9 July 2014
Crash starts with the letter C
My plane was gently approaching the runway – I couldn’t have guessed that something wrong would happen, especially after having flown hundreds of times (lucky me). It was also a sunny day over the city of Zürich. The passenger on the row behind me snickered as we passed over the big Victorinox advertisement painted on barley fields purposefully facing up towards incoming planes. A few seconds later, landing gear deployed, the plane was about ten metres above the runway, about to land perfectly. Except it didn’t. At that moment, the engines were suddenly reengaged at full power and my plane almost instantly took off, veering briskly to the left as if it were to crash in the neighbouring woody hill.
That flight would prove to be the slightly frightening cherry on the cake of a trip started a few days earlier. I was on my way back from San Francisco. On long-haul red-eye flights, I try to fly business class to be able to get some sleep, considering I’m such a light and difficult sleeper; but I usually have to take flights with stopovers to keep the ticket price as low as possible in that class. On that occasion, I was flying back via Salt Lake City and Paris.
When the first leg of my trip was delayed by forty-five minutes and I boarded the Salt Lake City - Paris plane one minute before the gate closed, I anticipated my checked-in bag was at risk of not following me. Twelve hours later, I wasn’t therefore surprised not to see my bag on the conveyor belt. “Don’t worry, the baggage agent told me, your bag will be on the next flight at 5pm – but we won’t be able to courier it before another two days”.
I therefore waited 48 hours and then called for a status update. “Your bag hasn’t arrived yet”, was I told. Hmm, that was odd – and I was getting a little annoyed. So I started my own investigation with the tidbits of information I had collected and cross-referenced. At first, I had not paid attention to a small note that my bag would be on flight DL7380, CDC being the airport destination code. I had initially thought that this was normal, that my bag would be rerouted as quickly as possible on whatever plane would make it the fastest to my final destination. But then the “horror” (at least) struck me: CDC sounded strangely close to CDG, the trigram corresponding to Charles De Gaulle airport in Paris.
The DL7380 flight was indeed a flight from Salt Lake City to Cedar City, which airport code is CDC. Cedar City, despite its name, is a village of 28,000 souls in the middle of Utah. Gasp. There was no way Cedar City’s airport was international and I was then convinced of the mistake of the baggage handler, confusing G and C between CDC (Cedar City) and CDG (Paris) – when I thought everything was automated and scanned... So here I was again instantly on the phone with the French baggage centre, and later on with the American equivalent because I didn’t trust their ability to share information (I proved unfortunately right), after briefly attempting to call Cedar City’s airport manager on his cell phone as it was 4am there (hey, my bag is more important than this poor man’s sleep, don’t you think?!). I was trying to get my bag to board one of the two flights of the day: that one bag, my bag (containing a precious cheque inside – legal stuff… I think ;-)... don’t ask me why I didn’t carry the cheque on me), would make it back onto the circuit no matter what, regardless of millions of other bags probably also stranded around the world.
But of course my bag hadn’t been scanned in Cedar City itself (I only knew it had taken a flight to there) and had supposedly been sleeping there for three nights, no one realising it was actually there. I thought that this meant either my bag had been stolen (unlikely in the land of Mormons, phew) or destroyed for security reasons (arg). Anyway, to cut a long story short, after numerous calls and trying to get things moving, I departed to Zürich naked (of my luggage) but with a new set of clothes (non-Google branded for once, haha) which I’m bound to get reimbursed courtesy of the airline. My luggage would finally make it back all the way back home the following day. But I wasn’t done with high stress levels yet. And since I haven’t instructed one of my clones to type this post, I am indeed still alive despite the pilot’s almost fatal mistake on my flight back to Zürich.
The explanation came three long minutes after the plane had aborted its landing a mere ten metres above the runway. During those minutes, the structure of the plane suddenly seemed more fragile to me, as the plane abruptly veered left, barely gaining altitude. Was I shaking or was it the plane, I couldn’t tell. What a shame to die on a sunny day, I thought. What a shame I wouldn’t be able to “feel” love(d) again, I thought. There wasn’t even a pretty woman to kiss on the seat next to mine: there was just an empty seat. I kept looking by the window as the plane eventually stabilised itself and gained a bit more altitude. I wouldn’t feel safe until the plane actually landed about fifteen minutes afterwards.
And then the confession was heard through the plane’s speakers: “I didn’t have authorisation to land”, admitted the captain. Seriously? And you still tried to land? Why, but why?! “There was another plane still on the runway”, he continued. Oh, that’s what all the veering was about. Oops. Big oops, right? And you could perhaps also say sorry? Nope. I can’t imagine the captain trying to land the plane without the air controllers yelling at him as he still tried to do so. Unbelievable. I guess the air controllers then punished him (and us as collateral damage) by making him wait the extra fifteen minutes before granting authorisation to land. And if you want to see in video what this all looks like, almost the exact same incident happened just three days ago at Barcelona’s international airport:
So to all those who hate me: sorry, I’m still alive :P.