O’Horror at O’Hare

AirplanescottBy SCOTT SAALMAN

So, everyone has boarded our transoceanic aircraft at O’Hare.

The flight safety message has started. It’s the kind you watch on TV monitors, not a flight attendant’s live reenactment of what you should do if something goes woefully awry.

I still don’t understand why we aren’t offered parachutes instead of floatation devices. I mean, this isn’t the Queen Mary.

The power goes out, the monitors go blank, black as death.

An apologetic flight attendant’s voice comes on the PA. It’ll take a few minutes to reboot the computer.

Sure enough, monitor comes back to life. Safety message restarts. Power shuts off. Monitor goes black.

At this point, a thought comes to mind: If an aircraft can’t even provide dependable power to run a pre-takeoff safety video, might there be something more to worry about than the prospect of being deprived of upcoming inflight movies?

The flight attendant again apologizes. Monitor comes on. Power shuts off. Monitor goes black.
“Are you kidding me?” is disgruntledly voiced from several directions.

The flight attendants resign to skipping the video and doing a live safety demonstration. I really try to pay attention, for I can’t think of a better time to do so than when you’re aboard a jumbo jet that doesn’t even have sufficient power to run its TVs before takeoff.

That it is Sept. 11, 2014, is not lost on me either. That date alone makes one soul search before willingly committing to a boarding pass.

One can argue that Sept. 11 is actually the best day to fly since airport security will likely be at its peak. I can’t say security was any more stringent than when I flew a month ago. I still had to get X-rayed, hold my hands above my head like moose antlers and hope my baggy jeans, sans my terrorist belt, wouldn’t fall down.

“What’s in your pocket, sir?” I was then asked.

I noticed the tiny bulge of my lucky rabbit, a gift from a Thai co-worker a few years ago. I have safely traveled the world with it. I put the rabbit in my palm for the security guy to see.

“What is that, sir?”

“A rabbit.”

He eyed it suspiciously. I halfway expected him to pull out a gun and order, “Put your hands back up to your head like moose antlers and step away from the rabbit, sir.”

“It’s for good luck,” I explained.

He motioned me through, with a big eye-roll. “No, there’s nothing weird about that,” he said, obviously meaning the opposite. The rabbit incident earned me a very thorough pat down and had me craving a cigarette — and I don’t even smoke.

After the safety instructions, the captain’s voice fills the cabin, telling us our flight will be delayed because of some minor technicality about not being able to communicate with flight control. “My god,” I thought. “Why don’t they just drop the oxygen masks now to avoid the surprise later?”

About an hour later, we are told that the inflight computer system will likely have to be replaced before takeoff. About an hour after that, we are told a wing might have to be taken apart. We will fly, the pilot assures us with the tone of a man obsessed, uncomfortably bringing to mind Ahab and the white whale or Clark Griswold and Wally World.

About an hour after that — we are still on the plane, mind you — the pilot tells us the mechanics aren’t sure what’s wrong. Two ill-humored mechanics actually walk down the aisle a few minutes later, looking not at all pleased with that announcement. I don’t know about you, but I prefer airplane mechanics to remain unseen, like that army of monkeys in the bowels of the plane beneath us that pedal bicycle-like contraptions to actually make our plane airborne.

The natives grow restless. My fellow passengers are hungry and angry. A friend of mine calls this being hangry. We are offered two bites of cookie and water. Alcatraz served better. The woman next to me talks her pouting husband down from the hunger ledge. There are too many whispers. There could be a coup. The husband gazes at me as if he’s seeing a Big Mac. Donner Airlines.

The pilot updates us, but it’s not really an update since he says no one in maintenance is returning his calls now. Duh. We will fly, he assures us, which is not what I want to hear at this point. A few people actually gather their carry-ons and exit since we are still attached to the gate. Legally, this is allowable, the pilot announces. But we are also told that when it’s time to fly, it’s time to fly, leaving me with images of fellow passengers running down the runway in pursuit of our jet as it lifts off. Come fly Are You Kidding Me Airlines: We will fly, but you might not.

At this point, I’m too tired to exit, resigned that I will willingly fly in a doomed plane on Sept. 11.
Nearly five hours into it, the pilot announces, “We deeply apologize, ladies and gentleman, but the flight is canceled.”

We are told the next flight will not be until nearly 24 hours later, making it Sept. 12 then. Some around me groan. I affectionately pat the bunny in my pocket.

Scott Saalman and the Will Read and Sing For Food players will perform a benefit for the Dubois County Humane Society at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, Oct. 14, at VUJC, and for Anderson Woods, at 7 p.m., on Thursday, Oct. 23, at Klubhaus 61. Admission: $10 donation.

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