Imagination takes flight in airways

November 30, 1999|By Leonard Pitts

MIAMI -- I wasn't scared. Let's get that straight from the get-go.

If you want to call it anything, call it concerned. Or, at most, apprehensive.

Hey, you'd be apprehensive, too, if you were 30-something thousand feet up and your plane suddenly started emitting a noise like this: "EEEEEEEE." Like the dental drill from hell. Like a 12-ton mosquito. Like Patti Labelle being tortured.

And then a passenger decided to land the plane. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

Let's begin at the beginning: I'm on a flight to Miami, sitting in the back row. Just unpacked my laptop and placed it on the tray table. Naturally, this causes the guy in front of me to recline his seat until the computer is crushing my spleen.

Other than the sound of my muttered oaths, the flight is quiet. Beverage service is about to begin.

And then "EEEEEEEEE" somebody starts torturing Patti Labelle.

The flight attendant goes to the back door and futzes with it a few minutes. Then she gets the senior flight attendant, who does some futzing of her own. Patti is not impressed.

Passengers start casting about with questioning glances. I'm trying to gauge the attendant's face so I'll know how worried I should be.

But every time I look up at her, she looks down at me and I look away. We get a little rhythm going. Up, down, away. Up, down, away.

A flight officer investigates the problem and tells the attendant it's nothing to worry about.

Unfortunately, I have this morbid, hyperactive imagination, which eats intellect for breakfast, which turns wife-15-minutes-late-getting-home-from-s tore into wife-bleeding-profusely-in-emergency-room.

So anyway, the pilot comes on the public address and tells us the sound we've been hearing isn't Patti Labelle having her toenails pulled out, but is the whine of air escaping through a faulty door seal. He tells us they've contacted the manufacturer for advice.

A moment later, we get the definitive word. The situation is not unsafe, just uncomfortable. We can continue on to Miami or land in Charlotte and get it fixed. The pilot is leaving the decision to those of us in the back, closest to the noise.

One by one, passengers are polled. Each says, fly on. The question comes to me. Do we land, or do we continue? I hear myself vote to continue.

Let's land, says the lady in 18B, one row ahead of me. She says it as if it were patently obvious.

That's all the attendant needs to hear. Moments later, the captain announces that we're landing in Charlotte.

When she realizes she's the only one who voted for this, the lady is mortified. The whole jetliner landing just on her say-so?

Indeed, the senior attendant reassures her that she's not the only one who wanted to land -- just the only one willing to say it.

Funny, isn't it, how that happens? How nobody wants to be first, wants to be the one who stands out. I don't mind saying it: I was glad to land. Thank you, 18B, wherever you are.

Leonard Pitts is a columnist for the Miami Herald.

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