Monday, September 14, 2015

Friendly Skies

From coast to coast in 51 minutes

I would like to share a memory as vivid as the day it happened over 45 years ago.

This particular recollection took place in the early 1970's. I was flying solo from Pittsburgh to Tampa, Florida as a young, single female. Some people may have considered me fairly attractive. Also, since this is my story, I can remember (invent) my physical description! But, I believe the attractiveness factor played a role in this story. And this description is stored in my ROM, so it's not easily altered!

But, I digress. As often happens in air travel, my expected landing in Tampa did not occur on the expected date. Due to heavy fog, the plane was diverted to Jacksonville for the night. The hotel accommodations were luxurious and complimentary.

Breakfast the next morning was problematic. I stood in the entrance to the hotel restaurant, and realized, with all the passengers trying to eat at the same time, there were no empty tables. And no time to wait, since the plane was leaving, with or without me, in one hour.

However, I noticed the pilots' table had an empty seat. At the same time, the pilots noticed me, and invited me to join them. Breakfast turned into a Getting Acquainted Party with lots of laughter. Not wanting the party to end, the captain invited me to join them in the cockpit for the 51 minute flight from Jacksonville to Tampa. What an invitation!

Striding along with the pilots, carrying only my small overnight suitcase, they told me to act like a guest stewardess, as we walked right past the security checkpoint. Acting very stewardessly, I was right behind the pilot and co-pilot as we boarded the plane. They escorted me to my seat in the cockpit directly behind the pilot, but on a raised platform. Without a doubt, this was the best seat in the house! I found out years later that as a general rule, paying passengers are not permitted to fly in jump seats. Hence the "act like a guest flight attendant" command.

I was on visual overload as I noted the crazy amount of instrument panels, controls, etc. Then in auditory wonder as I listened to the pre-flight checklist confirmations between the pilots and tower through my headset. To experience the take-off anxiety while viewing it through a window the size of the Florida Panhandle (roughly 200 miles long and 50 to 100 miles wide) was mind-blowing. At cruising altitude, the view was amazing. I didn't want it to end.

Once the airplane was on autopilot, the human operators were able to focus on the broader aspects of aviation such as resuming the Get Acquainted Party. Soft drinks and snacks were plentiful. Also, I witnessed a practical joke played on one of my new funny friends. This involved an orange falling on the captain's head when he opened an overhead compartment. I did wonder if they were following best practices while flying a monster jet.

But all too soon, it was time to fasten my seat belt for a 3D, technicolor landing. Travelling at roughly 158 nautical miles per hour goes by before you know it. Perhaps my breakfast companions didn't exactly follow protocol by inviting me to share their ride, but I thank them for the extraordinary Take Your "Stewardess" to Work Day!

Sandra Warholic Seeley is the creator and author of Kanela's Korner and The Sandra Seeley Column. She is a lifelong educator whose teaching experience ranges from suburban Bethel Park, PA to Hawaii to urban Pittsburgh Public's Homewood, Hill District and Squirrel Hill communities. She has taught in every grade level from Kindergarten through Grade 5. She has a Master's Degree in Education from The University of Pittsburgh with a minor in English. Her passion has always been the teaching of Communications: Reading and Writer's Workshop. She is now a freelance writer. To contact the author, click the following link.

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