If you are an “avid follower” of this blog, whatever that means, you are familiar with my lack of travel grace and dignity. If you are not, don’t worry about it. (Spoiler: I'm a ball of nerves, and am certain I will die on a plane.)
This year, I flew home to Arkansas for Christmas. I refused to pay the $700+ it was going to be to fly into XNA (Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport), the closet airport to my family’s home, so the next best thing was Tulsa. I got an amazing deal on a round trip flight out of Burbank through Southwest Airlines, so I saved myself by not flying out of the dreaded LAX. In short, I was relieved. My patience was not tested too greatly, every flight was on time, and Southwest Airlines appears to only hire kick ass people. I’m a fan. I support them. (This is not an ad.)
I did, however, walk away with 2 stories of comedic gold, and I had absolutely nothing to do with it, I swear. I was merely an observer in these 2 tales of mayhem, and I bring those stories to you now. So please, fasten your seat belts, switch that phone over to airplane mode, and prepare for takeoff.
Flight One : To Tulsa
It’s 6:20am. I’m sitting at Gate 3 feasting on my reward Danish for getting to the airport and through security on time without melting into a pile of anxious tears. Southwest is in the process of boarding passengers, and I am not special. I’m fine with this. I still have a Danish to finish.
It’s time for family boarding, and a dad leaps up and heads to the front before he realizes none of his family is with him. He yells out a name. It was something like, “Cynthia!” and it sounded like he was the nervous level I was rewarding myself for not getting too. I silently vow to stir clear.
When it’s my turn to board, I have only one goal – a window seat. I don’t care where it is. I just need a wall to crumple my pillow against so I can pass out and not think of dying. (Yes, I know. My life would change if I just got that Xanax prescription..) I head towards the back of the plane, and the first window seat I see, I grab without a second thought.
I buckle up. I blanket myself with my Cover Up (thank you, Ms. Alicia). I shove my pillow against that window. Last, I lower my eye mask. I am prepared for take-off.
And then… I hear it…. “Mommy, mommy I want snacks.”
What have I done.
I flip up my eye mask. I peak between the seats, and there she is. Cynthia. But her neurotic husband is nowhere to be found. I am pleased, and not… What douchebag didn’t let them sit together? I mean, I don’t want his energy anywhere around me, but splitting a family up at Christmas?! Com’on America, where is your humanity?! And then I get the full scope of the family I am spying on. An aisle up and over is Mr. Neurotic, glaring into the distance, checking off a list in his head of all the items he could have forgotten, and next to Cynthia is an elderly woman cradling a newborn that I can only assume is Cynthia’s.
“I need to stretch my legs,” the elderly woman states.
In a soothing, patient voice, Cynthia responds, “Mom, we just got on the plane. We’re going to take off soon.”
And then Cynthia’s 3 year old repeats louder this time, with some feeling behind it. “Mommy. I want snacks.”
In an adjusted, but very similar soothing, patient voice, Cynthia responds, “As soon as we’re all settled in, okay?”
Cynthia’s mom passes the baby over to her, “My arms hurt.”
Damn, Cynthia. You got it rough. It’s one of the busiest travel days of the year. You have a newborn, a 3 year old, an unhelpful/child of a mother, and a husband who needs a Xanax worse than I do. You are a rockstar, and a goddess. I make a new vow to mind my own business, and to say absolutely nothing about her son excitedly kicking the back of my chair.
As I pull the mask over my eyes, the 3 year old asks, “Mommy, what snacks do we have?”
I am lulled to sleep by Cynthia’s peaceful listing of every snack item they brought, “Goldfish. Pretzels. Beef jerky. Graham crackers…”
I am awoken by throbbing in my ears. We must be descending. I Valsalva Maneuver it. (Click on the link if you don’t know it. Look! Ya learned ya something!) It scares me every time, but oh that sweet relief it gives my inner ears…
“Wow! More mountains!” are the first words I intelligibly hear. A two hour flight did not bore this 3 year old. It sounds like he’s still chowing down on those snacks. Poor Cynthia…
“Slow down honey, you’re gonna choke,” she coos.
The captain comes over the loud speaker, “We’re about 20 minutes out. Looks like we’re making great time…” The fasten seat belt sign clicks on and we’re instructed to place our seats and tray tables in their upright positions.
As we get closer and closer to the ground, an intense game of Name What You See ensues that only the 3 year old is playing, “Houses!” “Trees!” “CARS!”
Cynthia reminds him, “Slow down, honey. We’re about to land.”
And then…. I hear it…. “Mommy…” His voice has shifted. It’s much quieter, smaller… worried... “My head hurts.”
Time stops. See, my brother once said this same phrase when we were 4 and headed to our grandmother’s house. We had all had chocolate milk, and Teddy Graham’s on our trip. It was a winding road, and none of it sat well on my brother’s stomach…
“GET THE BAG! GET THE BAG!” the dad cries from his seat.
“MY HANDS ARE FULL! MY HANDS ARE FULL!” Cynthia cries as she clutches the baby. Grandma’s still passed out in the seat next to her. Ain’t nothing about to wake that woman from her slumber.
I scramble for a barf bag along with everyone else in my row… But it’s too late.
