Boom in the Night

Quantas airplane in flightLet it be known that I fly a lot, especially now that I’ve moved to this dusty corner of the country. It just isn’t possible to drive everywhere I want to go, certainly not with $4.00 gas staring me in the face at the station. Most of my trips originate not at the lonely Walla Walla airport, which hosts a few flights a day to and from Seattle, and which will bump up the fare anywhere between $400 to $1,000. So I trek out to the Tri-Cities, an hour away, and go from there. It’s a Planes & Automobiles adventure every time.

If I were averse to flying, this would be a problem, but for me it’s routine: I know I need exactly four bins at the TSA checkpoint. 1. shoes and jacket. 2. briefcase and toiletries in their quart-sized bag. 3. laptop. 4. iPad. I’ve already got all of my possessions demarcated into their appropriate locations the moment after I’ve shown my ID to the agent. I know at this point which airports are the best for the security check (Detroit is one) and which are the worst (Dulles is the big loser).

I even can come up with a list of places to grab a snack at individual airports, should I have the time and the need between my connections. It’s not a romanticized perspective on flying, for sure. Call it a pragmatic approach. I’m a no-nonsense flyer, and not much at this point ruffles my feathers, although for a while in my 20s, I had pretty terrible motion sickness and asked Dramamine to be my friend. It happily obliged. I’m grateful those days are over.

My flight out of Las Vegas, en route to my connection point, Salt Lake City, was the scariest flight I can recall ever experiencing. Hurtling down the runway during takeoff we were pushed right and left in a brusque crosswind, and of course I computed how much higher our chances of an accident were at this point of the trip than up in the air:

Thrust into the air, we bobbled about like a slow-motion maraca, the sounds of the fuselage squeaking against the wind currents. I found myself gripping my armrests, mostly to hold on, and a little out of anxiety, which quietly made its presence known by stealing away all of the moisture in my mouth.

The pilots told us we would have a lot of turbulence on the way to Salt Lake. Terrific. They also canceled the beverage service, and this was the one time I didn’t bring my own bottle of soda on board.

It seemed that we never really leveled off; if we did, we listed to one side or another for so much of the duration it was difficult to also discern our pitch forward or aft. Exhausted from tumbling around in space, I drifted off to a light sleep.

I’m not sure how long I dozed, but I’d like to think it was peaceful while I was conked out. I woke with a start, my heart tripping in my chest, at the sight of a long finger of lightning striking the right wing of the plane, and on its heels, a very loud pop. Fellow passengers screamed. We’d oohed and ahed a couple of times earlier when the cabin would descend suddenly by 50 feet or so, leaving our intestines on the ceiling, but this collective sound was tinged with actual fear. I knew from all of my travel and reading about airplanes that of course two engines are redundant. And I checked to make sure there was no long-haired alien sitting on the wing picking the jet apart.

I remembered that we had wifi on this flight, for the mere pittance of $4.95. For less than 5 dollars, I could send out a goodbye message to my loved ones on Facebook. It sounds awful, but in a pinch, I bet I could crank through my credit information and jackhammer through a message if I needed to. I considered practicing my speed iPad typing.

The pilot came over the intercom, because of course the crew were strapped in tight for the whole flight. He reassured us that everything was okay and that we would be landing in 12 minutes. We descended into a steady rain in Utah, and I didn’t even mind it that we had to wait on the tarmac for another 10 minutes while the airplane at our gate got ready to back away.

Godspeed, people, I thought.

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