Taking Flight

It’s a long, wet walk from the terminal.  The plane is small—one of those economy jets built for business travelers—and doesn’t even warrant a pedestrian tunnel.  The biting wind whips snow around the travelers as they scurry along the tarmac to the waiting plane, taking care not to slip in the oily gray slush and rock-salt mixture.

The scene is bewildering if you are unaccustomed to air travel.  All of these people loaded on to a bus and shuttled to an otherwise empty lot behind a large metropolitan airport.  It would appear as some sort of daily practical joke orchestrated by bored flight crews.

Carefully packed carry-on bags are quickly and unceremoniously dumped on a metal cart before the travelers get shoehorned onto the plane.  The obviously pregnant flight attendant absently nods at each passenger.   She signed up for international flights and instead works the commuter circuit.  Her job consists of a half-assed safety demonstration to a mostly inattentive audience followed by scooping ice and pouring sodas into small plastic cups.  Then she gets to collect trash of the privileged in a flimsy plastic bag.  She looks forward to the small pleasure gained from bumping the knees and feet of sleeping passengers with her service cart.

The virgin and infrequent travelers walk down the aisle with their backpack, purse, coat, plastic newsstand bag, coffee cups, fast food bags, and ticket clutched with a white-knuckled grip, anxiously searching the cabin for their seat assignments.  The seasoned travelers, already in their seats, avoid eye contact and pretend to listen to music by wearing headphones not attached to any device, hoping to divert conversations about where they are from, where they are going, and why they are going there.  Once seated, they all quietly marvel to themselves at the shabbiness of such pricey mobility.

The….ummm…pilot….says there will be….uhhhh….slight delay due to deicing of the….uh….wings….and that they will….be, um, taxiing to the runway within…..uhhhh…..5 minutes.

Twenty-five minutes later the plane jostles and bumps along the runway.  Every metallic click, pop, bang, thump of the wing flaps and landing gear can be both seen and heard as the small metal package clutches the lives of 30 people en route to work, family, business, duty, pleasure.  Images of the bleak airport speed by, the bustling city looms on the horizon like the Emerald City in the Wizard of Oz, unvisited by nearly all of the travelers going to their final destinations.

Most people have already lowered their shades and their eyelids to erase the inconvenient morning.  The seats appear to dip into the ground before stomachs are left behind.  Landing gear clunks into place as the plane turns from lumbering ground beast into elegant flying machine.  The plane climbs higher through zero visibility and bad weather.

Without warning the aircraft’s nose pierces the cloud wall, punching a hole into bright blue skies.  The plane continues to climb as it passes over and under the exhaust trails of two other recently departed planes, threading a pattern that casts a fleeting, plaid shadow on the billowy clouds below.  The sun shines all around, heralding the start of a beautiful new day.  All will be okay.

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