by Gae Rusk

I have been on difficult, scary flights in the past. Several in and out of O’Hare. Once landing on Crete, and one alley-oop at LAX, but my flight home last Tuesday is now a chapter in my ongoing autobiography titled Travel Gone Wrong.

To begin that day, it wasn’t Aloha Air’s fault my parents decided I had to leave their house by 4:15 am to beat the traffic on Hwys 91 and 55 to John Wayne Airport, and I’d be lucky, they thought, to just make it. They were right about the traffic, there was already tons of it, but I reached John Wayne at 5:45 anyway. Unfortunately, my off airport car agency did not open until 7, so I sat at an I-Hop eating hashbrowns until I could turn in that car.

It wasn’t Aloha’s fault a United jet stood at our gate and couldn’t get itself together to leave. Our flight lost the gate, moved to a new gate, and then the Aloha jet waiting out on the tarmac all that time had to be emptied of passengers, cleaned and restocked, refueled and reloaded. We left an hour and a half late, which isn’t that bad, we told each other.

It wasn’t Aloha’s fault an hour into the flight that a baby ate a peanut and went into anaphylactic shock, and the doctor from first class decided our flight should return to John Wayne. Problem was, this was decided quietly among just a few people, so they were the only ones who knew the jet’s shuddering and descending were deliberate. This went on far too long for everyone else before the pilot finally explained. I personally aged a hundred years, and that definitely was Aloha Air’s fault. The pilot then added that it would be loud in the back while he tried to dump fuel because we couldn’t land full. We all cringed into our seats as the flammable fuel flared and spewed out the anus of our jet and fell to cover the ocean below.

After the jet pancaked heavily onto the runway at John Wayne and screamed to a halt, we were told we could not get off, that it was not Aloha’s fault, it was just the rule. We had to sit there while the paramedics removed the baby and family. We had to sit there while they removed a man in the row ahead of me, window seat, who was having a meltdown because of the stress of the flight so far, and we had to sit there while they looked for those passengers’ luggage.

While we sat idling in a long line of jets waiting to take off, the pilot explained that Aloha’s mechanics had been checking the integrity of the jet the whole time we were on the ground. We were scanned for stress fractures, blown wheels, shifted loads, etc, because we landed with far too much fuel, an extra 10,000 lbs of it. Aloha’s jets aren’t designed to dump, you see, just to use, and, By the way, our pilot added, Aloha mechanics had to restart a generator which shut down at the hard landing. As opposed to no information when we started our return to John Wayne, this was far too much news for those of us in the main cabin.

We eventually took off for our second run at Honolulu. Everyone sat stunned by the idea that our flight was starting over. Our moods sank further when that pilot announced we were being directed onto a more roundabout route because of missile testing in the mid-Pacific. This new heading would add an hour to the normal five or six in the air. Sorry, folks.

None of this was Aloha’s fault. We knew that, but our discontent and gloominess was hard to ignore. One woman behind me had not stopped sobbing since we turned back an hour out over the Pacific. She would clearly miss her connection to Australia, and now there was no way she could get there in time for her father’s funeral. At least 5 babies were also crying the whole time, and who could blame them.

None of this was Aloha Air’s fault, we did know that. Still, none of us laughed when the pilot ended his latest disturbing announcement by joking, Wouldn’t want to get hit by falling missile debris, would we? He chuckled alone, and it was deafening. That’s when the flight attendants started giving out free mai tais in coach, which is what made it possible for me to survive the rest of the flight.

When our jet landed, applause broke out. Spirits were restored. Smokers were hyper with relief to reach the smoking area between terminals. Passengers staying on Oahu sprinted down to baggage claim, while those of us only part way home negotiated new departures to the outer islands.

I waited an hour in Aloha Air’s First Class Lounge, where I listened to dramas that our delay had caused on the Honolulu end. One elder just out of surgery was wracked in pain sitting in a wheelchair as she waited hour after hour. An Aloha Air employee was massaging the elder’s hands and speaking in a low voice, soothing that elder as best she could, while officials came in to assess the situation. Perhaps the elder should return to Queen’s Hospital, they suggested to her frantic, gray haired son. It would be several more hours before departure, they said, because there were maintenance issues with the jet that had arrived so late.

At that point I left. I couldn’t sit down, wouldn’t sit down until I had to, so I decided to lap the InterIsland terminal a couple of times and work out some kinks. The elder in the First Class Lounge was surrounded by tender loving care as I rolled my carryon out the door. I prayed for her as I power walked mauka past all the Hawaiian Air gates, past GO Air and Island Air, then back to Aloha..

When I caught my flight to Kauai at Gate 55, it was almost empty and left early, and that really was Aloha’s fault, bless them forever.

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