It’s a sound heard round the cabin, but no one turns their heads. We all know, and all hold our breaths. I side eye to my neighbor. He has a look of fear in his eyes that says, “If I smell it. Dear God, if I smell it!!”
The kid’s crying. The newborn’s crying as it’s being passed over to the dad. Gram’s is literally snoring.
Cynthia pleads with her son, “Don’t take off your shirt!”
“I just want it off me!” he wails.
“We have to be patient. We’re landing, any minute. Then mommy can get you new clothes from our bag.” It’s like Cynthia is reassuring herself as much as her child.
“I don’t like this at all!” he wails louder, with more feeling. I admire his clarity of emotions. I hope he continues it into adulthood. We need more declarations like this in life!
We bump to a landing. The second she can, Cynthia grabs her bag and attends to her little puke boy. And I, oh dear reader, I’ve never made it off a plane that quickly in my life. If I had had a carry-on, I would have left it. I guess you could say, I hurled myself off that plane….. I’m going to hell, aren’t I?
Flight Two: From Tulsa
It’s 9:20am, and I’ve been up since 5. I reward myself this time with a Quick & Easy book of crossword puzzles. I’m so into it I almost miss my time to board.
Second verse, same as the first, I have only one goal - window seat. I get on the plane and it’s packed with Sooner’s headed to the Rose Bowl. The second to last row is where I find my bit of Earth. I rejoice, and pop 2 Benadryl (I’m so hardcore).
As I lower my eye mask, I notice a lady with a small dog and what I can only assume is her teenage son. They file into the row behind me. As I dose off, I hear one of the passengers ask her, “Ohhh she’s so cute. How old is she?”
The lady chuckles, kindly, “Very, very old. She’s been with me through it all.”
“Oh my God! Oh my God!” I am pulled from my dream state. I’m still drowsy, but pretty sure those cries are coming from the woman with the dog. Her cries sound stifled, like she’s trying to keep her voice down. I assume it’s because she’s on the phone, and that someone she knows has died.
I look to my neighbor who has the same curious/concerned expression. “Is she on the phone?” I ask her. She peeks through the seat, and comes back with a grim expression.
And then… I hear it... a pained, gasping bark.
“It’s the dog,” my neighbor confirms.
An airline attendant has approached the woman, “Is everything okay?”
“It’s just my dog. She’s old. She can’t catch her breath,” the woman cries. She slowly calms as she explains to the steward, and, in a way, herself, the situation. “She’s been sick for a while. It’s just her time. I just didn’t want it to happen here.” Yes. You read that right. This dog is seconds away from dying, and we have at least 40 minutes until we land.
The steward thinks fast. “I’ll make an announcement. Maybe there’s a veterinarian on board.” We all wait on baited breath after the announcement, but to our surprise, no Sooner’s fans are vets. Okay, that’s not fair… I’m sure there’s a few Sooner’s fans that are veterinarian’s, but they must've had earlier flights. Or flew Delta.
It gets worse. The steward asks, “Is Phoenix your final destination?” (I had a layover in Phoenix before Burbank.)
“No,” she replies, “We have another hour flight before we’re home.”
The saint of an attendant goes into action making calls to the gate, letting them know there will be a situation with a dog when they land. Someone will be there to, in the very least, comfort this poor poor woman, and probably deal with an animal corpse.
None of us, the other passengers, know what to do. I’m wracking my brain. Do I know how to give CPR to a dog? Should I mouth-to-mouth a dog? The woman just keeps crying into the dog, whispering to it, “I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry,” and then looking back up at the steward, “I just want her to go in peace.”
And then I have an idea… my Benadryl.
That’s right. I googled this. I’m probably on a serial killer watch list somewhere, but hopefully this explanation exonerates me, and I can go back to plotting murders of people who deserve it in peace… kidding… sort of... BUT! before I could even get my search loaded, the dog was gone.
I have never seen a human die, thank God, but I have seen a dog die before. Our family dachshund Minnie lived to the ripe old age of 16. We put her down in the vets office, wrapped in her favorite blanket. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, I don’t like dogs. They’re needy, and lick stuff, and jump, and are needy, and you have to walk them, and they’re insecure and needy. Most dogs are smothering creatures, and give me anxiety. The biggest reason, though, is because if I were to ever like a dog, I would more than likely outlive that dog. They fucking die, and it’s soul crushing. They are little balls of fluff and unconditional love, and then they leave you. This poor poor woman has just lost what sounds like her closest friend.
The closer passengers and the airline attendants comfort the woman. We land about 30 minutes later. The woman is still holding her dog. “I just… I don’t know what to do with her now. I don’t want to freak anyone out.” Again, they had another hour flight and however long of a wait before that flight even took off.
A neighbor offered a thought, “Will she fit in your carry on?”
Yes, the woman put her dead dog in her carry on. I mean, what else could she do? Southwest was as accommodating as possible, but it’s not like they have pet caskets ready to go in case of this tragedy. When she zipped up her bag, she cradled it like it were made of thin glass, and the saintly steward escorted her to her next destination.
And that, dear reader, concludes my final tale…. Or tail…. I’m definitely going to hell.