Saturday, February 11, 2012

"This Will Never Happen Again" Happened Again

"Captain, this woman would like to speak with you two."

I've only been an airline pilot for a year now.  Actually just under a year, to be honest.  I will celebrate my first year on Singles Awareness Day the 14th of this month.  So when I say that something may never happen again, well, that is simply based on my viewpoint of life: that some things are indeed so rare that the likelihood of that scenario happening again is slim to none.  Like rescuing someone from a lake...I'm quite confident in saying that that is a once-in-a-lifetime scenario/opportunity.

"Captain, this woman would like to speak with you two."

The Captain I've been flying with is fun, to say the least.  He's one of the very few that I just love to fly with.  I am quite content flying with most of the other Captains, but when I see his name on my schedule, I am actually eager for the trip to arrive.  He's admittedly goofy, hilarious, and in no uncertain terms, absolutely sick and tired of flying.  Which cracks me up since he is so young!  He's only been with the company for five or six years, and (like most) he is already ready to leave!

My last experience with him was a trip from South Bend, Indiana, to Cleveland, Ohio.  During that rather mundane trip, we tuned in our ADF to find some get-rid-of-the-monotony AM radio stations.  We ended up finding a station with "Buck" and "Duke" right over the heart of Indiana.  They talked pagonia flowers, the weather, and everything else that normal Midwesterners talk about.  It was seriously like someone took a mic to a local coffee shop and just listened in while Buck and Duke talked.  Needless to say, everytime we've seen each other since, we've greeted each other with, "Hey Buck!"  "Hiya Duke!"  We have a unique connection.

"Captain, this woman would like to speak with you two."

Early on in my airline days, I heard this exact same line from the Flight Attendant.  It turned out we had a highly-anxious passenger that needed to board first.  I guess in the airline industry there a few times when someone is so overly nervous that they get special attention from the airline.  From what I gathered, they literally take classes to become more at ease.  They get special permission to board the aircraft before any other passenger.  And they sit there and prepare themselves for the upcoming flight.  I don't admire these people at all.  I understand the fear of flying, but the fear in these select few is so great that they actually almost become paralyzed with the fear.  They are seriously terrified of flying.  I've only had one passenger in a year that was like this, but he wanted to see the Captain and set himself at ease.  That's fine.  Whatever works.

"Captain, this woman would like to speak with you two."

I knew exactly what it was going to be.  Another very terrified passenger or a young little boy that wanted to see the flightdeck.  I was hoping for the latter!  I love when little guys come up and see the best room in the house!  Little did I know what I was in for...

A late middle-aged woman stuck her head around the Flight Attendant who continued to basically block the walkway to the flightdeck while the other passengers boarded.  She didn't hesitate...

"Hi, guys, I just wanted you to know that I'm a member of the Families of Flight 3407."

Whoa.  I had turned halfway around to see who wanted to see us, as did the Captain, but we both were not ready for this one.  My eyes went from her directly to the Captain, who was looking directly at me.  Silence.  What in the world do you say to something like that?!  My mind went immediately back to the experience I had several months ago, with a woman who came up to speak with another Captain and myself.  She still had her ticket from Flight 3407...she had simply shown up too late to catch the flight.  I knew right then and there that something like this would never happen again.  I just couldn't believe what I was hearing again today!  We were speechless.  It's the Captain's ship, and I have a place in the right seat (to an extent), and I just waited for him to say something!  For him to come up with some sort of cordial welcome despite the obvious pain and fear that she had to be experiencing.  Silence.

To be honest, I'm really not sure what the Captain ended up saying.  I remember it being very short, and I remember saying something myself to try to pick up the slack.  But what I remember the most is that nothing good was said!  I don't remember if he said "Welcome" or "Sorry" or "Let us know if we can do anything for you," but I remember sitting there thinking that it was not good enough!  After the moments of awkwardness, she turned and walked back to her seat.

The Captain and I just stared at each other.  Silence.

I should probably also mention some other aspects of this particular flight.  We were departing Newark.  The same departure airport as Flight 3407.  We were flying a Dash 8.  The same airplane as Flight 3407.  We were flying in February.  The same month as Flight 3407.  We had a little bit of winter weather.  The same conditions as Flight 3407.  We were flying to Buffalo.  The same destination airport as Flight 3407.

To say that this woman might have been nervous would be an understatement.

But I have to say this.  I was not nervous.  And I wholeheartedly mean that.  We fly the Newark-Buffalo flight numerous times a day, and I've flown that flight a number of times.  We constantly fly in the Northeast weather, ice and snow included.  I don't mean to say this statement lightly, but this was just another typical flight for us.  Of course, my heart went out to her, and I certainly felt compassion for the woman, but in terms of flying this flight, I honestly had no qualms or worries about it.  It's just another flight.

The Captain and I made a little small talk about the surprise and awkwardness of the situation, but it was short-lived.  The door was still open, the woman was still back there, and we had checklists to run.  I made a somewhat joking but serious comment before we left the ground.  "Captain, you better make this landing your best.  This is the last I'll say about it."  I didn't think he needed to have that pressure a minute or two before landing.  I wasn't challenging him.  I was merely vocalizing the desire of each of us to give this woman the best flight of her life.

It's often easy to forget that we fly passengers.  We fly real people.  I keep track of how many people I fly each day (around 15,000/year) along with my hours, but outside of the generic knowledge of that, we can easily forget that we fly husbands and wives, sons and daughters...until we declare an emergency.  Air Traffic Control quickly reminds us with that powerful question, "How many souls on board"?

Souls.  That's really what it's all about.  I'm flying moms to see their sons and daughters in college.  I'm flying men to their jobs to make money for their families back home.  I'm flying grandmas and grandpas to their retirement friends down south.  I'm flying people of all types to birthdays, graduations, celebrations, funerals, job interviews, promotions, sales pitches, new homes, deal closings, and vacations.

And today, I flew a daughter, a mom, a wife to her home in Buffalo.  I don't know her exact details, but I'm afraid that one of those three family connections was shattered one February a couple of years ago.

But today, we flew one beautiful daughter, mom, and wife home.  On a Dash 8 from Newark to Buffalo in the dead of winter.

Oh, and the Captain greased the landing.

1 comment:

  1. Wow. Kudos for her for flying in the first place. My heart skipped a beat concerning the first woman who missed the flight and still had her ticket. Wow.

    And I can only assume that greasing a landing is a good thing?