It is difficult enough to get on an airplane these days because the new security procedures that are designed to protect us all also remind us of all the reasons we fear flying. These procedures are also time consuming and somewhat degrading and we are never sure when we will be singled out for an embarrassing pat down or body scan. Our anxiety levels, our frustration levels, and perhaps our anger levels are already elevated before we even get to the boarding area where our regular flying nerves set in. It is a wonder more people are not having meltdowns on planes. However March has been a real stand out month for aviation because we do not have passengers causing problems on flights, instead the crew members have been losing it.
On March 9th we had the bipolar flight attendant on a Chicago-bound American Airlines flight out of Dallas-Fort Worth Airport. She started screaming, “We’re going to crash and ranting about 9/11.” This is all I would need to send me running for the exit doors but the passengers did not panic. This plane was on the ground and it taxied back to the airport where the flight attendant was removed from the flight. Passengers continued to Chicago on a later flight. This woman was not really coherent; there was not a single theme to her rant, she was just as concerned about not having enough ice on the plane as she was about the need to return to the gate. She complained about the American Airlines bankruptcy and about the labor unions and said she was not responsible for crashing the plane. I would have been worried that this was some new kind of terrorist attack but she was so obviously irrational that it would be hard to explain what technique the terrorists would be employing unless perhaps it involved stealing meds or brainwashing.
March 27th brings us another strange incident with a crew member on a Jet Blue flight from New York City to Las Vegas, only this time it is the pilot. The Captain, sent to the bathroom by the copilot who noticed that the Captain was having difficulties, stormed through the plane saying “They’re going to take us down”. A third row passenger said the captain said there could be a bomb on board the flight. This plane was already airborne so there was no way to get off of the plane but the Captain looked like he was planning to open the door. In an even more bizarre turn of events there happened to be an off-duty pilot on the plane and he and the copilot locked themselves in the cabin and flew the plane to an airport in Amarillo, Texas. I guess it is reassuring that these flyboys stuck to the job of getting their passengers safely on the ground somewhere, but they had to leave the problem of the incoherent captain to the flight crew and the passengers. Fortunately there were some very brave or some very anxious, frustrated and angry passengers who tackled the pilot just outside the cockpit and sat on him for twenty minutes until the plane landed.
OK, it is hard to imagine how these two events could be terrorist attacks and I am sure, unless there is some drug being administered to flight crews, that these are just two separate, scary events that just happened to occur in the same month, both on airplanes, and both involving crew members. Perhaps the flight crew is just as anxious, frustrated, and angry before a flight as the passengers are (not a comforting thought). Perhaps living with the threat of terrorist activity preys on the minds of the flight crews even more than on the minds of the rest of us (also not a comforting thought). These two events also make me wonder how many of the people we depend on in airplanes are on meds. Let’s hope that when March ends so will the lunacy on airplanes.