On Sunday, April, 15, 2012, I woke up to an email from Southwest Airlines. I was supposed to be heading back to St. Louis from Detroit on flight 1276. My flight was to depart from DTW at 7:05 PM and arrive at 7:50 PM, but the email advised that my flight was to be delayed. The new scheduled departure time was now 8:35 PM with an arrival time of 9:10 PM. I looked at the email and reread it several times not quite understanding something about it. I mean I understood that the flight was delayed and I would be leaving later, but I think I could not wrap my mind around it because Southwest had never ever delayed a flight I was going to be on.
Unlike other people I know, I am a loyal Southwest customer. To someone who typically flies Delta or any other airline the concept of not being able to pick your seat ahead of time is bothersome at best. For me though, I like the idea of only having to pay an extra $10 to check in early or I can just wait until 24 hours right before my flight and then check in online. The earlier you check in that determines what letter (A-C) and number (1-60) that you are on your ticket. You board accordingly and choose whatever seat it is that you want to sit on. You can check two bags for free and are allowed two carry-on bags. The plane is also brightly colored and while this may not matter to some, I have always thought that search and rescue workers would be able to find the plane if it went down, but that is my theory.
While I’m at the airport with all my bags checked and waiting for the plane to board, I am talking to my aunt. I’m catching her up with my plans in terms of when I would be arriving home and she was catching me up with what is going on back there on the home front. When I see the plane pull up, I get off of the phone and get ready to board…A21. It was at that moment that I looked at the time on my phone. It was not even 8 o’clock…my flight did not leave until 8:35. We started boarding the plane. As I passed by the middle rows near the exit doors, I paused not sure if I should sit there or not…but that pause was nothing more than a fleeting thought and I took my typical seat at the back of the plane…far enough from the bathrooms, but close enough to an exit if I needed it. I always take the window seat though. If there was an emergency, I would have to run over two other people on my row before I even hit the aisle and then headed for an exit door…not very smart, but I do it every time.
I sat in my seat and buckled my seat belt and began to people watch. The flight attendant came on over the intercom and stated where our destination was to be and how long it would take to get there. I glanced to my left and saw that the plane was pulling away from the departure gate…and then I looked up. People were still walking from the front of the plane to whatever seat it was that they wanted to sit in while carrying their bags. The bags still needed to be placed in the overhead bin storage containers and the flight attendant was still clamoring it seemed about the general stuff. I looked to my right and realized that for the first time ever, I had an entire row on an airplane to myself. The other two seats were empty and so before I turned my phone off, I sent this post to FaceBook.
We took off down the runway and soared up into the sky. Eventually, the intricate details of the Detroit metro city area was nothing more than tiny specks that then became non-existent once we were reaching the altitude needed to cruise into the city of St. Louis. The clouds were beautiful as always…fluffy white…the kind that I always wish I could touch when I am flying just to see if they feel like anything at all. After a while, it seemed that we are flying above the fluffy white clouds into clouds that are more thinly stretched and not as thought-provoking. I sat back and enjoyed the duration of the flight as the flight attendants like to instruct all passengers to do.
I drank my Sprite Zero and ate my peanuts which were pretty decent. It wasn’t long after that I began to see the plane descending enough where I could make out buildings, etc on the ground below. I was thinking to myself “about time” when a few minutes later, I noticed that the plane was begin to ascend again into the sky. I looked around and right at that moment the flight attendant came on the intercom and stated that the fasten seat belt light is on that everyone should remain in their seats and not form a line at the bathroom. Then came the real…the pilot came over the intercom and started by saying, “This is your pilot.” He proceeded to state that air traffic controllers were not allowing the plane we were on or any other planes land at Lambert International due to inclement weather conditions. He was advised to fly out about 80 miles and so he advised that they were just circling around out there at the moment as a result. I was like seriously? What if the plane runs out of fuel?! He said that there were other planes out there as well and I was like you mean to tell me that there are other planes out here circling as well at night in the sky waiting to land…
I just began to pray that everything would be okay and settled back into my seat of just waiting. Everything was going okay and we were just flying. And then we ran into turbulence. Now I’ve flown before and while I am not a fan of turbulence, I know that it’s the nature of flying and it does not bother me much. But the turbulence got worse. It was nothing like what I was accustomed to and that’s when it happened.
The plane began to dip on the right wing side as the pilot attempted to keep the plane steady and level while flying. The winds were strong and the force of the weather and gravity challenging the pilot’s ability to keep us above ground in the sky was nothing short of a dare. The plane rocked and the sky was grey—not just dark as in the nighttime sky. The clouds were grey. I looked out the window and saw the blinking lights on the plane which sometimes were not visible due to the clouds I assume. I honestly don’t remember why because my mind was all over the place. There was a man to the right in the next row of seats on the other aisle. He had his head firmly planted against the headrest of the seat and he had his kung fu grip on the armrests. The lady behind him was originally playing some card game on what appeared to be an e-reader of some sort, but that game had been abruptly ended. I looked around the plane and saw that the lights were flickering throughout the cabin. We were still flying and the turbulence was there still. The time seemed like an eternity and then the plane dropped…not a nose dive…just a flat drop. You could hear people screaming and the flight attendants at the back of the plane looked scared. They strapped themselves into the seats as well. The pilot got control of the plane and ascended a bit, but the turbulence was getting the better of him at times. I began to cry. I kept saying over and over “Oh my God. Oh my God.”
I was crying when I began saying my prayers. I asked God that that He keep all of us safe on the plane and more so to have mercy on everyone’s souls on the plane. I asked God to give me peace and to calm my spirit because let’s face it, if the plane goes down, there is nothing I can do. I then asked that God give my loved ones peace should I perish on this plane. “Amen.” Then I thought about my mom, him and Pam. I wondered what they would do…how they would cope and eventually move on when I was no longer here…
But the pilot got clearance to land at the airport sometime between the first announcements and when we landed on the runway. The flight attendant came on when the plane landed advising that it was still not safe for passengers to get up so we were to remain seated. When the plane pulled up to the departure gate, the flight attendant then came over the intercom and breathed a sigh of relief and then she said, “We made it!!” Everyone on the plane clapped. I did as well and thanked God for His grace. As I got off of the plane, I looked ahead. I waited until I was almost the last person to get off of the plane because I wanted to thank the pilot. The flight attendant was there, but not him. I looked and the cockpit door was open. I could see him in there, but I wasn’t able to thank him.
A guy got off of the plane and when we were outside he told me that he had cried on the plane. He, too, had an entire row on the plane to himself. He thought it was going to be the end. It was the first time ever that I thought to myself that I wished someone was sitting next to me on the plane so that I would have had someone’s hand to hold. I wished him luck in life…just in case we never cross paths ever again.
Dear Pilot of flight 1276 from DTW to STL,
You did a hell of a job flying the plane and landing us safely and gently on the runway. I appreciate that you came over the intercom calm so as not to raise alarm. The funny thing is that in the sky, anything can give us cause for alarm. 🙂 I kept thinking that when I got off of the plane I was going to thank you for doing a wonderful job. I know that it was your expertise matched with that of God’s.