Sunday, October 26, 2008

Nothing Like a Near Death Experience to Put Things Into Perspective

So my blog has been a bit silent for a while because the hub and I had been enjoying a relaxing week on Marco Island. It was an absolutely perfect week, even with a little rain passing through on Thursday and Friday. Our last day may have been raining but because of the storms overnight it was a great morning for shelling. Hub and I got up at 7 am to head out to the beach at sunrise. We got to see a beautiful rainbow, gorgeous sunrise, dolphins, flying fish, stingrays and collected every shell native to Florida including a sand dollar. It was a perfect end to a much needed vacation week.

The one thing I was dreading was the flight home. I'm not the best flier but I'm better than the hub who has to drug up to even GET on the plane. I've just had some bad flying luck and it's shaken my confidence a bit i.e., hit by lightening, jet stream roll on take off and near air miss to just name a few. So please note that I hate to fly in rain. I'd rather have snow than rain. Saturday morning we awoke to a heavy fog but it appeared to be clearing up. Unfortunately the rain started about 45 minutes before take off. As we were boarding and preparing for take off I started to get some very bad feelings. First, the flight crew were just way, way to happy and positive (what were they trying to compensate for?) Second, they dimmed the lights for take off which is done to keep passengers calm and on all my bad flights the crew did this. Third, we had the token bad flight/bad passenger issues e.g., the cell phone lady that had to be asked twice to turn it off while taxing down the runway, the inconsolable crying child, the elderly man who got out of his seat while we were still climbing through the clouds because he could not hold his pee pee, etc. I started to have this out-of-body experience where my subconscious was screaming at me that we should not be on this flight. And while I kept telling my hub that I was OK when he would ask, inside I was full of dread. Take off was rough as our pilot worked to get us up above the clouds and out of the storm. I hid my face in the hub's shoulder and kept telling myself that God was not finished with us yet and that we would live to adopt and/or have our own children which helped to calm me down.

While I was unsettled for most of the cruising altitude part, nothing bad really happened so I started to think that maybe it was all in my head. It wasn't. The pilot came on the overhead speakers prior to beginning our decent to tell us that it would be a "bumpy landing." "Bumpy", that's what he said, "bumpy." Now I've had "bumpy" plane rides but this was beyond "bumpy." What he should have said was that there was a storm going on down below and while it would be a difficult landing they would make sure they would land the plane safe and sound. I would have appreciated that a lot more and it may have given me more confidence during our half hour of life threatening turbulence.*

Our pilots attempted to keep the plane above the clouds as long as possible. As the plane finally began to descend into the clouds we began to feel the bumps and shaking that we had been told about. But it began to grow more intense the longer we were in it. The plane was fighting the wind and weather for all it was worth. It swayed side to side and would threaten to veer off course to the right or left. The wing flaps were running on overtime as the pilots fought to land the plane. I buried my face in my husband's shoulder again and began to pray with all my might. We could feel the speed of the plane increase, then decrease, then drop suddenly and careen off to the side. Passengers screamed and babies began wailing. Suddenly we broke through the clouds and could see the ground below. Rain poured down upon our plane and there was hope that the runway was near. My husband began telling me that it was almost over and tried to wrap both his arms around me but the turbulence was throwing us around so much it was necessary for him to use his free arm to brace himself. I heard the landing gears drop and began to feel encouraged that this would all come to an end soon. Without warning the tail lurched to the left, screams erupted from throughout the plane and we felt the pilot compensate to the right in order to straighten us out. Suddenly the plane accelerated and it felt like we were gaining in altitude all the while continuing to suffer massive turbulence. Amidst the whirring of the engines and wing flaps, I began telling my husband that I loved him, kissing him; basically saying my last goodbye's. We found ourselves back up in the low lying clouds. The captain came on the overhead, apologized for the aborted landing and that we would have to make a second attempt. So the last 15 minutes of turbulence were repeated as we circled around to the emergency runway. I asked my husband if we could drive from Baltimore and not take our connecting flight if we ever made it to the ground, which he agreed. Then I began a solid 15 minutes of out loud prayer for the pilots to land the plane and for peace with what could be our death. We finally broke through the clouds for the second time and made our way down closer and closer to the runway. This time we hit it with a huge bump that threw us all up into the air and then braking that thrust us back hard against our seats. The captain came on the overhead and said, "Whoooooaaaaaaa, Nelly! Ladies and Gentleman we have landed." This time clapping and celebratory shouting erupted from everyone. The poor gentleman beside me asked if I was alright. "I am now that we've landed" I replied. But that was enough for me. I was white as a ghost, shaken to the core, my legs were jello, and I could barely walk.

