'So that's what it was', I thought as I was eating strawberry yogurt, finishing my breakfast on the second morning of our four day trip. I didn't have this intellect because I stayed at a Holiday Inn Express last night', although I did. I was recounting the first day's events, flying all pleasure travellers.
And I've found that they bug me, just a little bit. I still treat them the same as others, I'm still friendly and say 'buh-by' in person to them on the way out. But they're not seasoned veterans like business travellers are. They hate giving up their rollerboards to gate check them with a yellow tag to be put in the rear cargo; they're skeptical of where and when they'll get them back. They get pretty anxious when we're only 25 min late on their 45 min connection that they booked, when there are other flights later in the day. They scrutinize my First Officer and I because 'the plane is so small' and because we don't have the comforting 'look' of experience (salt-and-pepper hair and wrinkles) like the Boeing and Airbus drivers at the majors do. They even make little irritating comments, which I understand on a certain level, because it reflects their unease and anxiety at entrusting their lives and their families to the hands of others.
But that's all okay. I truly do enjoy flying the general public; come one, come all. I understand passengers concerns and try to empathize with them. This trip had a few trying moments, however. As a professional, I can put with passengers comments, for one reason is it makes for good stories.
First day, first leg. My FO, a really good, fellow Christian we'll call 'Paul' from Brooklyn, NY, flew the approach and landing into RDU (Raleigh-Durham, NC). For a couple reasons, at first we were high on the visual approach in nice weather. Paul corrected for it, and consequently our descent rate was about 1,200 fpm (feet/minute), it's usually 700-800 fpm. If it was too steep the GPWS (Ground Proximity Warning System) would've announced "sink rate sink rate". After a couple of those warnings we're supposed to decrease the descent, and possibly go around if a safe landing can't be made. The GPWS stayed quiet as Paul lowered the nose, deployed the flight spoilers (panels on top of the wing which reduce lift and increase drag) and commanded increased flap settings and landing gear down, to slow down and configure the plane for landing, all while descending down to the proper glide path of 3 degrees. Then he then decreased the descent rate to remain on it. He made a very nice landing for having the descent rate he had earlier, I would've managed that approach exactly the same way.
Stepping off the plane, a thritysomething guy murmured to me "we almost bit it". I let him go while thinking 'What did we almost bite? The ground? Excuse me? Because we have to hit the ground, that's the idea of landing the plane.' Paul made a correction to get on the proper glidepath so that we could land in the first part of the runway, made a nice touchdown right on target, and this fella says 'you almost bit it'. It struck me as so odd I had to laugh about it.
Previously this month landing in Sarasota, an elderly gentleman said to me on his way out "you better check the wheel I think you broke it". I literally had to laugh again after that one. I had made a firm landing, I wouldn't call it hard, but it was that rare one these days that I wasn't happy with. But it was a perfectly fine and safe landing. It's seems uncalled for, because we can have a great flight overcoming all sort of obstacles and challenges and passengers judge us on the landing. But that's the way it is in this business, that's the way it is.
After the first to RDU it was my turn to fly and Paul would operate the radios and such. Generally nice and friendly North Carolinians were boarding for a quick flight to New York City for some post-Christmas shopping and entertainment. I got the third degree again. "Feeling good today?" was the typical question no less that four different passengers asked me as they stepped on board. I expect one maybe, but four? I felt fine, but asked Paul mockingly 'do I look pale'?
We took 50 peeps to NY on a beautiful morning, flying up the New Jersey coast, crossing over the Verasano bridge, and straight in to La Guardia from the south. The air was smooth and visibility good. The view of Manhattan out the left side of the aircraft was well worth the ticket price they had paid. I made a nice landing, we taxied to the gate, and I stood up and greeted the folks goodbye as they left our aircraft. Everyone was happy. Well, almost everyone.
Warning: this is about to get gross, proceed with caution: A mother and her cute three year-old were making their way up to the front of the cabin, she leading her daughter by the hand. 'Can you make it, are you gonna be okay?' She looked up at the doorway and the steep airstairs, and her little body decided it had had enough. Her little hand over her mouth couldn't stop it. She was the one that was not feeling fine on this aircraft, not me.
I felt so bad for her, but at the same time I had a nervous impulse to laugh. Call me insensitive if you want, I know that's not the best reaction to have. I held my laughter back as our Flight Attendant Stacy, the girl's Mother and myself witnessed her get sick all over our main entryway. Her Mom had held her hands out, the classic maneuver of catching what you can, but this little one had had a healthy breakfast. There was a lot to clean up, but the good news was that the poor cutie was done and looking and feeling better now.
I've been in sensitive and embarrassing situations before, but this one was quite peculiar. Plenty of passengers have gotten airsick, it just happens sometimes. But never in this way. It was all over the floor and had to be cleaned up ASAP. The biggest problem was that we still had 20 passengers stuck in back, now to be confronted with a large, gross and slippery obstacle on their way out.
Waiting for a mop and designated personnel to clean this up would've likely taken 10 minutes or more. We don't have to clean 'bodily fluids' from the aircraft per our working contracts. But Stacy, myself, (and her Mother of course) met the call of duty. In short order the 'stuff' was covered three deep with heavy duty paper towels. I made a quick, non-laughing PA (announcement) that one of our passengers had a problem getting off the airplane, and to watch your step at the front of the cabin.
They all took large steps over the area, holding their noses up in hopes the smell wouldn't reach them. Oh, and the color, I know you don't need to know but maybe are curious? Pink, with bits of red.
Now we've come full circle, at where we were in the beginning. In a similar way, like this time last year, we're simultaneously looking back on the past 12 months and looking forward at the next year. And maybe rejecting things in our lives we don't like, things that now make us sick. A gross metaphor, but honestly some of the things we (me at least) carry with us in our lives are gross to our Heavenly Father.
Thoughts I have regarding 'out with old, in with the new' for this New Year, 2009?
When I feel bogged down, weary of the world's ways and influences on me, my thoughts, actions, and deeds not pleasing to myself or my Heavenly Father, I hope to remember that "if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!" 2 Corinthians 5:17
And from Romans 12:2: "Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is - his good, pleasing and perfect will."
Happy New Year!