With a wing and a prayer, it's better not to fly at all


October 23, 1992|By ROGER SIMON

LANSING, Mich. -- We all break promises.

Circumstances change and the commitments we make with the best of intentions must change with them.

"Did you say something?" the guy next to me at the United gate said.

We all break promises, I mumbled. Circumstances change.

"You talking to me?" he said.

I looked at him. Sorry, I said. I didn't know I was talking out loud.

"Yeah, you were," he said. "And that hat your crushing?"

I looked down at the hat I was twisting in my hands.

"It's mine," the guy said.

Jeez, I'm sorry, I said, handing it to him. I didn't realize.

"You nervous about flying?" he asked.

Not usually, I said. But today I am.

The guy looked out the window. It was snowing. And it was not your panty-waist Baltimore snow. This was real Midwest, wind-whipped, horizontal-to-the-ground, in-your-face snow.

"These planes fly in weather like this all the time," the guy said. "It's no big deal."

I shook my head. It's not the snow, I said. It's more complicated than that. And I told him what had happened two years ago:

I had to make a speech in Champaign, Ill. And I looked in this master airline schedule book and found a flight. All I had to do was switch planes in Dayton, Ohio.

So I take a jet to Dayton. And I walk over to the new gate and I see this very strange aircraft.

It looked like a very long pencil. And it had a propeller on each wing.

Like many fliers,I don't like propeller planes. I like big jet engines holding me up.

But it was too late to back out and too late to rent a car and drive. So I got on board and it was a flight from hell. No, scratch that. It was a flight into hell.

We flew into this monster thunderstorm. We bucked terrific head winds for hours. We bounced. We plummeted. We slipped sideways. And when we finally got to Champaign, the pilot had to make three approaches before we could land because he could not keep the wings steady.

Throughout the flight, I did what any normal person would do: I bargained with God.

Let me get out of this alive, I said, and I'll never fly in a propeller plane again. Never. I promise.

For two years I kept that promise, I said to the guy next to me. But I broke it to fly to Lansing for the presidential debate. That flight was fine. But God was toying with me. Because now He has sent a blizzard to destroy me.

"Look," the guy said, "Northwest flies jets out of here. Just switch airlines."

I tried, I said. United told me with my kind of ticket I can switch only with 21 days advance notice or in the seven days preceding and following Purim.

"Can't you just eat the United ticket and buy a new one on Northwest?" the guy said.

And what am I going to put on my expense account? I asked. "New ticket needed because of promise to God?"

"Listen," the guy said, "describe that other plane to me again."

A long, very skinny plane, I said. Like a pencil.

"I've flown on that!" he said. "But that's a regular prop. Look out the window. See? Our plane is a turbo-prop."

And he was right. Each propeller was attached to a jet-assisted engine.

So you think it's all right? I asked.

"Did you promise God no props or no turbo-props?" the guy said.

Well, just props, I said. I was about to die at the time and I was not being very specific.

L "Then its OK," the guy said. "You haven't broken a promise."

You sure? Really?

"Yeah," he said. "No problem."

They called our flight over the loudspeaker.

Let's go, I said.

FTC "Oh, no, not me," the guy said. "I'm waiting for a later flight when the weather clears up."

But I thought you said these planes fly in weather like this all the time! I said.

"Oh, they do," he said. "But I flew through this awful blizzard in Wyoming once and I made this deal with God about flying through snow."

I sat down next to the guy. I can wait for a later flight, too, I said.

"Probably for the best," the guy said. "You know what they say."

Yeah, I said. A promise is a promise.

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