Landing Gear Scare

Fire trucks wait for airplanes in movies, not my plane. But this time, they did.

I sat next to a 29-year old woman. She came into the cabin late, hurried and nervous, found her seat next to me. Oh so sorry, I’m pulling on your seat belt. This is my first time flying. I’m freaking out.

I said I’m going to fly 8,450 miles today. No worries, we’ll be alright together.

She said she always drove. But not to Texas, I said.

No, but I never went beyond South of PA.

We stayed on the runway a long time while a truck sprayed liquid onto our plane. We needed to be de-iced. It was snowing outside, she said, it is worrisome. I agreed. But, I said, imagine it is just a big car,  it has more space to drive in the sky, more than on the highway. She laughed. She has blue eyes, very beautiful. She is a smoker, I can smell.

She is in school, wanting to become a forensics specialist or a cop; she works and is raising a four-year-old as a single mom. She doesn’t go to bed until two or three. She has circles under her eyes.

Newark is never pretty. We could see the runway among the congestion. We approached, and the roofs were coming near. Then, we climbed up.

What is going on? She looked out the window.

Oh, no worries, I said,  this is what I don’t like flying from the town we both called home. Small planes always get bumped when runways get too busy.

It climbed to a fairly significant height and stayed there. A call came from the cockpit. The flight attendant stood up from her strapped position and looked outside of the left window and whispered into the phone. I knew something was wrong.

No announcement came. You’d think they’d say something! The woman in front of us craned her neck.

After another while came the voice: “I’d like to ask the passengers sitting in the emergency aisle to make sure the passage is completely clear.”

People turned around to look at each other and began to make noise.

After another while the voice came again: “May I have your attention, please. The captain has informed me that we are having landing gear problems. The captain is resolving the issue and there is no reason to panic. But I’d like to ask all of you to take the safety brochure out of the front seat pocket and review the emergency procedures with me.”

All hands reached into the pocket.

“I’d like you all to flip to the last page. Look at the upper right corner where it shows the position you’ll need to be to brace impact.” The flight attendant must be in her twenties; this must be the first time she is announcing this kind of message; her breathing was heavy.

I pointed to the picture she was talking about to my neighbor. She was saying, my God. I told her, not to worry, you just cross your arms like this and do this. I demonstrated, as if I knew how.

A little while later, the flight attendant announced that the landing gear should be OK now. Should? The woman in front of us said loudly. No, the young girl quickly corrected herself and said, “It IS OK now. But please remember the position, if we needed to use it.”

No one made any noise. We saw the runway again, the roofs came near again, the ground was in sight. With one wheel touching the ground first, we landed safely. A few people clapped. We sped off the main runway.

Then we saw the two fire trucks and a police car waiting with lights flashing. They followed us all the way until we made to the gate.

My neighbor and I said good-bye. She is going to Texas to see a guy. We believe there won’t be any worse flight than this.

Only when I went into the terminal did I begin to feel the knots in my stomach. I walked briskly through the terminal until I feel the desire to speak. I called home. I have rice crispies, fruit gummies, and sneakers in my bag. They are for my sons. Nothing matters more than they. I have to get home.

[Posting written at the Tokyo-Narita Airport]


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