we calmly rolled to the gate, the captain muttered quietly on the sound system: “Thank God”

Turbulence Free-Fall Freak-Out

On a People’s Express Airlines flight from Norfolk (VA) to Chicago, we were enjoying a very sunny and calm day without any turbulence.  Then the captain announced we had some turbulence ahead and to get in our seats and buckle up.  We hit some strong bumps and then suddenly we fell for, honestly, a good 10-15 seconds.  We were weightless.  A few things (drink ups, cards, kids toys) flew up and bounced off the overhead.  Babies cried and screamed and then one old woman in the middle of the plane shrieked in a strange low voice “we are all going to die!!!” and she dragged the word “die” on for a few seconds.  It wasn’t helpful at all.  The turbulence ended and all was well afterwards.

Fat People to the Rear of the Plane

This was one of the funniest yet worrisome moments I can recall.  I was sitting on a small Western Air connector puddle-jumper from Washington DC to Pittsburgh in the 1990’s.  I think the plane was equipped to carry about 20 passengers.  The rear seats were empty, as the plane only had half the seats filled.  As we began to roll back from the “gate” (rolling staircase), the stewardess tried to quietly ask the obese couple immediately to my left if they would move to the rear.  They asked why and she kept asking them to just “please move to those seats” (pointing to them). 

After they refused a more discreet requests, she said “folks, we need to redistribute our cabin weight for takeoff”.  They moved but not without letting her know they didn’t like it.  Everyone was worried, you could see it in all our faces.  Then the stewardess began her announcements and safety crap, but ended it with a notice saying that “some of our luggage had to be moved to the next flight in order to make weight limits for takeoff”.  Needless to say, it made that couple feel very uncomfortable and made the rest of the passengers a bit worried.

Disclaimers:  None of the photos inserted were taken by myself.  I make no claims to the photos or the ownership or origin.  They were inserted from Google search results.  I have no intention, make no claims, of singling out particular airlines for mismanagement or faulty aircraft.  There are more stories of pretty much all airlines.  However, the bulk of my travels in the late 1990’s was on Northwest due to scheduling and the points of departure and arrival.

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