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October 6, 2013

Clare and I flew to Chicago in late June to visit our daughter, son-in-law, and granddaughter. It had been more than a year since Clare and I had flown.
We flew on Southwest Airlines. We were passengers aboard a Boeing 737 with a capacity of 128 people. We sat next to each other with an empty seat next to the window so that Clare could have her carry-on bags close at hand.
When I travel on an airplane, I usually read. Our flight to the windy city was bumpy, so focusing on the printed page was certain to induce a headache. I took out my journal instead and attempted to write. My pen bounced, just like everything else on the airplane, but I did have the opportunity to make a few notes.
On the flight to Chicago everything was routine. Our three female attendants performed their job with perfection. They pointed out the location of the emergency exits and explained the proper use of the oxygen mask if it dropped from the ceiling. They demonstrated the correct way to wear a seatbelt and talked about flotation devices and other safety features. Throughout their spiel, almost no passengers paid any attention. It vaguely reminded me of Sunday morning worship.
I observed the people on the flight with us, noticing in particular two families with small children. I thought about the difficult time those young mothers were having. No matter how high we rise in the stratosphere, the task of parenting continues. As soon as the airplane took off, the children began crying. Doing so helped to equalize the pressure against their eardrums. The parents helped them settle down by offering them animal crackers.
The community aboard an airplane resembles folks anywhere else. Some are polite, caring, and kind. Others, however, are rude and demanding, never finding anything quite right.
On this particular trip, I made note of the fact that the clouds outside the window looked so soft and fluffy. I found out that they are quite the opposite. They were like boulders in the sky when the aircraft hit them. Our plane actually bounced into Chicago.
After visiting a few days with Betsy, Jason, and Wren, we boarded another Southwest plan for our trip back to Spartanburg.
That flight proved to be one of the most interesting I have ever taken, primarily because of the airline personnel in charge. The head attendant surely could have moonlighted as a stand-up comedian in a Chicago nightclub. As we boarded we could see that the flight was not full. The attendant directed over the intercom, “Passengers, choose any seat you want on the plane. Sit wherever you want.”
Apparently, some passengers were having a hard time deciding where to sit. He complained, “People, we are not picking out furniture here. Find a seat and get in it.” Eventually everyone sat in a seat of their choice.
He got back on the intercom and said, “We are will be passing through the cabin in a minute. We want to make sure that your seatbelt is fastened, that your tray tables are stowed away, that your seatbacks are in the upright locked position, and that your shoes and outfits match.”
Clare was more concerned about the last of that list rather than the first. This guy had quite the routine.
As we taxied over to the runway for takeoff, the attendant began the regular chatter about all the safety devices onboard. This time the speech was different.
“In the event of a sudden loss of cabin pressure, you will see a bright yellow designer oxygen mask drop from the ceiling right in front of you. Please stop screaming, grab the mask, and pull it over your face.
“If you have a small child traveling with you, secure your mask before assisting the child. If you are traveling with two or more small children, decide now which one you love the most. That one gets the next oxygen mask.
“If the adults near you are acting like children, help them last.
“In the chance this flight becomes a cruise, you may use your seat cushions as a flotation device. If case of an emergency water landing, our choices on this flight will be Lake Michigan, the Ohio River, or a farm pond in the backwoods of South Carolina. If we do land in water and you need the cushion, please take it with our compliments.”
Unlike the safety speech we heard on the trip to Chicago, everyone paid attention to this one. I was taking notes in my journal and laughing out loud.
He continued with his routine. “Ladies and gentlemen, if you wish to smoke, our smoking section on the airplane is out on either wing. Once you go out there, if you can light ’em, you can smoke ’em. Let me see now. Do we have a movie in the smoking section? Ah, yes. Here it is: ‘Gone with the Wind.’
“Now I want you to place all of your loose baggage under the seat in front of you. This will, of course, completely eliminate any leg room you thought you might have. You may either sit back and relax or lean forward and be tense. The choice is yours. We will take off now.”
Soon after we had risen to a cruising elevation, the captain spoke over the intercom.
“Ladies and gentlemen, since we have reached our cruising altitude now, I am going to turn off the seatbelt sign. If you want to walk around, that will be fine. Please remain in the plane though. Every indication is that it is very cold and windy outside.
“Southwest Airlines is pleased to have some of the best flight attendants in the industry. Unfortunately, not one of them is on this flight.
“We can expect some broken clouds between here and Greenville-Spartanburg. We’ll try to get those fixed if we can. If not, it’s going to make for a bumpy ride.”
The flight attendant spoke up, “The captain calls it bumpy. We call it turbulent. Just remain in your seat and hold on.”
After a rough landing in Spartanburg the attendant continued his routine.
“We ask you please to remain seated until Captain Kangaroo bounces this plane over to the gate. As you exit, be sure to gather all of your belongings. If you decide to leave anything, make sure it is something valuable. Anything left behind will be distributed evenly among the attendants. Please do not leave children or spouses though. We have enough of those.”
He ended with “The last one off the plane gets to clean it.”
As Clare and I departed, I thanked the attendants for their humor. One told me the story about a particularly jarring landing. The airline policy required the first officer stand at the door while passengers exited. He said that in light of the difficult landing, he had a hard time looking the passengers in the eye, thinking that someone might have a smart comment. Finally everyone had gotten off the airplane except for one little old lady, using a cane. She came up to him and said, “Sonny, do you mind if I ask you a question?”
“No, ma’am. What is it?”
The elderly lady asked, “Did we land or were we shot down?”

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