So Many Stories. Where To Begin?

February 19, 2010

in Odds & Ends Stories

Reno, Nevada. United Airlines. 1989. This airport is in the middle of the city and the flight path is surrounded by hotels. There is a severe windstorm but the pilot decides to land anyway. I have a window seat and am watching in disbelief as the runway veers from left to right as the pilot tries to maintain his approach. Swear to god, before we touch down I see tumbleweeds, hubcaps, garbage can lids, pieces of plastic blowing across the runway. We land but go off into the grass on one side of the runway but he gets it back on the pavement and finally it’s OK. Nobody said a word until after everyone got off the plane.

Two years before that I landed at this airport during a blizzard. The runway was pure white. Actually you could not see the runway until about 50 feet off the ground due to the snowfall. The plane swerved like a car in snow as the pilot tried to brake. We stopped a few feet short of the end of the runway. I swore I would never fly there again in winter; that’s why I went the next time in the summer. But as it turns out that is windstorm season.

Phuket, Thailand. Thai Airways. 2003. We are on a flight to Bangkok and taxiing to the runway. Thick black smoke comes out of the vents everywhere in the plane. It is suffocating, acrid smoke. Toxic smoke. There is no announcement, no action by the flight attendants. People are starting to pass out. I was really afraid we might die. I had the exit row and asked the attendant for permission to open the door. She said, “No we must wait for instructions from the pilot.” Finally, the pilot told them to open the doors and we lived. Then we sat there in the broiling sun waiting for them to wake up the engineer to come and tow us back to the gate.

Germany to South America. Varig Airlines. 2004. I think this is the worst trip experience of my life. The flight attendants literally seemed disinterested in the passengers. They only reluctantly gave a pre-flight speech and then immediately disappeared. Something seemed very strange but they eventually reappeared for meal service. I had ordered a vegetarian meal on the advice of the travel agent. What a mistake. I am not joking, my meal was a wedge of lettuce and cold green beans with some dressing. And a small roll. That was it. That was my entire meal, my only food for Europe to South America. To take my mind off my hunger I tried to watch the movie but my coach seat had headphones with plugs for the first class seats. It would not work. The worst thing was that I had been dying to see the movie Sideways, which by coincidence was playing on the flight. I used my Boy Scout tracking skills to find the flight attendant’s lair behind a curtain where they were busy discussing union matters with each other. I tried to show them the meal and headphones but they literally ignored me. After three polite “Excuse mes” I lost it. I shouted at them, “Can you see me? Can you hear me?” Now I had their attention. I showed them the meal and said, “I am eating what you are eating even if you have to share, and get me a headphone that works in coach.” The senior attendant comes to back up his staff and starts speaking to me in Portuguese. I tell him, “You hear me speaking English? That’s a clue.” He apologizes and asks what is the matter. I tell him to give me something with protein in it and a head set for coach then I will go away. I got some chicken and headphones, then go watch Sideways two times. The attendants never reappeared until immediately before landing.

I have a six hour layover in Sao Paulo, but the connecting flight to La Paz, Bolivia is delayed. As it turns out during the flight the Brazilian government, which was feuding with the US government, began requiring transit visas for US citizens. So I am sitting in the airport lounge waiting and waiting for the connecting flight when the police come up to me and ask for me by my name. They check my passport and then tell me I am under arrest for not having a transit visa. It is like a dream. They take me to the police station and tell me I need a visa to stay for a layover as retaliation for US making Brazilians have their fingerprints taken in order to get a visa. I ask them for food and they actually say to me, “What is wrong, you order vegetarian on Varig?” In surprise, I tell them yes and the story of the head phones and terrorizing the attendants. They have a good laugh and agree to deport me to my connecting flight without a stamp in my passport.

The return trip is not any better. I was searched repeatedly when trying to leave Bolivia. The plane is almost ready to leave when the police come on and take me off the plane and down to the tarmac below. They make me identify my suitcases then they put the entire contents on the pavement for the dogs to sniff. Finally, convinced there is nothing illicit, they make me repack everything in front of all the passengers who are looking down from the windows. I reboard the plane but it won’t start. The pilots cannot start it and we have to wait two hours for a small jet with four mechanics to come from somewhere and fix our plane. Finally the plane takes off. Everyone on the flight belonged to a Protestant Church and was going on a mission in Brazil. They sang Christian songs and the young lady next to me witnessed for Christ and tried to convert me from Buddhism to Christianity the entire flight. I brought plenty of food for the return flight and never was so happy to see the unsmiling faces of Germans. My connecting flight to Bangkok was overbooked so I got upgraded to business on Lufthansa plus 100 dollars. Nice flight and good food, too. I thought my bad luck had ended. Wrong.

On return to the US I started to worry about the rubber gloves again. The immigration guy says to me, “What were you doing in Bolivian and Thailand?” I tell him the truth – I live in Thailand and was visiting friends in Bolivia on holiday. He actually says to me, “What’s the matter, don’t you love America?” It went downhill from there. Many hours of interrogation. Finally they let me go. I have not been back since.

{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

GMMR February 19, 2010 at 7:02 am

I'm still trying to figure this story out. If you live in Thailand and you where returning from Bolivia. Why did you say at the end of your BS story that you where on your return to the US?


madachode February 19, 2010 at 10:05 am

Next time spare us the story, stay home kill yourself.


Smiling Charmer February 20, 2010 at 9:24 am

I want my five minutes back! 🙁


KPinky March 11, 2010 at 1:48 am

5 minutes? you must be a skimmer:p


xxx April 6, 2013 at 12:36 am

i was thinking dyslexic


david February 20, 2010 at 11:27 am

the worst flight of your life was when you didnt get a 5star meal? its airline food what do you expect?

The only airline food i eat is Singapore Airlines because they actually have good and edible food……..i still bring snacks on the plane because on a 12-13 or upto 20hour flight i dont want to disturb the FA when others are sleeping, even though for a snack you can get a sandwich (whch are very good) or some chips or fruit………for those who fly with children they also have kids meals that include bangers and mash (sausage and mashed potatoes) cheeseburger, and a few other things

and just to let you know, the headphone adaptor is universal, you can use either your own headphones or their headphones, they all work the same, which leads to the question, why not use your own?


GR February 21, 2010 at 6:09 pm

I'm always amazed at people who order "special meals" and want the regular meal. If there are 300 seats on an aircraft and 8 special meals the aircraft receives 292 regular meals. If there are no refusals the last row ends up with your wedge of lettuce and a green bean.

Grab a headphone adaptor at your local radio shack. This will enable you to use your own headphones when you come across the older double prong jacks.


mike March 2, 2010 at 2:21 pm

Hmmm…I'm gonna call Bravo Sierra on this whole post.


Peter Barnard March 5, 2010 at 8:14 am

You seem awfully uptight for man who professes to being a follower of Buddha


Morgan September 15, 2010 at 12:12 am

So many words, just to say NOTHING!!!


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