Fly the Angry Skies

The woman seated across the aisle from Karen was muffling her screams with her folded coat.

The strapped-in flight attendant had a frozen smile on her face.

I looked at Karen and saw a look of concern.

When my wife—a licensed pilot who once flew aerobatics—gets concerned on a flight, so do I. The air pockets were nothing to worry about, but the turbulence that was starting to cause the aircraft to feel very unstable was a serious matter. Then from the cockpit, we heard a short but sharp wail from the stall warning indicator. It was becoming obvious that we were not destined to land in Charleston, WV, that Saturday.

The trip had started out with an educational and entertaining event sponsored by Océ. It was called the Envision the Future Forum and included a tour of Larry Vaughn’s impressive Ideal Printers facility in Houston, TX. It wound up as a version of Gilligan’s Island and the “three hour tour.” The schedule called for us to arrive Wednesday and depart Friday morning. Not!

When we looked out our window Friday morning we saw ice-covered freeway roads, bridges, and on-ramps. The town was at a complete standstill. The mayor declared Houston closed. The airport was unreachable.

The Océ folks scrambled to rebook stranded attendees. It was a pretty impressive performance under very difficult conditions. They got everyone rebooked for later Friday or early Saturday. We made our Saturday morning flight to Charlotte and our connecting flight home with no problems, until we were 15 miles from home on initial approach and things started going south.

The sound of the engines revving up and the feeling that we were climbing brought a great sense of relief. Our pilot announced that we were turning back because the situation “exceeded the tolerance of the aircraft.” As we climbed out of the turbulence, the woman’s screams faded to a whimper. One of Karen’s favorite sayings is that “there are old pilots and bold pilots, but no old bold pilots.” I was happy that we weren’t flying with a bold pilot.

We spent the night in Charlotte and finally got home on Sunday. We sent thank you notes to the Océ event folks for their efforts and sent an email praising not only our pilot’s skill but also her good sense. In the end, for all the inconvenience, it was good to see professionals doing their jobs well.