Today I experienced the third worst airplane trip I have ever been through.
- *Disclaimer: If you have fears of flying, please skip this post**
The WORST airplane trip I ever had was on my honeymoon five years ago. My husband and I were flying from the main island of Nadi, Fiji to the smaller dot of an island where our prepaid resort was located. I say prepaid, because there was absolutely no chance, if it was not prepaid, that we would have made it to that resort. We duck our heads, and climb into the small prop plane that is to carry us, the pilot, copilot and 8 passengers, to the neighboring islands. There is no cockpit. No door separating passenger from pilot. No overhead bins, no jetway. We begin our trip under sunny skies, but the sky soon turns stormy and grey. It is supposed to be a quick 45 minutes trip to our island. My husband is already not the most comfortable flier. He has heart valve problems, so he gets palpitations at altitude that cause him to be uneasy on flights. He tends to prefer those large planes where you forget you are actually up several thousand feet in the air. This small plane did not allow you to forget exactly where within the clouds you were. The plane is buzzing loudly as we cut though the clouds, and then we start to be tossed around by the wind as the plane drops, rolls to the side, dips, and wobbles from side to side. I am reminded of a leaf in Autumn, being tossed about as currents of wind send it up and down at whim. Our plane is about that same magnitude of power and strength in comparison to the natural world's force around us.
The pilot of this small cessna is probably 22 years old. I can see him sweating. I hear the co-pilot on his radio, talking frantically, but I can't make out what he is saying due to the plane noise. I am trying to focus on something other than the plane but it is impossible. After over an hour, we finally land in a small runway, and white-knuckled, my husband and I prepare to get off. Thank God, we're here. "I'm sorry" the pilot informs us, but this is not your stop. We had to fly to another island first, because we couldn't land there, so now we need to double back to get you to your stop. I tell him, "that's ok, I don't care where we are, we'll get off here." But he doesn't hear me. I ask my husband, "can't we just get off here? Maybe we can catch a boat from here to our island? Find a new place to stay here?" The prepayment causes us to grit it out, but I suspect a few of the others who got off the plane weren't intending to land here. 5 of the 8 passengers on with us get off, two new people get on. The rain is so thick it is difficult to see the ground. All I see is thick grey and pounding rain. We have to switch our seats to rebalance the weight on the plane, so my husband and I are no longer sitting together. It is so terrifying, it is almost funny. Up we go again. The sky is nearly black with clouds. I see lightning strikes to both sides of our little plane. I am praying continuously, as a way to keep my calm. I take a valium. We are being thrown around like a paper airplane. I see the pilot trying to hold onto the controls with both hands, like a child playing a game with a joystick, and I feel nauseous. The pilot and co-pilot are talking in hushed tones as the co-pilot flips through a book with instructions that appears to be some type of manual. I am seriously wondering if we will make it to this next island. Another hour longer than expected, and we land safely on an even tinier runway. It is so dark outside, it is night in the middle of the afternoon. I step out, and a man is holding an umbrella flush with the plane, but in the inch of space between the plane and the stairs, I get completely drenched. The rain is coming down in sheets. I have never experienced a monsoon, and never want to again. The rain is thick, the earth has pools of flooded water, the air is dense. We are soaked to the bone, clothes sticking to us, and winds are 50 miles an hour. Palm branches are crashing down, branches and tree limbs and debris is scattered all over the resort property. Deep brown rain puddles are everywhere. Our beautiful authentic wooden palm thatched house is hard to appreciate the first night, because it seems as if the big bad wolf is huffing and puffing to blow the whole thing down. Coconuts come smashing down, and it is not safe to be outside in case one lands on your head, so we dry up, curl up, and listen to the fury of nature.
The next morning, it looks like a tornado hit. Debris is everywhere, mud and deep potholes scatter the paths and roads, and everything has been shaken to its core. We had a fitful night listening to the howling wind race through the house, and strong rains pounding against the ceiling sounded like rain on a tin metal roof.
