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.



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