I love to fly, and it shows – especially in my living room.
I have a pair of airline seats (including yet-to-be-inflated life vests that have been removed to avoid my youngest rescue’s terrible twos) that become the biggest playground when I entertain.
I have an airline beverage cart (coupled with the seats, you can only imagine the shenanigans), a coffee table made out of landing gear flaps (the plane that they came from has a fascinating story, including being hijacked) and a side table made out of an airplane wheel.
Oh – and real airplane windows hang on either side of my TV.
It must be in my blood as my father was a USAF pilot. I feel safer on a plane than I ever will in a car.
That love aligned with my career as a jetsetting consultant because I’ve had to fly – a lot. I’ve since lost count, but I’ve done around 2,500 flights in my life.
With all that flying, I’ve seen and experienced too much in the air. Here are some of my most memorable and scary flights to date.
Sit back, relax and enjoy the post.
1. The Heart Attack & Lightning Strike
I hit the restroom after the captain came over and said we’d be hitting some rather rough air. There is nothing worse than being pulled against your seat belt with a full bladder.
And then it happened.
The turbulence started much faster than I anticipated and it was pretty bumpy.
I was a contortionist trying to finish my bio-break.
To keep braced, I put my forehead against the bulkhead and extended my right leg to the sink cabinet, all while propping the toilet seat up with my left knee (Ladies, you’re welcome).
I quickly washed my hands (Everyone, you’re welcome) and heard lots of screaming and thumping from running even before I could open the door.
This was only a few years after 9/11 so my first thought was,
“We’re being hijacked.”
I opened the door and noticed a congregation in the exit row. I was told that someone had a heart attack.
While thankful it wasn’t a hijacking. I was terrified for this gentleman.
The pilot came on to announce that we would be making a rather rapid descent into Chicago and everyone, including the flight attendants, needed to be seated. There was a doctor that stayed with the patient.
The turbulence went from rough to very rough – and very quickly.
Then … the sound. I can’t explain it.
It wasn’t like a loud clap of lightning you would hear on the ground. I can only liken it to being in the middle of an explosion.
It was loud enough to make my ears ring. I thought a bomb had gone off as the plane dipped and moved oddly and I didn’t even want to look back.
When I glanced back to confirm the plane was still intact, my only thought was of the gentleman having the heart attack.
This could not have helped his situation at all, as I think most of our hearts stopped a bit.
To this day, I still wonder what happened to him and hope he is enjoying an amazing, lightning-free life.
2. My First Flight
I couldn’t have been older than about three because I was still carrying around my blankie.
Come to think of it, I might have carried that thing around until I was 12.
My dad put my older brother in the co-pilot seat, my sister in the back seat, and I was in some space behind her.
As we went down the runway, I couldn’t see out the window, so I just held onto my blankie as it was all still pretty fun.
Then all of a sudden, I felt weird, and we were swaying back and forth. My stomach felt like it was twirling.
I had to see what was going on. I crawled around and struggled to stand to look out the window.
As soon as I saw the tops of the trees, I belted out the biggest scream that only stopped in nanosecond intervals to allow a breath and continue crying.
My blankie was useless at this point. I kept looking at everyone and thinking,
“Doesn’t anyone else see what I am seeing? Why aren’t you screaming? We are in the air!”
They were crazy not to be joining me in my screaming.
Nobody had told me what flying was. I didn’t have a clue as to what was happening.
Needless to say, my father landed the plane well ahead of the scheduled flight plan.
3. Flock of Birds in the Engine
I was doing a day-trip to NYC from DC. The flight left at 6:45 a.m. (brutal).
Shortly after takeoff, there was a thump and screech from the back of the 727 where the three engines were.
Eventually, the cabin smelled of baked chicken. Usually, that would make me hungry. Considering that it was a short, morning flight with no meal, the smell concerned me a little.
There was a bird strike into the #2 engine and thankfully it did not cause a failure to any of the other two engines. We continued our flight and landed safely.
I avoided my usual baked chicken sandwich in the One Chase Manhattan cafeteria that day.
