Tuesday, March 22, 2011

In the Sardine Can

Have you ever been in a Sardine Can -- er, aircraft, for those in the good seats -- when you went, "Whoa! What was that?!"

Like, you're just about to touch down and the plane does a stomach-dropping swoop skyward?

Or, you're late leaving your departure airport and the pilot rockets to your destination, only to slam on the brakes just before arrival and waffle around in giant circles until you're as late arriving as you were leaving. Don't you hate that when you need to make a connection?

Or you hit a rough patch that shakes the plane so hard that you're sure it'll tear apart and it goes on for over an hour and you're screaming -- you hope in the same pitch as the engine noise so no one will know -- and your fear of flying -- no, of crashing -- is swiftly reawakening, and you swear that if you survive this and land safely, you're taking a ship home, despite the fact that you get seasick and hate boats. It finally stops, for a little while, then starts again. For another half hour.

Does anyone ever tell you what's happening? Well, sometimes. In the first example, an earthquake had occurred as we were about to touch down and we had to wait for a runway inspection. It was a surprisingly short wait.

Second example, sometimes yes, sometimes no.

Third example, I've come to be reassured when the captain forewarns us to fasten our seat belts for a rough ride ahead. Not so reassured when we hit a big bump in clear skys and the staccato seat belt announcement also sends cabin crew scrambling to their jumpseats. I imagine the captain hates surprises, too.

The shake-me-apart flight occurred on my third ocean crossing in my modern era, which I count from 1999. There are a couple of pilot blogs I read that have eased my level of fear sufficiently to allow me to make eleven subsequent round trip ocean crossings and plan for a couple more.

One blog that is beautifully, often suspensefully, written, and gives insight into a pilot's mind and the flight deck environment is Flight Level 390, by the otherwise anonymous Captain Dave. I'm mentally holding his hand for reassurance when things get rough up there.

Another that I read is Cockpit Conversations by Aviatrix, to which she posts almost daily, on her life as a pilot and some more technical information on piloting. She recently posted a couple of pilot narratives about the quake in Japan, one on the ground loading passengers in Narita in preparation for takeoff, the other in the air, approaching Japan and looking to land. Both pilots describe their decision-making processes and resultant actions in great detail. Of equal interest is readers' comments on the choices made. (Scroll to the top if the page opens at the Comments.)

Next time the flight you're on seems to be engaging in the inexpliable, put yourself in the pilot's seat. What might he or she be dealing with at the moment to explain what you're experiencing?

See you tomorrow, Internet conditions willing.



  1. If, perchance, you receive email notifications about this blog posting and you have received more than one, even WAY more than one, it's due to Internet problems I'm having which don't permit me to Preview my post. So I've had to edit and repost as I find errors, then my Internet went out altogether and I couldn't repost the last try. If there are boo-boos, I'm sorry.

  2. We've all been there! Just glad you are reconnected to the world.