Last night I was scheduled to fly into Westchester Airport from Chicago O’Hare. I had heard reports during the day that the weather in New York
was rough and that there were strong winds. I am a good flier but I was not looking forward to the flight and tried to push it out of my mind for the remainder of the day. I was flying United, flight 7650, a small regional jet, an Embraer 170. Our pilot was 15 minutes late for the flight because his connecting flight arrived late due to inclement weather. I knew this was not going to be a "fun" flight.
During the flight we had scattered turbulence and the mood in the cabin was definitely a bit on edge. It seemed to me that people were ordering more cocktails than usual. I buried my head in a National Geographic and quietly recited Hail Mary’s as the sweat began to bead around my temples and my hands got so clammy the pages began to stick to them. Around 30 minutes outside of White Plains things really got bad. I have been referring to movement as turbulence, the right term would be jostling. We were not only moving up and down but left to right and there were audible gasps after some especially strong bucking. I began to speak to my seatmate who turned out to be from Winnipeg. As the disturbences increased, so did the volume of our voices and the speed of our conversation. Pretty soon we were like two speed freaks after an all night bender just rattling off random facts about ourselves in order not to look out the window or think about the gravity (pun intended) of our situation. Fun facts about Winnipeg and my seatmate: Winnipeg is relatively flat, 18 hours away from Vancouver, two major lakes, not too many trees, people are known to be frugal, lost their hockey team back in the 80’s, no Eskimos, has a 16 year old daughter and 2 mentally handicapped foster children (age 50 and 36). Mind you I learned all of this in about 10 minutes between dips and shimmies.
Finally our pilot, in a relieved voice announced that we were getting ready to land. A wave of relief washed over me and I smiled at my new friend from Winnipeg. We came in on the approach and began our decent. Our pilot pulled up dramatically at the last minute and we began to climb. I am confused at this point. Soon our pilot was on the PA and he sounded shaken,
"I have just been informed that The President of the United States is taking off from Westchester County Airport and we must clear the airspace, they have asked us to hold our new position for 45 minutes, we are low on fuel so at some point we will have to make a decision".
One question continued to pass through my mind: "are you kidding me??!!"
Forget about sweat around my temples, I am sweating like maniac now. I couldn’t help but laugh out loud. I am in no way an expert on planes but I was pretty sure that one of the wings was going to rip off in short order. I also realized that by looking straight ahead I got the feeling I was on a roller coaster because I could see the movement of everyones bodies and heads rocking down the rows towards the cockpit.
A few minutes after the announcent I heard the ping of the flight attendant call and I was fully thinking someone was set to read the attendant the riot act. Maybe we have a congressman on board and they were going to demand that we set down. No such luck. It was a medical emergency! The guy 4 rows up thought he was having a heart attack. I think everyone on the plane felt like they were having a heart attack at that point but this was real. An announcement for a doctor went out, low and behold this beautiful woman sitting across from us happened to be a doctor. Who knew? I had seen her reading a journal on colons but in an emergency you have to take what you can get. Any more turbulence and I might have needed her GI services. They took the defibulator out of the emergency kit and got the oxygen tank out as well. All the while we are circling away from the storm for a bit where would get a few seconds of peace and then like some sick joke we would have to turn back and start rocking and rolling all over again.
By now I am done with my Winnipeg friend who after each episode of turbulence would comment "that was a big one aaye?"; I just wanted to ge home to my wife and kids. Those dirty diapers are not looking that bad right now and I would be happy to take out the trash a million times, just please get me home. The pilot comes on the PA after what seems like hours but really it was only 15 minutes of the imposed 45 and says we have been given clearance. We touch down, they take off the man having heart problems and we exit the plane.
Thank you to the following: Winnipeg man, you are all right in my book; that is cool you adopted adult handicapped foster kids. Pilot and flight crew, hell of a job. If I were you I would have been strapping on the parachute. Obama, you probably didn’t know we were up there and if you did, you strike me as the type of guy that would let us land.
Westchester County Airport get it together; risking our lives based on federal regulations is bs, get a contingency plan. Heavy set heart attack victim, I hope you are okay, I don’t know if you were faking, but if you were, bravo…. well played indeed!
Colin O’Neill is an executive recruiter, husband and proud father of two living in Larchmont who will not be flying the friendly skies anytime soon.