4. Please Don’t Throw Up on Me – Verbally or Otherwise
Yes, I’m one of those jetsetting fliers. I don’t want you to talk to me. A flight is ‘me time’ to just be in silence. And, yes, I’ll often wear earphones with nothing playing so you won’t talk to me.
There! You made me admit it!
You’d be surprised at the number of ‘talkers’ that somehow manage to get around that, though.
You can only imagine my relief to be on a very short 30-minute flight to Ft. Lauderdale, when as luck would have it, I happened to sit next to a talker.
As we took off in storms, I soon found out that this ‘talker’ was a fearful flier.
I tried to close my eyes to pretend I was sleeping. It worked until I opened my eyes to realize we had already been in the air for 45 minutes, and we were circling lower over water.
What I would soon find out is that we were burning or dumping fuel to return to the airport for an emergency landing. The landing gear indicators malfunctioned.
Everyone had to be strapped in for turbulence and to prepare for our arrival.
The ‘talker’ indicated he was going to get sick.
I was in the aisle and him in the middle seat. I couldn’t let this happen.
I did what I needed to do and just talked to him to get his mind off the fact that we were circling in storms and when we landed our gear may or may not work.
It worked – both my talking and the equipment. He didn’t throw up, and we landed safely.
I rushed off the plane to be handed another ticket to a flight that was being held for me.
The nightmare though was just beginning.
The Middle Seat from Hell
I rushed on the plane and was told a middle seat in the last row was the only available. I was just thankful to be on the flight.
When I plopped down in the middle, the gentleman at the aisle started asking questions about my flight.
He was a nervous ‘talker.’ Fantastic.
The lady next to the window was not nervous but just a ‘talker.’ Fabulous.
I thought about asking the flight attendant to let me sit in the lavatory, but we just pushed back.
About fifteen minutes into a bumpy flight, I was watching the time. I was so ready for this nightmare to be over.
The nervous talker started getting restless and yapping away. He stopped when he realized he was about to get sick.
I didn’t have time to try to do anything.
Thankfully, he projected into the aisle instead of onto me.
I instinctively started breathing through my mouth. Others didn’t think as quickly, and so it began.
The rare domino effect of vomiting in the WORST place and situation for it to occur. I had to prevent happy yappy ‘talker’ from becoming one of the fallen dominos.
I engaged her in every topic possible while practically holding her nose shut for her.
My skills of influence worked.
I almost thought about driving home for the return.
5. My First Flight Alone
I was in the second grade and heading to California to spend Christmas with my dad.
As I sat with my enormous Popeye belt buckle (it was the ‘70s), I stared at the plane and started asking my nervous-wreck mother questions.
“What if one of the engines falls off?”
Mom calmly told me that everything would be okay and we would land safely.
I started firing off but-what-if questions faster than my mother could answer them.
“What if both the engines fall off?”
“What if the windows break?”
“What if that tail thing falls off?”
“What if I don’t know how to flush the toilet?”
“Can a plane float in water?”
“What if a door opens in the air?”
“What if a wing falls off?”
With each question, my mom’s message was “everything will be just fine.”
Until my last question.
“What if BOTH wings and all the engines fall off?”
I asked with a weird sense of excitement.
“You’ll crash, Kris! You’ll CRASH!”
she said with a rather melon-dew complexion of sweat.
I just responded with,
Shortly after that, I was escorted onto the plane by a flight attendant who gave me a kiss and a pair of wings.
As I proudly took my wings down the jet bridge, my mother took a Xanax.
That was the first of thousands of times of determining worst-case scenario. It started with my first jetsetting adventure.
It’s something I still do today to mitigate risk and plan projects, initiatives, and life.
It’s an annoying but necessary part of me.
6. Avoiding Missiles in the Middle East
The last time I was in Tel Aviv, tensions were growing near the West Bank and Gaza based on kidnappings that occurred.
I could feel the change in mood in the city. I quietly left.
During our take off ascent, we did a sharp turn to the right. It was odd enough that it jolted me from falling asleep to staring out the window.
We eventually leveled off and started a normal ascent.
I had no idea what happened until months later at a neighborhood dinner party.
At the dinner party, I was talking with a woman who looked so familiar. Eventually, I found out she was a 747 captain for a major airline.
