It's very loud, and highly -- but highly -- alarming. I have said many times that my last nerve has been frayed to the breaking point by a decade of parenthood coupled with flying in Alaska. And I am regularly convinced that the last 20 minutes of every flight in Alaska are my last 20 minutes on Earth. Well, Sunday night was no different, as Alaska aviation's usual near-death experience was taken to the next level.
About 12 minutes into the flight from Seattle to Juneau, an extremely loud explosion-esque bang followed by a flash of green light outside my exit-row window instantly hurtled me into post-9/11 PTSD mode, and I knew Geoff and I would never see our kids again. See? This is why we can't take nice trips!
We were seated in the same row as two close friends from Juneau, who also happened to be taking a kid-free weekend in Denver on the same flight itinerary. The other mom laughed nervously when she saw the ghost-white rictus of horror my face had become, and I mouthed to her: "Are we gonna die?"
I asked Geoff the same question, but he looked a little uncertain of the answer, which is rare for him. (The last time I squeezed his hand this hard, I'm pretty sure I was trying and failing to push a small human out of my body).
I glanced up at the cabin ceiling. Where are those oxygen masks when you need them? I am not cut out for this. When the flight attendant asked us if we were comfortable performing the duties required of an exit row passenger, I should have answered with an honest, "NO! F--- NO! No amount of extra leg room is worth this level of responsibility!"
For a few minutes after the lightning strike, I was positive the next three words I was going to hear would be "BRACE FOR IMPACT!" But when the pilot finally spoke, he did so in a calm, measured tone, informing us that the plane was hit by lightning, which "happens." So we are turning around to Seattle and getting on a new plane, since this one has two holes burned into the "nose" now. (Technically, that detail was not disclosed until later).
So there I was, head between my knees, rocking back and forth like Demi Moore in St. Elmo's Fire, praying we were going to land in one piece. But it was all good, because the woman sitting next to me knew just what to say: "I've been flying in Alaska since 1977 and this has never happened to me!" She leaned over my shoulder to peek out the window. "I think we're fishtailing a little. They never tell you the truth if something's really wrong anyway, though."
Seriously?! Thanks a lot, lady!
When we finally rolled to a stop on the Tarmac at Sea-Tac, the plane erupted into applause. As we deplaned, I searched the pilot's slate-gray eyes for signs of trauma, but he was poker-faced.
Our friends guest-passed us into the Alaska Airlines Board Room while we waited for word from the airline, which first came in the form of a text message. We were all being gifted a $75 discount for the "incident" and "experience" we'd had.
I ate three chunks of Monterey Jack cheese and pounded a box of Junior Mints, while silently contemplating the distinct possibility that this could very well be my last supper on Earth. As I write this I'm still in transit, so the jury is out on that. And I say this all the time, but if I do live to fly another day, I'm not doing it without Ativan.
This time, I mean it.
Libby Bakalar is a Juneau freelance writer and author of the popular blog One Hot Mess, where this article first appeared. It is republished with permission.
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