Our connecting flight was to take off within 20 minutes and you could not have gotten me on that plane if you had paid me. Why on earth would I have made it to the ground only to fly right back up into that mess. I had walked away with my life so why risk it again. My husband is awesome because we cancelled our connecting flight and rented a one-way car to make the 6 hour drive back home. I drove since it was my idea and it was wonderful to feel in control after such an event. On that trip we drove through the awful storm we had just flow through. It was so bad you could not see the car in front of us and we almost had to pull over to the side of the road to wait it out. There were multiple car accidents and we actually witnessed one between a Fire Bird and a truck with a multi-car trailer.

We pulled into town around 9 pm last night, dropped off the hub to get one of our cars and I took the rental back to the airport. I was also going to pick up our luggage so we hoped that it made the connecting flight since there was only 20 minutes to spare when we had landed in Baltimore. I saw our luggage in the Southwest baggage claim room but the door was locked and no one was around. I wandered around looking for a SW rep but ended up just asking another airline baggage claim attendant for help. She suggested the paging desk. The "Paging Desk" ended up being an unattended Information Desk that I past by five time's and finally noticed that a small acrylic sign holder mentioned paging. It said that if I wanted to page someone to go to my airline baggage claim office. Great. That was no help at all. So I wandered up stairs to find the ticketing desk which I couldn't find and every desk was empty save a cleaning lady sweeping in the American Airline's booth. At this point all the emotion of my horrible day hit me and I just shouted "I can't find anyone from Southwest!" A near by security guard looked at me and then walked away, the nerve! While a pilot who had been wandering around stopped and asked if he could help me. He was a young Australian pilot who had been grounded for the last six hours and no hope of flying out anytime soon. I just exploded on the guy with a teary eyed rambled synopsis of our flight, rental car, baggage issues, and ended it all with a "and I just want to get my bags and go home." That poor guy, no wonder the security guard avoided me. But this was a stand up guy. He just said, "let's see what I can do for you." So now I have a Pilot on my side. Oh yeah. He took me to the SW ticking office which we found was also unattended, did some asking around and when we went down to the baggage area I had two people there to help me. So thanks pilot guy, you rock!

And I got the scoop. Apparently the storm we had managed to land in had ended up grounding planes all across the east coast. It had grounded his plane and no one was going in or out of any airport. I told him he should be thankful and recounted, in a much calmer tone, our trials with landing. He agreed that it was a bad day for flying but encouraged me that SW only employs ex-military pilots and if anyone could land a plane in that kind of weather it was them, we were in good hands.**

I have never been so happy to be home and see familiar places. As the hub and I drove back from the airport alive and with our luggage I began telling everything I saw that I love it out loud. For example, "I love you Wonder bread factory with all the yummy smells you tempt me with on my drive to work, I love you Greek Orthodox Church and the Greek festival you hold annually to fill my belly with delicious foods, I love you Smith Brother's Hardware Warehouse that isn't actually a hardware warehouse but just a really cool building with offices, you get the picture. And while most people dread going back to work after a wonderful vacation I am totally thrilled just to be alive so that I am able to go back to work. I'm seriously going to hug all of my coworkers on Monday.

*I want to note that I have all the respect in the world for our pilots and Southwest airlines. If not for them I would probably be dead. In fact I actually have more respect for the pilots who fly for Southwest because they are ex-military pilots i.e. very, very well trained. God bless you for saving our lives and if I ever get on a plane again it will always be with your company.

**I could not have agreed with him more.

On a side note: As I sit here DPO 9 I have to say that no matter what happens this month I am just happy to be alive to have the chance to try again next month. Funny how facing death will do that to a person. Although I don't really recommend it. Very scary.

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