Especially happy landings


Last updated 1/29/2020 at 4:11pm | View PDF

As a former very frequent flier, I’ve followed the news about Boeing’s 737 MAX airplane crisis and the appointment of a new CEO to drive major change. While this news hasn’t lessened my confidence in airline safety, it did prompt thoughts of my most memorable flights.

My first plane ride was in 1955 at age 10. When our Memphis relatives visited us in Richmond, Ind., they invited me to drive home with them for a 12-day stay. My exciting return plan was to fly alone back to Indianapolis. How I loved flying in that TWA airplane and being met by an entourage of family and friends!

Since then I’ve flown for pleasure and business — in the U.S. and abroad — on countless occasions. Like every other frequent flier, I’ve experienced long delays, turbulence, canceled flights and lost luggage. On only three flights have I been afraid.

The first was in 1981 at the end of my family’s dream vacation in France. Shortly after take-off to Chicago, I was horrified to see a substance streaming from the Air France 747’s wing outside my window. Eventually, the pilot announced that an engine had malfunctioned, and, before we could return to Paris, we had to dump 50 tons of fuel over the French countryside.

Eyes locked on the “leaking” wing, I was scared out of my wits. By contrast, our kids loved the adventure, and my husband groused about the delay we’d have getting home. It turned out that “oiseaux” (birds) were to blame.

The second was caused by an ear-splitting BOOM as we neared the end of a stormy night flight to San Francisco. Later, the pilot calmly told us that the plane was struck by lightning ... but everything was OK. Not so. I was NOT OK until hours later.

The third happened on a Christmas trip to Rochester, N.Y. We could see that it was snowing, but we’d been cleared to land, so all seemed well. Suddenly, the pilot aborted the landing, pulling the plane up. After some time, he explained that the airport was abruptly closed because plows could no longer effectively clear the runways. And, by the way, we were headed to Detroit. We flew there lower and slower to conserve fuel, with me (irrationally) terrified that we’d run out.

Happily, in all three situations, our pilots performed magnificently to land us safely (if not always where we expected). Truthfully, I’m a little relieved on every flight when the wheels touch down, but some landings have been a bit sweeter than others.

— Sally Hartmann of Hinsdale is a contributing columnist. Readers can email her at [email protected]


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