On one of my flights recently I sat next to an engineer from Tennessee whose job is to fly to places like Adelaide and Ljubljana to service the industrial fans his company makes. We were sitting in the bulkhead seats—in my case, the last seats available on the plane—and I joked that we were almost in first class.
He allowed as how he usually did fly first class because, as a Delta "Million Miler," he's given preferential treatment for any empty first-class seat.
He was a private pilot, too, it turned out, who'd been medically disqualified from flying his own four-seat plane half a dozen years earlier. Thinking that he might have seen some interesting things in all those flying miles, I asked him if he'd seen any funny things on board a plane, and he told me that he had once witnessed a divorce happen right before his eyes.
I thought about that for a second and couldn't guess what he meant by it. Here's the story:
He was sitting in the bulkhead seats with another amateur pilot to whom he'd been talking. Opposite them sat a middle-aged couple alone in the row of seats. The plane made a normal approach to the Cincinnati airport, but just before touchdown it got caught in a wind shear. Through no fault of the pilot's, the plane abruptly slammed down hard on the runway. This shook things up in the cabin, and the oxygen masks immediately deployed.
Naturally this caught the passengers unaware, and there was some fear, panic and commotion on board the plane—people screamed and shouted, and passengers reflexively scrambled to put on their masks.
...Even though they were on the ground. Naturally, being pilots, the engineer and his seatmate knew right away they didn't need the oxygen masks—if the cabin lost its last little bit of pressurization, they'd be breathing—well, ordinary surface-level air.
But panic does strange things to people. Opposite them, the wife of the couple had grabbed her oxygen mask and promptly put it on. But her husband, in panic mode, had managed to tangle his mask up with the one next to it, and he couldn't get them clear. The harder he fumbled, the worse the tangle got.
...So, in desperation, he reached over, took his wife's oxygen mask off of her, and put it on himself.
My friend said he and his seatmate immediately burst out laughing, but the woman was incensed. She shrieked "give me back my mask!" and started pummeling her husband. He fought her off, energetically refusing to relinquish the coveted (but of course utterly useless) mask.
The plane had blown a tire on landing, so the fire trucks did deploy, and it took people a while to get off the plane. Eventually the flight attendants came around and told the people wearing masks that there was no need for them. As he realized what he had done, the husband began looking more and more sheepish and pitiful, but the wife's anger didn't abate one bit.
"That's like getting caught in a bank robbery and grabbing your wife as a human shield," the engineer said sagely, in his Tennessee drawl. "You just don't do that. I just looked that poor slob in the eye and said, 'son, that was a bad one. You ain't comin' back from that.'"
(Thanks to my anonymous fellow traveler)
"Open Mike," the off-topic column of TOP, appears on Sundays. I'm a day late this week, as sometimes happens because our sole employee (me) has an overly lenient boss (also me.)
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