I actually thought I was gonna die

March 11, 2011

I should be home now, but am sitting in the food court at Seattle International Airport hoping that my next flight — from here to Tri-Cities — is better than the one that just brought me in from San Jose. (It’s 8:57 pm Thursday night. I’ll set this to publish on Friday morning since I don’t like to advertise when I’m away from home.)

The day was really great at SMX in San Jose. I moderated two sessions that went very well (I think), and my good friend Mat Siltala offered to give me a ride to the airport. My last session ended at 2:15 pm and he dropped me off at the terminal at 2:24 pm — how awesome is that??!!??

And then it was all downhill.

When I got past security, I heard all kinds of commotion — like way more than you’d ever expect to hear at an airport. Turns out it was coming from Gate 28. There was an entire high school student body waiting there. Or so it seemed. Turns out that it wasn’t an entire school, but it was about 50 high schoolers going to Seattle on a band/choir trip of some sort.

They were loud. And Gate 28 was my flight. It was so bad that you couldn’t hear the boarding announcements. I commisserated with a couple other adults and we agreed it was gonna be a looooooong flight.

We had no idea.

On the plane, I was surrounded by the kids. Talking. Yelling. Shouting. Goofing around. Acting like it was an unsupervised study hall. And I dare you to get 50 high schoolers to “turn off all electronic devices” so we can leave. High schoolers don’t think the rules apply to them. Sigh.

In the two seats next to me were a couple adults — older than me, probably in their 50s. Maybe late 40s. They were coworkers. And they talked loudly to each other for the whole flight, like they hadn’t seen each other in 30 years and like they wanted the cockpit to be able to hear them. Worse, the guy was a tech luddite who said that if he checks his email and there’s more than 5 emails, he just turns off the computer. It’s too much for him. And later, when the gal was showing him her iPhone, he couldn’t believe that they actually charge 99 cents for apps. And sometimes more! He thought all that should be part of the phone — they should sell a phone with all the gadgets and not charge extra. His analogy: “It’s like spending $30,000 on a car and then finding out you have to pay another $5,000 for the steering wheel.”

No, sir, it’s not like that at all.

But I’m just whining at this point. I put my headphones on for much of the flight and didn’t have to hear the kids or the adults. All was cool. Until we got near Seattle.

The pilot warned us that it was windy in Seattle and the landing would be bumpy.

To say the least!

As we came down, the plane was shaking in all directions — hurtling left and right, up and down, jerking this way and that way. It was worse than a flight into El Paso that I took as a Pepperdine student going to broadcast a Waves basketball game for campus radio. It was bad enough that a piece of one of the overhead bins near the back of the plane broke off.

I’ve never been so scared. I shifted between thinking I was about to die and thinking I was about to throw up. And thinking I was about to pass out.

Making matters worse? The kids. Every time the plane lurched, they’d yell and scream at the top of their lungs. Shaddup!!!!!

The plane somehow got down to the ground and we were just about to touch down — I swear we were maybe 10 yards off the ground at most when all of a sudden the plane launched back up in the sky. We couldn’t land. There was a collective gasp. We were all looking at each other like, “Is this really happening????” We got back up in the air and the pilot explained that the plane has some kind of sensor that measured a strong wind shear and determined that it wasn’t safe to land. Holy crap.

So, up we went. We circled back around towards Seattle again and the pilot announced that we’d make one more try on a different runway, and if it didn’t work, we’d have to go to Portland because we were getting low on fuel.

So, down we went. Again. Take #2. This time the lurching wasn’t quite as bad, but I still felt like I was about to throw-up. Or pass out. We were within maybe 500 yards of the ground when, all of a sudden … back up we went. No landing. The same wind shear warning.

So, down we went … to Portland. The landing there was much better and I felt way better as soon as we landed. Oh, and when the kids stopped yelling and cheering for the landing. We stayed on the plane waiting for word on what would happen next. People used the restrooms. The flight attendants gave out cups of water. I saw a handful of people holding on to the barf bags. It was probably about 20-30 minutes later when the pilot said we were gonna try to land again in Seattle and that we’d leave at about 7:00 pm.

By this time, I’d already missed my connecting flight to Tri-Cities. Would’ve been great if Alaska/Horizon offered flights from Portland to Tri-Cities, but those stopped running years ago. I checked on my iPhone and saw that there was one last flight to Tri-Cities at 10:25 pm.

So, everybody sat back down and on we went to Seattle for our third try, and that one was a charm. Well, not a charm … but the bouncing wasn’t as bad and we managed to land and there was another eruption of cheering when it happened. Hallelujah!!!!!!

During all this, a guy who was at SMX tweeted that he was on the same flight with me and how bad it was, etc. His name was Kevin Gamache and I recalled seeing him on Twitter during the conference. So, Kevin and I found each other while getting off the plane, and it turns out he was told to rush to get to his next flight — so I ran with him to the airport tram so we could get from the North terminal to the main concourse. (I didn’t need to rush but wanted to help make sure Kevin knew where to go.)

Of course, when we got to the tram, it was broken. What else could go wrong!!?? I didn’t mind the delay, but poor Kevin was helpless. We waited about 3-4 minutes and the tram finally started up. Kevin made it to his gate and only then learned that his flight was delayed, so he was safe and in good shape.

Me? I decided to make the long walk out to the end of the D concourse where there’s a little Chili’s restaurant. Had to reward myself after a day like this.

Chili’s was closed. Of course! A perfect cap to the worst flight ever. At least so far.

Update, 12:10 am: I made it home safely, thank God. The last flight was pretty bumpy, especially in a small puddle-jumper plane, but we made it. Whew.


  • Reply Barry Schwartz March 11, 2011 at 8:44 am

    Wow! What an adventure!

  • Reply Wissam March 11, 2011 at 8:53 am

    O m G!
    talking of beint SOL!!

    thank god u made it safe! TC

  • Reply David Mihm March 11, 2011 at 9:32 am

    And to think, you were worried about flying to BIRMINGHAM 🙂

    Glad you made it back safely.

  • Reply Cari McGee March 11, 2011 at 9:49 am

    Oh, I wish you could “like” comments on your blog like you can on Facebook, because I would like what David said!!

  • Reply Matt March 11, 2011 at 12:14 pm

    DM – if the opportunity to fly into BHM was available, I might’ve done it. But the plan was to fly into ATL and then drive 2+ hours to BHM. In the dark. On wintery roads. After 8-10 hours of flying. And as I recall, it did snow in ATL right about that time, didn’t it? 🙂

  • Reply Todd Mintz March 11, 2011 at 2:53 pm

    Sorry to hear about this…

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