If you are, or have ever been a part of the airline industry, then you know that the simplest days have a tendency to turn into the most complex. It is our golden rule to never discuss or talk about what looks to be an easy day. That night, my lips were sealed as I entered the crew room, because my pairing was a one leg day from FLL—>DCA. (Ft. Lauderdale to Washington D.C.). All I had to do was survive a couple hours of “My seat is dirty!” “Her chair is reclined too far,” “Would you please tell those parents to shut that kid up?” I could do this.
My flying position that trip had been the Lead Flight Attendant on a Airbus 320 aircraft that holds 178 passengers. For this aircraft, we have four flight attendants – two in the front and two in the back. Lead is probably one of my least favorable positions, because if anything should happen onboard the plane, the lead is the one who has to make the decisions and take the wrath of the end result. With that said, I was still reminiding myself that in a few hours I would be in my hotel room, swallowed up by those luxurious, oversized feather comforters all hotels seem to have.
“Boarding is complete!” I made the final announcement, and we were on our way to join the stars in the sky. Soon into the middle of the flight, we began to experience turbulence. Not your typical kind that rocks you back and forth to sleep, but the kind that can toss a child to the ceiling if their parents neglected to notice the seat belt sign had been illuminated. This was probably the first flight I ever had where everyone remained seated without even trying to get up. Usually, that conversation goes a little something like this – “Sir, the seat belt sign is on. As you can tell we are experiencing severe turbulence and it is not safe to be up and about the cabin.” “Well, I really gotta go to the bathroom!” (*pout *pout *pout) “It is my job to let you know the seat belt sign is illuminated because the Captain does not feel it is safe for anyone to be up yet.” “So…does that mean I can go?” Fear has a tendency to force people to use their brains and make better decisions. That flight, everyone strapped themselves in a little tighter, so luckily, I never had to have this conversation of pure stupidity.
*High-low chime* The Captain had been calling and ordered all Flight Attendants to take their jumpseats and strap themselves in. Service was suspended due to the severity of the turbulence. Unlike most, I was hiding my smile, because I live for the excitement, and love the unpredictableness of what the airplane is going to do! The only thing I was not excited about was leading an evacuation if necessary. *High-low chime* The Captain called back to say we were not able to land at the DCA airport because the visibility was less than 1 mile which is not proper landing conditions. We were going to be diversted to Atlantic City. Unfortunately, we were running low on fuel, and by the time we arrived near the ACY airport, conditions were the same as they had been upon trying to land in Washington D.C. We had no choice but to land, because low fuel meant low chance of diverting elsewhere.
Passengers looked terrified, one of the flight attendants in the back had been crying, and we were coming in for a landing whether we liked it or not. In my brace position, I had been going over all of my evacuation commands, and replaying everything from training that I would need in this particular situation. Looking out my window, I could see the runway, but all I could feel was how we were still being thrown back and forth from side to side. At this point, I wasn’t sure if we were going to land on one of the wings, or touch down and skid sideways. Typically the closer you get to the runway you tend to level out…but not this time. Anticipation was getting the best of me until BOOM! We had touched down hard. Eventually, we came to a stop and everyone on board began clapping!
The cockpit door opened and the pilots came out looking pale as ghosts, sopping wet with sweat. I’ll never forget the Captain telling me out of all his years flying planes, this had been the scariest moment for him by far. He said you probably don’t realize just how close we were to really “having a problem.”
Later that night after refueling, we were going to continue on to Washington D.C. and make it to our final destination. Passengers had a chance to get up and use the lavatory. This was probably one of the only times in my career thus far, where every single passenger said “thank-you!” Out of 178 passengers, we probably lost about eight who decided they were just going to rent a car and drive the rest of the way. Those poor souls will probably never fly again.
A couple weeks ago I ran into that same Captain who flew with me during this flight. I said “I flew with you before!” He looked at me like he couldn’t exactly pinpoint when we flew together. I reminded him by saying “I was the one on that diversion flight to D.C!” Immediately he knew exactly what I was talking about! We just looked at each other and smiled, knowing that what we had been through together, was something none of our current crewmembers could fully understand. So, like I said, sometimes the simplest of days can turn out to be the most complex. I believe this is true for most all job professions, but in the airline world this is what we call the “norm.”