She indicated that she mostly flew to-and-from Tel Aviv from NYC.
It then hit me – my neighbor was the captain of my flight back from Tel Aviv!
She said there were last-minute instructions to avoid airspace that might be at risk of rocket launches to Tel Aviv.
Just days after I left, missile strikes on both sides started and continued for way too long.
7. Negotiating a Better Take-Off Position
During my “I am going out every weekend” years (in reality it was going out every Wednesday-Sunday night), one person developed a bit of a crush on me.
After a while, he asked what he could do to get me to go out with him.
I soon discovered he was a tower controller at DC National.
I often took the 6:45 a.m. flight to NYC. DCA only had one runway for jets, and there were about five flights that were scheduled at that time every day (great planning).
We were always the last priority to take off. It annoyed me because I could have gotten another 45 minutes of sleep. Clubbing while jetsetting was exhausting!
I said, “If you can make us the number one takeoff slot on my Monday flight, then I’ll go out with you.” He said for me to consider it done.
He didn’t realize I was kidding; I didn’t realize he was serious.
Monday came, I got on my plane and fully expected to be last. As we pushed off from the gate and began towards the runway, the pilot came over and said,
“Much to my pleasant surprise, we are number one for take off on this beautiful morning in our nation’s capital. Flight attendants, please prepare for takeoff.”
I kept my end of the agreement and went out with him a couple of times, but it wasn’t a match.
However, I always knew when he was working the tower – my daily 6:45 a.m. flight was always first for takeoff.
He was a nice guy.
8. The Last-Minute Trip and Change of Fate
I booked the United flight on New Year’s Eve to L.A from Denver at 3 or 4 p.m. that day and rushed to the airport.
Yes, the day they said DO NOT FLY because of the Y2K technical changes. Being in IT at the time, it didn’t bother me at all.
We started a party in first class (B-727), as the flight did not get in until close to 8 p.m. and we were missing some of the early festivities. Even the flight attendants were having fun.
Great trip and lots of wine!
Days later, news reports came out that the government thwarted a terrorist plot to blow up the LAX United terminal that night – December 31st, 1999.
9. ATC Can’t Come to the Phone. Please, Fly Around.
ATC (Air Traffic Control) falling asleep at the controls had made headlines around this time. I never thought we’d be a part of it.
On our descent to Tampa, I looked out the window and could tell we were getting close to the airport. I’ve done some touch-and-goes before (just when you are about to land, you take off back into the air), but this one was different.
Still higher than any of my other touch-and-goes, we banked hard to the west out over the water and into the clouds.
We circled in silence; nobody was announcing what was happening.
Upon landing, we were told there was traffic on the runway.
Soon after, I found out that the aircraft lost contact with the tower.
Why is this a potential issue? The tower is the eyes around the plane to tell you what to avoid in the air and the ground at this point in the flight.
Investigators declared it was a ‘technical’ issue.
10. The Hailstorm and “Honey”
Immediately after pushing back from the gate, we encountered a terrible hailstorm. So bad that all we could do was sit on the plane and wait.
We waited hours and eventually, they played a movie to distract us from the time.
It was hard to follow the film with the sound of hail banging down on the fuselage. It was so loud that when it finally stopped, the silence almost seemed like I had gone deaf.
Before we were allowed to take off, we were required to get a “visual inspection” of the exterior of the plane. For some reason, that did not seem comforting.
We did some model turns and flashes near the hanger and then were told we were good to strut our stuff down the runway.
Later that same flight, the elderly man sitting next to me didn’t like any of the three dinner selections.
He proceeded to ask the flight attendant,
“Honey, could you whip something else up for me?”
Instead of responding with,
“Yeah, ass clown, I’ve got a full, gourmet kitchen stocked with everything up there,”
she calmly repeated his options.
She and I just looked at each other, and I rolled my eyes, which seemed to make her laugh.
Well, there you have them! Some of the most memorable and scary flights of over 2,500 as a consultant jetsetting all over the world.
I could talk planes and flying all day, so I’d love to hear about your air stories as well.
I’m sure you frequent business fliers have a ton of them!