Tuesday, April 9, 2024

Adventures in Flying

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

At least that’s what the old saw says. Case in point—News from Sunday that the cover of an engine of a Southwest Airlines jet came off and forced a flight to return to Denver brought back memories of a similar incident during my family’s trip to Japan 32 years ago. 

Watching the cover of the Southwest engine shred no doubt was a harrowing experience for the passengers. Our brush with a potentially similar condition was equally unsettling.

We were flying American Airlines from Dallas to Tokyo 32 years ago, I to interview executives from retail giant Ito-Yokado for our joint-venture Japanese publishing company, Gilda, Dan, 13,  and Ellie, 9, to enjoy the hospitality of our hosts.

About an hour after leaving Dallas, Dan thought he saw part of the skin of the left wing flapping away. He asked the man sitting next to him, a Navy air technician, to take a look. He confirmed Dan’s discovery. He called a stewardess who called the relief pilot who flies along on trans-Pacific flights.

Though he advised we’d be safe proceeding, he cautioned that the prudent thing to do was turn back to Dallas and transfer to another plane. It resulted in an eight hour delay, making our total travel time from New York to Tokyo a whopping 28 hours instead of the normal 18.

More Airborne Trauma: Usually, I fall asleep on a plane even before takeoff. That’s what happened when Gilda and I were returning aboard United Airlines from one of my magazine's conferences in San Francisco 31 years ago. We were sitting near the rear. In my dream I smelled something burning. It didn’t jive with the other action in the dream so I woke up about 20 minutes into the flight. Gilda also detected the odor. We alerted the stewardess who informed the pilot.

While they assured everyone there was no danger, the cabin started filling up with acrid smoke. The pilot decided to return to San Francisco, but since he had a full load of fuel for the transcontinental run, he first had to release fuel over the Pacific.

As we approached the landing, the stewardesses told everyone to assume the crash position, that once we came to a full stop we were to calmly walk to the emergency exits and slide down the evacuation chutes. Bent over with arms crossed shielding our heads, Gilda and I awkwardly held hands, thankful we were together. Nobody panicked. Young and old alike slid down the chutes with only one elderly woman slightly injuring her ankle (I’ll admit now I didn’t fully follow orders—I didn’t remove my shoes). Once safely inside the terminal, though, a gold-chained, muscled guy fainted. So much for macho appearances.

For our adventure, United gave everyone a free round-trip ticket to any domestic destination. American had offered no such compensation.