The fun began last Thursday morning when my alarm sounded at 5 AM. I was off to fly the friendly skies to Dayton, Ohio and the long-awaited (two years!) Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop (EBWW). I’ve already told you about the out-of-control TSA agent I met at Liberty International Airport at 6:25 AM. By the time I reached my (wrong) gate at 6:55 AM, realized the gate had mysteriously been changed (even though the airport monitors insisted it hadn’t) and stumbled over to the correct gate, I saw that my plane was delayed. But only by 5 minutes. When I looked a little while later and it was delayed by another 5 minutes. Still, I wasn’t worried because the EBWW didn’t begin until evening so it wasn’t life or death that I got to Dayton on time. The life and death part came a lot sooner.
At 8:15 AM I boarded the plane, a cute little regional jet made by Embraer that many airlines use for short local “hops” like mine. I heaved my square wheelie into the overhead compartment and promptly wedged my jacket sleeve in the compartment’s hinge. My friend Lisa loosened the hinge’s hold on me, as I laughed, helpless and still half asleep.
Our pilot, a casual talking kind of guy, came on the PA system and gave us the usual rundown of weather, speed, and travel time; he mentioned that Dayton had wind gusts up to 30 mph and that his co-pilot would be in charge of flying us safely to Dayton. I’m not the best flyer, but I was determined to get to EBWW; a little wind and a newbie(?) pilot weren’t going to scare me off the plane.
At about 8:40 or so our jet was screaming down the runway, only it felt like it was rolling down the PA Turnpike. Thump, thump, thump went the little jet’s wheels as it ran over a never-ending series of “seams” in the runway. And then I felt the lift of the wheels leaving the runway. Just as quickly I felt a thump as our plane dropped back to the tarmac. The little jet coasted to a stop as my mind raced ahead: Would we be run over by the next jet down the runway? No. Wait. The people in the control tower were supposed to prevent that from happening. I hoped they were wide awake.
After the jet then hung a quick left I was one of the many passengers leaning out of my seat and staring at the flight attendant who was strapped into his jump seat facing us. He stared back at us. We looked for signs of fear or concern on his face. He looked like he was waiting in line for gas. Then the phone hanging on the wall over his left shoulder rang. He picked it up. He listened. We all leaned forward trying to listen. The flight attendant murmured a little something we couldn’t hear into the phone. Then he hung up.
The plane was now dead silent. My mind raced. Did we have a bomb on board? Were we going to blow up? Did the co-pilot choke on takeoff? Thoughts rushed through my head as my heart thumped in my ears. Minutes later the pilot spoke on the PA system. “Sorry folks. We got an error message as we accelerated. We have to check it out.”
A few long minutes later he said, “One of the fuel lines seems to be an issue. Not a problem though since each engine has three and we only need one to work.” He went on to explain that they were checking with maintenance and would let us know if we needed to get “a brand new plane.”
Then they were filing paperwork.
And filing an incident report.
By that time the little jet was as hot as the griddle in a Jersey diner. And we passengers were the eggs. Well on our way to being fried.
“Sorry folks, we need more fuel. We’re required to take on more as part of this process.”
By 9:50 AM the jet was back at our original gate. The AC was turned on again and we were free to move about the cabin. There was a mad dash to the toilet. I was last in line. Can anyone tell me how 7 people, mostly men, can miss the toilet bowl in a plane that’s standing stock still?
By 10:10 AM we were all in our seat belts again. The pilot came on the PA system and updated all the travel stats, including the now-35 mph wind gusts that were whipping around Dayton. Then we were screaming down the runway. Takeoff, Take 2: Thump, thump, thump went the little jet’s wheels. I tried to take my mind off the takeoff. I thought about how many hours it takes to drive from my home to Dayton, Ohio (11) and how many hours I had already been in transit but had not left New Jersey (5 1/2 hours). By the time I figured out that I could have driven half way to Dayton already, we were airborne. And the flight was smooth. Until we dropped down for our landing at Dayton Airport. Our little jet roared in for a landing with both wings waving wildly. Flying the friendly skies? Not so much.
Have you ever been on a plane that had to abort a takeoff? What happened?