Saturday, November 17, 2012

Planes, Babies, and Paperwork

"Ladies and gentlemen, I'm afraid I have some bad news..."

Not the sort of words you want to hear from your pilot, but it could have been worse. At least we were on the ground.

We had just boarded the United shuttle that was to take us to San Francisco—the first leg of a cross-country trip to Virginia for my mother's memorial service. I was not looking forward to it. I hate flying. I'm not afraid of it, mind you, I just hate it. I hate taking off my shoes to go through TSA, I hate being herded like cattle, and I especially hate the cramped, uncomfortable seats. And this plane, being a shuttle, was more cramped and uncomfortable than usual.

At least it was going to be a short flight, with a long layover in San Francisco. We were looking forward to a leisurely breakfast with a round or two of Bloody Marys. I find that, if there's anything that can take the sting out of flying, it's a little alcohol (or maybe a lot).

"Just a minor mechanical problem," announced the pilot. "The mechanic is on his way. Once he gets here, it shouldn't take long."

We hadn't been able to get seats together. Loretta was one row behind me and across the aisle, seated next to a man who was quietly reading a book. I was seated next to a young woman holding a baby named "Jude" on her lap.

"Hey Jude," I thought. "Don't let me down."

Several minutes went by. "The mechanic is here," announced the pilot. "With any luck we'll be out of here quickly, with no missed connections."

Jude began to fuss. "Sorry," said his mother, when a tiny foot connected with my stomach. "He wants to be with the boys."

"No problem," I said.

She tried to hand Jude off to her husband, who was sitting across the aisle with their other little boy. The flight attendant stopped her. "I'm afraid he has to stay in this row," she said. "This row has three oxygen masks. That one only has two."

"Hey Jude, don't make it bad."

The mother and father switched places, so that he could hold the baby. Unfortunately, he was no better at controlling the kicking than the mother had been. "Sorry," he said. "No problem," I said. Jude began to cry.

"Hey Jude, don't be afraid."

I looked around and noted that there were quite a few children on the plane, and that they were all getting restless. A woman across the aisle was telling her son to settle down and stop bouncing up and down in his seat. A father paced up and down the aisle with a baby in his arms, trying to keep it quiet. Jude's older brother, across the aisle, began to whine. Several of the adults also began to whine, once they realized they were going to miss their connections.

After being fed and changed, Jude settled down and went to sleep, his head resting against my arm. The pilot announced that the mechanic was just about done. All that was left was the paperwork.

The paperwork took another thirty minutes.

I wasn't worried. We still had time. We would make our connection, although we would not have time for Bloody Marys. (Damn paperwork!)

Finally, after we had sat at the gate for ninety minutes, the pilot started the engines—and immediately shut them down.

"I'm afraid we have another problem," he announced. "This one is going to take some time to fix, so we're going to have to ask you all to deplane."

We got off the plane and booked seats on a shuttle leaving that afternoon, connecting to a red eye out of San Francisco. We went home and returned to the airport six hours later.

The same plane was sitting at the gate.

The mechanic was still working on it, but he was just about done. All that was left was the paperwork.

An hour later we were on our way.

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