When the Pilot Says…I Have Some Bad News

Last night I flew home from Chicago with my blogging buddies, Mary Dell and Theresa. We were there for BlogHer, a long, exhausting and truly wonderful conference and, by the time we boarded the plane, we were ready to embrace our families and our beds. We had rushed to O’Hare, eaten foul junk food and were cruising at 30,000 feet when the pilot announced through the staticky PA system.  “Folks, I am afraid I have some bad news.”

When the pilot says, I have some bad news for you


From that point a garbled message ensued. For a moment, I wondered why pilots in the Midwest seem to address passengers as “Folks” and in the East we are elevated to “Ladies and Gentlemen.” But then I realized that he had said, “Bad News.”  Bad news in flying covers a wide range of possibilities in my experience.  Bad news has been a 20-minute delay or some turbulence ahead.  Bad news was once the back door left unsealed and the plane not pressurized.  But this bad news was not that bad news. It was the dreaded words, “We have a mechanical problem and are headed back to Cleveland or Chicago.” It is never comforting to learn that the pilot does not know the plane’s destination.

Boarding the plane, the three of us made a new friend, noted cookbook author and blogging chef, Katie Workman.  Five minutes into the flight, we had filled in each other on our experiences at BlogHer13, where she had been honored.  In fifteen minutes we had covered husbands, kids, careers and our blogs and, by the time of the Bad News, we had known each other forever, which turned out to be a good thing.

As the plane banked sharply, at an angle I hoped we would not maintain, and headed back westward, I faced a moment that we all hope never to have. If my thoughts were telepathic, what would I tell my husband and kids? What messages would I send?  The stewardess continued to bark out orders, tray tables locked, seats upright and belts tightened.  The sound of her voice grated on my nerves. I was trying to collect my most important thoughts and she was explaining that she could not collect trash because of the unexpected turbulence.

And then we plummeted.  Probably not a dangerous amount, probably not a significant amount by aviation standards, but enough for the man across the aisle to hit his head hard on the overhead compartment and start to bleed. And enough for passengers to start screaming.  Now I knew I had to think.  It did not matter that I had no way to communicate with my family. I needed to think the thoughts I would have expressed in words had I cell phone reception at our rapidly diminishing altitude.  And here are my thoughts:

My husband and kids know that I love them.  I have repeated this so many times to my children that I believe that they no longer even hear my words.  It is simply part of the fabric of their lives, now woven into their very beings, and this I know to be a good thing.  As in any marriage there are better times and worse times.  This is a better time, a truly great time, and for that I thanked the heavens.

As we learn early in life, every bad moment is made better with friends, both old and brand new, and made even better by that one friend who keeps her head and her sense of humor during very tense moments.  In any pinch in life, you want Theresa seated in the row right behind you, patting you on the head.

I can handle anything with a few deep breaths and a barf bag. I need to remember this when the minor irritations of life send me reeling.

Sometimes things cannot and should not be fixed, even airplanes.  The pilot informed us as we careened towards Cleveland that they would be repairing the plane and then, cheerily he noted,  we would be on our way.  No, just no.  No part of me would ever reboard that particular airplane again and I was plotting how to make a really big fuss, in an ever so polite way, when United Airlines came to the same conclusion and we abandoned our aircraft.  Sometimes it is better to walk away when something is broken.

Finally, do not forget to use your brain.  We were landing in a place I did not want to be and in a manner that was making that barf bag more relevant by the moment but…when my thinking brain reemerged from the turbulence, I realized had this been a true emergency we would not be headed back calmly to an airport half an hour away.  We would be headed for the closest available landing strip.  When my real brain talks to my panicked brain it is amazing the effect it can have.

I wish I could say that in the moments of frothy descent, I remained utterly calm and had profound insight into my family and my life. I did not. Rather I did what every sane passenger does at times like this, I white-knuckled both armrests, reminded myself all there was to be grateful for, stared straight ahead and hoped for the best.

Chicago, When the Pilot says, I have bad news for you there is not much to do but panic.








  1. says

    So sorry to hear that. Almost negates the pleasure of the past few days, but I hope not. Terrifying, I am sure. Glad to hear you arrived in one, albeit frazzled, piece.

  2. Carpool Goddess says

    I’m so glad you landed safely!
    I was white-knuckling with you through your post. Did you end up on the same plane?

  3. Lisa @ Grandma's Briefs says

    So scary! Glad you’re all safe.

