Our plane pulled out from the gate, beginning our five-and-a-half hour flight from Los Angeles to Boston. It’s always a relief when a plane pulls away on time. It means no delays. It means we’re gonna get there when we planned to get there. It means just settle back, relax, and enjoy the view from 32,000 feet.
But when we were no more than 10 feet off the ground the right engine failed. Yep, that’s right. Suddenly no right engine. Sound scary? I hope so, because I’m trying to make this flight sound exciting.
Actually it was just our asses that were 10 feet off the ground. That’s about as high as these jumbo jets sit, from ground to belly, above the landing gear.
The plane had been pushed backward away from the gate and onto the tarmac by the little white truck that does the plane-pushing job. Then the pilot tried to start the engines to get us onto the runway. After about 10 minutes the plane was pushed right back to the gate.
“Aw shit,” I thought.
The pilot got on the PA. “Ladies and gentlemen, that was a short flight, ha-ha. I couldn’t get the goddamned right engine to start. I’m callin’ a mechanic, so just hold tight for a few minutes and we’ll get this bird movin’ again.”
My wife and I held tight. What the hell else could we do? We were prisoners inside a motionless fuselage. But we were philosophical. Sitting trapped on the ground sure beat having our bodies scattered over the landscape in a horrific airplane crash.
A few minutes passed. Then another few. Then a half hour. A sense of anxiety and claustrophobia was becoming palpable when the pilot got on and announced, “Gotta mechanic comin’. Finally, for Chrissake. He’ll be here shortly. Just hold tight.”
15 minutes later a new announcement: “The mechanic just reset all the damned inputs. Now he’s gettin’ to work on the engine. We’ll know something shortly.”
But not long after that came bad news. “The fuckin’ engine wouldn’t start after all that. Now they gotta change the goddamned module. I’m tellin’ ya, I don’t know when we’re leaving this godforsaken airport.”
About an hour-and-a-half after we boarded this A321 came both welcome and dreaded news. “Ladies and gentlemen, fuck me to tears. We’re gonna have to deplane and wait in the terminal for our shitty wrench-turners to finish repairing this bucket of bolts. But hopefully we’ll get your asses to Boston by the end of the day. Or at least by the end of the calendar year.”
This was welcome news because at least we would be allowed out of the confines of our tubular prison and into the more open space of the terminal, where we could stretch our legs, get something to eat, and use the restroom.
But it was also dreaded news. It seemed the big “C” was coming soon. Cancellation. And perhaps the end of our vacation before it could even begin.
Periodic messages dribbled down upon us from airline staff, as we patiently waited in the terminal, updating us on the progress of the mechanics. Such as:
“We sure as hell don’t know when this goddamned flight will depart, but we’ll keep you updated with all of our latest factoids and fuckups.”
“The stupid-ass mechanics failed again. Now they have to replace another motherfucking module.”
“You may have noticed that the plane is rolling away. Yeah, goodbye stupid plane! The stooges we employ for mechanics decided they have to take it to the hangar, so they can screw around with the engine big time.”
A rack of snacks was rolled into the waiting area, accompanied by this announcement: “Ladies and gentlemen, food makes everything right. So help yourself, you mindless trained seals, and grab a snack off the rack.”
And we did, descending upon the startled food rack like ravening locusts. A crowd of pissed-off passengers stuffed pockets and purses with bags of chips, cookies, and lukewarm sandwiches. We all grabbed much more than we needed to sate our hunger. We grabbed compensation. Recompense for a delayed day. Revanche, arrogated in crinkly containers, plucked from that food rack until it was clean to its bare metal bones.
More and more food racks were wheeled in to replace the empties, until we finally gave up on protesting through feasting. With faces full of crumbs, and stomachs, pockets, and purses bulging, we belched, rolled back in our seats, and surrendered to an onslaught of more merciless messages.
A few hours later came this augury:
“Ladies and gentlemen, we’re really gonna fuck with you now. We’ve moved you from Gate 47 to Gate 9,253. So y’all get off yer fat asses and head down there. Pronto!”
We dutifully grabbed our bags and waddled to our new, distant gate, which might as well have been in Boston itself. And then we waited for more announcements. Finally one came.
“Ladies and gentlemen of the Boston flight. Hallelujah! After a thorough search of our fleet, we finally found a replacement plane. We gave up on that other fucking death trap. Now listen to this ingenious goddamned plan. A plane’s gonna pull up to this here gate. Every peckerhead on board is getting off. Then we’re gonna clean all the shit out of it and allow you to get on board. And then we’ll flap our merry wings and haul your sorry asses to Beantown.”
Finally, six hours after we boarded the first plane, we staggered onto the second. It jetted off into the big blue void without incident. And late in the evening of a very long day, American Airlines delivered us safely to Boston, Massachusetts.
Disclaimer: The staff of American Airlines was actually very professional and polite in their announcements and treatment of us pathetic passengers. If anything in this post indicates otherwise, it might merely be subconscious slippages from my mind, that unintentionally interjected themselves into my writing, betraying my emotional state at the time.
At last, our plane got us higher than ten feet above the ground.