The plane went through a zone of turbulence late yesterday evening. I was on a flight from Newark, N.J. to Charlotte, N.C. As it shook and rumbled, the calm voice of the lead flight attendant assured us that it would end in a few short minutes. I had a flashback to almost two months earlier, to a flight with Transaero Airlines from Moscow to New York, when for a few long minutes, I believed that our plane was going to crash.
I have been flying periodically for many years. Once or twice a year I fly domestically, and two times (there and back) I fly transatlantic to Russia. I am not afraid of flying. In fact, it relaxes me, and I usually sleep through most of my flights. Of course everyone who flies knows that the plane goes through zones of turbulence. While not always pleasant, it is normal.
On the flight from Moscow to New York in late August, the flight attendants did not pass out blankets. When my mom inquired, they said they only have enough for children. My six year old niece did not get one. The small television screens on the back of seats were not working. No one dared to ask if the plane had a stash pillows or ear-phones. Obviously, it did not.
I have always taken for granted these small amenities that where offered to you when you pay $1,000 for an 8-hour flight. I did not realize that such things went a long way to reassure me, as a passenger, that the airline and the crew had it together.
I sat there wondering if the plane had enough gasoline to fly over the Atlantic Ocean or if it was going to run out somewhere above Greenland.
Note to self: these are not thoughts you want to be left wondering when you are already up in the air.
Sometime after we were served frozen (!) pierogis and the lavatory completely ran out of toilet paper (maybe they did not have any to begin with), the plane went into a zone of turbulence.
Instead of a calm flight attendant reassuring me that it would end momentarily, we were greeted with chaos. The flight attendants on board, two men and three women, did not stop for a second to say a word to the passengers. Instead, they were running from one end of the airplane to the other, to fasten themselves in a seat. Ivan, one of the male flight attendants, practically pushed one of the woman out of the way, running in long strides to get to his seat.
Worst of all were the looks on their faces. Gone were the cool and collected blank facial expressions… All of them looked utterly mortified.
A woman in front of me was telling her elderly parents in a high-pitched, near hysterical voice to buckle up their seat belts. Her father was fighting against her.
For two minutes, as the plane plunged up and down, I was praying with an urgency I have never prayed with before. I do not want to die. For a split second, I thought I would.
I thought of my mom and niece sitting next to me. I thought of my weak faith. I thought of friends and family; even the afterlife. I thought of many things. But, mostly, I thought that I do not want to die.
When the plane finally steadied, all of the flight attendants disappeared. Mom said that they must have been summoned to an impromptu meeting with the pilot.
While I believe that this was one of the most ill-trained, unprofessional crews in the history of aviation, I also believe that something was amiss.
I am sure that this was not the first time these flight attendants were on a plane (even if at times it seemed like it was), so they had to have experienced zones of turbulence before. Their reactions that day showed that the turbulence was abnormal, and that they were afraid.
My greatest wish, for you and myself, is to never see a frightened flight attendant. It cannot possibly mean anything good.
My mom muttered every swear word she knew under her breath. All I could say, as if my rewind button was broken, was, “Mom, I was so scared. Mom, I was so scared.”
After we calmed down, we managed to crack a few jokes about the most ridiculous flight, airline, and crew. For the rest of the flight, every time we saw Ivan, Mom would snicker, “There’s the one who s**t his pants.”