  4. Emily says

    Oy vey!! What a way to end your trip! My college roommate was fairly religious and every time we flew together (which was often in those days), she would take out and recite her “Prayer for flying.” I always felt safe with her and anytime there was turbulence on our flight, I’d say to her, “Please whip out that prayer NOW!” If my college roomie is not available, please ask Theresa if she will be a stand-in for her to fly with me from now on…

    • says

      Theresa was a star. I had a real sense of humor failure, she never lost hers. Prayer and humor, help us through a lot!

  5. says

    I’m so sorry! What an unfortunate end to what otherwise sounds like a lovely trip. Glad you are home safe and sound, and I hope maybe to meet you in person at the next BlogHer convention.

  6. Svetlana Wasserman says

    So glad you all made it back safely! That is every passenger’s worst nightmare.

  7. says

    I agree with you about Theresa. She is a calming presence, no doubt.

    I would have been hysterical, bad flyer that I am.

    All I can say is I’m so glad you’re all safe because I would miss you terribly if you weren’t…here.


  8. says

    Oh my! I am a terrible flier as it is so I can’t even imagine how I would have handled it. I get airsick on good flights…ugh!

    I love that you know that your family “knows” that you love them. That is how I feel also. I tell them all the time and hopefully they feel it in the things I do for them. I don’t ever want them to doubt that if some tragedy struck.

    I am glad all is well.

  9. says

    oh my God, that sounds terrifying! You are a lot cooler headed than I am, I’d have been joining in with the people screaming. What beautiful words about your family! So glad you landed safely!

    • says

      Yes we got another plane in Cleveland. Have to say United was amazing…I had visions of a hotel in Cleveland, but we got home.

  10. says

    Holy moley! I’m sorry that you had such a frightening end to your wonderful Blogher weekend. But what a great reminder to not leave anything unsaid to your family. And to rely on your brain and your friends to get through tough situations. Hope the rest of your travels went smoothly!

  11. says

    Glad everything worked out ok. A few years ago something similar happened to me and my family enroute home from California to RI. We landed in Washington, DC where we transferred to another plane for the final leg of the trip. We were only in the air about 10 minutes when we were told we had to head back to DC. Turns out we needed a very long runway to land and the one in RI wasn’t long enough so we had to turn back. (Found out later a tire on the left side of the plane had blown.) We were heading for an emergency landing.
    For some reason, I remained very calm. My youngest son was 18 at the time and had already fallen asleep (it had been a long flight day). We had to nudge him awake and he just mumbled and closed his eyes again. Yeah, he was real worried.
    Hubby looked at me and said “Do you want to call someone, like your mom?”
    For some reason, I found that a bit funny, I’m like “And what do I say? Hi, Mom. We’re about to crash land in DC, just thought you should know?”
    We landed just fine on a runway far from the terminal. The airport fire dept was there to greet us. A bus drove us to the terminal where we waited while they prepared another plane for us to board and fly to RI.
    We got home real late but with quite the story to tell.

  12. says

    OK- I needed that. I just wrote my own “the trip home from BlogHer was a disaster” post. Actually, it hasn’t happened yet, as I am stuck in a hotel in Chicago. I spent the entire day crying and feeling sorry for myself, and I appreciate a little reality check that a stressful airplane experience can always be much worse! It was a beautiful conference, wasn’t it? Sigh.

  13. says

    Well, then what happened? You sound so calm. Can’t wait to here the rest of the story. Loved meeting you! That’s the best part of blogher, the friendships.

    • says

      Then it all went right. They got us another plane in Cleveland and took us home. Offered everyone drinks and the stewardess kept her sense of humor and got us laughing. All well, thanks.

  14. says

    Omigosh that sounds absolutely terrifying. As a mother, I always have that panic in the back of my mind while flying, and I can’t imagine an emergency actually triggering those thoughts…. I loved your comment at the end about letting the rational brain take over. I am so glad you are safe and so amazed at how eloquently you wrote about this. And I’m sorry I complained to my family that my flight home from BlogHer was delayed by 45 minutes.

    • says

      I can so relate to the complaining and then we put it all into perspective! Thanks for your comment.

  15. says

    good god! I just got off American Airlines today too from BlogHer13, and we hit some turbulence and delays because of the weather which is enough to make me nervous right there, especially on these smaller commuter planes (to NY). Where are you now? Home yet? So sorry you had to end the conference on such a frightening note!

    • says

      It was a small commuter plane…I had longings for a 747 as we were being pitched about. Sounds like so many people had “adventures” getting home from BlogHer.

