Fear of flying? Not me!
I suffer the occasional twinge when the normal creaking and groaning of an ancient 747 gets too loud. During particularly rough, bumpy flights I pretend I'm on a carnival ride, but, normally, I'm a fairly calm flier.
I was still working when we first moved so I've logged over 350,000 actual flying miles over the pond in the last 10 years. Out of all of those flight there was only one that made me re-examine my beliefs in God, Religion, and the After Life.
Thanks to my frequent flier status I was in Business Class. We had reached
drinking cruising altitude and I had just relaxed with a glass of champagne and a good book.
The captain announced that we had a minor problem and had to return to the airport. Nothing to worry about, just a slight inconvenience.
Then the captain announced that before we landed we'd be circling for about 45 minutes. Airport must be busy.
Then he explained that we had to dump our fuel before landing. He didn't explain why. Lucky for me I have a very vivid imagination so I could think of lots of reason to dump fuel, most of them involving loud noises, impact craters and flames. I couldn't decide whether to drink more champagne – lots more, or to switch to coffee. That decision was made for me: cabin service stopped and the flight crew 'took their seats'.
I kept looking at the cabin crew. They didn't look too concerned so I calmed down, a bit. The thought occurred that they're trained to look calm.
Finally, the captain announced that we'd be landing, just as soon as they cleared and isolated a runway for us. Did I need to know this?
I looked out the window. There were ambulances and firetrucks racing into view, red lights flashing. Strangely enough I did not find that comforting!
We landed without incident. Stairs were rolled up (We were miles from the terminal) and a ground crew boarded. Now I'm thinking that maybe it wasn't a mechanical problem, maybe we had a mad bomber on board. Imagination can be a terrible thing!
Finally, the captain strolled out of the cockpit, smiling. He stopped to chat. The problem, it seems, was with the flight panel in the cockpit. During the routine maintenance before the flight someone had left two screws out of the panel. The pilot noticed on takeoff that it was a little loose. He said it really wasn't a problem but if there had been unusual turbulence it might have jiggled loose and fallen in his lap. As he didn't care much for that thought he decided to turn back.
Why didn't he just screw it back? No spare screws in his kit/union rules.
Why did we dump the fuel? The plane is too heavy to land with a full tank.
Why were there fire trucks? Because we dumped the fuel.
Why didn't he just tell us all this instead of scaring the crap out of everyone? Because knowledge is power – he had it, we didn't.
How many passengers demanded to get off the plane and refused to fly? About half.
The worst thing? All of the on-board food had been ruined because of the delay. Five hours after original take-off we were on our way again, for a nine hour flight. All we had to eat were some pretzels.
Meredith of Poppy Fields wrote of one of her interesting airplane experiences, last week, about a man dieing in flight but still trying to get to France. It jiggled loose this memory….