On Monday, September 22nd, 2008, I boarded a flight for JFK. I’d been invited to cover Conde Nast Traveler’s World Savers Congress on Twitter and CNT was picking up the tab. They’d booked my ticket, airport limo, and a shoebox room right off Times Square. Wendy Perrin had invited me to dinner; I was starry eyed over the whole thing. It’s a pretty fancy day for an independent blogger when Conde Nast Traveler calls and wants to fly you out for an event. I was psyched.
Then my plane broke, and I didn’t get to have dinner with Wendy Perrin, and that bummed me out a lot. I did get to be one of the first people to tweet about an airline emergency, a status that has earned me exactly…. nothing. I wrote a blog post about the landing that a lot of people read — it got linked to from local newspapers and aviation blogs. Later, I learned that one of the passengers, Jewel Thomas, filed a lawsuit against American Airlines:
Thomas said that after the cabin lights went out, passengers were told to prepare for a rough landing at O’Hare, and that many began to pray. She said she was terrified and called her children on her cell phone, leaving messages saying she loved them.
About six months ago, I got a phone call from the law firm that’s representing American Airlines in the lawsuit. And on November 1, 2011, I attended a deposition. I answered a lot of questions about what, exactly, I saw happen when the plane was diverted to O’Hare.
It was nearly three years ago; there’s a lot I don’t remember. I didn’t remember, for example, that there had been firemen on the plane until the lawyer showed me a picture I’d taken. He passed over a print out of the blog post I’d written that day, comments and all. It was kind of weird to see that little post that I’d scribbled on the continuation flight from O’Hare to JFK handed back to me in this context.
You’d think I’d remember that, right? I didn’t. I also didn’t remember much about the people in my row — I was in an exit row at a window seat. I have zero recollection of people crying, praying, or making phone calls to their loved ones. I don’t remember what I did on the flight, not at all. What did I remember? Something big happened, right?
I remember a landing that was nowhere near as bad as a typical landing at Vienna, Austria’s perpetually windy airport. I remember a shift in realization that, oh, all those emergency vehicles racing this way? They’re for my plane! I remember the guy in the blue jumpsuit — in the terminal he patted me on the shoulder, very kindly, after I told him what had happened. I remember the smiling face of the woman on the grass at O’Hare. I remember that the cabin got very hot, and I remembered a woman walking her cooing baby in the aisle. I remember the stewardess on the replacement flight bringing me a couple of bottles of scotch, which I stowed in my backpack and drank later at my hotel. I remember buying a sandwich from a deli just a few doors from my hotel. When I walked in, two enormous African American guys in big blocky specs were playing chess and they were wildly friendly. They asked me where I was from and when I told them, one of them, the guy in a white track suit, responded, “Damn, girl, what are you doing all the way out THERE!?” as though I was his cousin and had moved too far away.
I hate to fly, though over the past three years I’ve become more relaxed on a plane. I still get green pretty easily, a little turbulence will cause me to break out into a sweat and wish I’d chosen an narrower obsession, one with rail travel, perhaps. Coach aggravates me to no end. I can’t get comfortable enough to sleep, and I’m a pacer, I get up and walk to the lav very frequently. I think it’s because I’m nervous.
There were two points that the lawyer for the plaintiffs — they’re plural, I learned today — seemed to be trying to lock down. The first was that perhaps I’d somehow just missed what was going on around me. I wasn’t paying attention. Passengers may have been praying or crying or making phone calls to their loved ones on the ground and I just didn’t notice it.
The other was that I’m somehow biased positively towards air travel because I’m a travel writer. At this point, I really had to try hard not to laugh. “Would you say it’s your job to promote tourism and travel?” I had to think about that. I suppose so, but I’ve also written about seasickness and the tragedies of history and just recently about how I had to haul myself across the planet in a blaze of fever. The premise that I just might be a booster for the airlines — well, it’s not fair, really, the lawyer doesn’t exactly know me.
“Flying,” I said, “is a necessary evil. If I could take the train everywhere, I would.”
I don’t watch the lawyer shows anymore, so I’m not exactly sure what happens next. I know I’ll get a copy of my deposition and I’ll probably read it over and think, “Oh, did I really say that?” Still, I stand by my potentially poorly observed and possibly pro-airline biased story: You’ve been in worse landings. And when a pilot puts a broken plane on the ground and everyone walks away, well, I’m all for that. Though I kind of want my New York dinner with Wendy Perrin. I feel like I got cheated out of that.
Photo credit: Pam Mandel. I took it while walking from the plane to the shuttle they’d brought to bring us to the terminal.