This brings me to our last flight today, #3 worst. Another cessna. Flashbacks. We were flying inter island from Maui back to Kona. We just got off our flight from Sacramento on the mainland. We didn't realize we had to leave the airport and go to another terminal for our flight. I ask my husband, does it say anywhere on our itinerary that this is not a real airplane? Not a real flight? Any suggestion it is actually a cessna? Could this have been avoided? Nope, just sprung on us like a bad surprise party. No security. No co-pilot, no cockpit. Utoh. This time, I have a toddler. We are weighed and told where to sit. The flight is uneventful in comparison, except that I have a squirming 25 pound child in my arms who doesn't understand that my death grip means he cannot get up. He can't touch anything. We are next to the door, and I am petrified that he will reach for the lever, or touch some knobs. I succeed in reading him the same two books over and over to keep him on my lap for a full 40 minute flight that feels like twice as long as that. The baby is screaming when he looks out the window and sees us climbing from earth. He cries from the noise and the air pressure, and the scary dips the plane makes as it drifts up and up over the mountains of Haleakala. Children screaming and sweaty mothers brings me to terrible flight #2.
- 2 worst is not equal in magnitude to the terror of our first worst flight, but it was equally painfully long. There were 26 children in our immediate five rows. We have one child, but he is an easy flyer. It is a Southwest flight, with free seating, and there is not a free seat in the house. We are packed to the hilt. We sit next to an older lady, who is one of the last on the plane. She seems perfectly nice, until she begins ordering two, then three straight scotch. She tells us she is claustrophobic and would we mind changing seats so she can have the aisle? I am usually unusually nice, to a fault. But I do not know what to say to this request, so I hedge. She presses and asks again. At first, I say, I'm sorry but we just can't. We were here first, we specifically chose the aisle, which we need because we have a baby on our laps who needs to be up every fifteen minutes to change, and who we need to stand to rock to sleep. So no, we really cannot change seats with you. 'That's fine', she says, 'I will let you out'. I ignore her. Five minutes later, she asks again. So I say, well, this is really inconvenient for us with the baby. She seems unconcerned. I am ready to bend to the pressure and be inconvenienced when my husband suggests that she find someone else willing to switch seats with her. We find a lady nearby willing to take her window seat, much to all of our relief, and we get reorganized. Then she forgets all of her things under the seat and we have to pass it up several aisles. We get our son to sleep and just as he finally nods off, this little girl in front of us, who is traveling with her mom and two siblings and has been whining all flight, begins to scream at the top of her lungs. Great. Up after ten minutes of a nap. This is going to be a long five hour flight. The mother of this three year old is screaming back at her: Cory, sit down! Shut up! She is nearly hysterical herself. She is sitting in another row, by herself, and all three kids are in the row next to us. She is yelling back to them. The mother comes back and is trying to get the child to calm down, but she is grabbing her arm violently, then holding her down. The girl is screaming louder, you're hurting me! stop! And the mother is again yelling back. Girl, wailing. Everyone within earshot of this interaction is getting noticeably uncomfortable. Several consider intervening. Finally a man nearby tells the mom to take a break, and starts talking to her and calming her down. It is ugly. I hate passing judgments on parents, because I know how hard it can be, and we all have our moments where we lose it, we aren't proud, we are imperfect. But this was Nanny 911 material. Horrendous. And we were all an unwillingly captive audience. I felt like I was on a Jerry Springer set. On that 5 hour flight from Boston to Phoenix, at least every one of those 26 children was crying, often several at once in symphony. No one could sleep, no one could think. I was focused on trying my hardest to keep my son (and myself!) calm and entertained, despite the chaos around us. I look up and see the same mother with her noise-cancelling headphones on watching a movie, while two of her children climb over armrests to the seats in front of them. I wonder why someone has children if they are unwilling to put in the time and energy to entertain and be with them. She occasionally glared back and yelled at them, but never once brought a child to her seat, came back and read to them, gave affection or attention...it was infuriating. I have empathy for other parents when their child is crying and they are trying to console them, get them to sleep, rock them, appease them. My baby cries too, I have been there. But when a child is crying and the parent does nothing, that is what makes a bad rap for all of us. Show up and do the work.