  16. says

    Well. okay. I have a three o’clock appointment open on Thursday afternoon if the two of you can make it because you realize that talking about TRAUMA if important to get over these things. I am so sorry. Wow. Glad you had each other. Not that you want me to quote research at you but obviously that you had each other to go through this and now have each other to talk through it is incredibly helpful. (Just don’t be surprised if you have some nightmares and flashbacks (don’t want to be negative but it’s to expected for anybody going through anything like what yall went through). If you want to privately contact me about this, my phone number is 479 – 443-3413. Take good care! Margaret Rutherford

  17. says

    Holy crap, I would have been one of those screamers. I hope you make it/made it home okay.

  18. says

    Been there, done that and got the tee shirt. I was flying home from Arizona when the pilot announced that we were turning back due to mechanical difficulties. It did not help that he sounded really scared. Always the drama queen, I wrote a farewell note to my husband and children and put in the bottle of Advil in my purse. For some reason I thought it would survive the crash and get to them. It then took another twelve hours to get back to New York. I’m so glad that are OK and back in New York State.

  19. says

    They say that any landing you can walk away from is a good one. That flight sounds really scary, and, at the same time, thankfully not as tragic as it could’ve been.

    So good that your husband and your kids are always wrapped in your love.

  20. says

    How utterly terrifying! So glad it all turned out okay, but what a way to make some important realizations, huh? There’s nothing like the fear of crashing that sets all your priorities straight :)

  21. says

    great post. it might be the airport. the same thing happened to me last year leaving Chicago after a wedding. We turned around and headed back. i don’t remember being nervous, but I did end up staying an extra day which was a bonus.

  22. says

    So scary! I’m so glad that it turned out alright. Another reminder that we can’t control everything and sometimes you just have to hold on and be thankful for the good and hope for the best!

  23. says

    Wow, that is so scary! I’m glad you guys were unharmed. These types of events are what make me so freaked out to fly.

  24. says

    A really big fuss in an ever so polite way! I think, perhaps, only you could actually pull that off, Lisa – as charming as you are! So glad you arrived safely – all of you!

  25. Helene Cohen Bludman says

    What happened to my comment?? I left one as I was struggling with my own travel issues on Sunday. Oh well, I said that I was really relieved that this ordeal ended on a positive note for you and that pilots should never use the phrase “bad news.” Surely there must be a euphemism to substitute.

  26. says

    Wow! I saw your headline as the door was closing on my own airplane and the steward was telling us to turn off our mobile devices. I figured you had to be okay or you wouldn’t have been able to write the post, but still. I am so glad it turned out okay. Flying is really, really scary if you think about it. Which I honestly try not to do because I’m afraid I’d never get on another airplane ever again.

  27. says

    yikes! i always think in that kind of situation my calm demeanor would keep me in control…. but then, i don’t know…. it may take a bit for it to kick in…. i hope to never find out…… i hope BlogHer was more rewarding…..

  28. Estelle says

    What a scary journey. I think what’s so important is the gratitude for your family and life that you found at the end of the haze, and that is what is staying with you. I’m so sorry we didn’t have a chance to connect at BlogHer, but I figured that the other coasts could have your time–I’m the lucky girl who is actually in your neck of the woods:)

  29. says

    Well, kee- rap that sounds scary. I would be the person cracking the jokes and patting heads — for the first minute or so. Then I’d be seeking back up barf bags and scrawling “Love You hunny bunch” messages to my hubster and daughter on my leftover drink nappie. In blood if need be! May this bad news be the worst you ever have!

  30. Dmartin says

    I was on that flight too, and was intrigued enough by the small bits I heard of your conversation to check your website out. I am in middle level education and see parentSnstarting to go through some of what you are talking about. I love your account of the flight…I was behind Theresa and her calmness made me a little bit more calm as well. I will be sharing your account with friends, a much more eloquent recounting than I have been giving!

  31. says

    Oh my gosh! That was not very fun. I had my own adventures returning home, but nothing that exciting.

  32. says

    I’m not a good flier. In fact, I think I’ve given up flying unless I’m going to Europe. If I’m going to get frisked, I’d best be going somewhere fancy to make up for it. I found a link to you at Generation Fabulous, which I just found last week, and feel as though I’ve found my home.

  33. says

    I would have freaked out! Wow. So glad all went well. I think we met in line at the Hasbro event at Hard Rock :)

  34. says

    Wow, I never read this post, “Post” our terrifying flight! What a beautifully written piece. I loved it.


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