When United Airlines Pilots Don’t Show Up Wicked Rumors Fly
ADAM MICHAEL LUEBKE
Where was the pilot? Nobody seemed to know. Surely not the United Airlines staff. Their customer service seemed to be covering for him. They gave typical airline answers. Vague. Incomplete. Contradictory.
Customer service agents stood three in a line behind their desk. They acted like brick walls with smiley faces painted on them. You could scream, shout, insult, or smile back. It didn’t matter. They were unbreakable. And they didn’t give a shit if you were upset the pilot hadn’t shown up to fly the plane.
One short, smiley agent asked a curly-haired young passenger what we’d been told on the plane. “I just got in,” she said, “my shift’s just starting, and nobody told me anything. So I want to get my story straight. What did they tell you on the plane?”
“They said the first officer didn’t show up,” he said, “and that he was on his way.”
The red-haired agent mumbled something I couldn’t hear from where I sat. “Whatever they told you,” she said, “I’ll just stick with that. Nobody told me anything.”
On December 3oth, United Airlines flight 815, from Denver’s New World Order airport to Los Angeles International, had been ready to depart. It was 10pm and the passengers had boarded. The only problem was that the first officer hadn’t shown up. A squirrely customer service officer boarded the plane and said our pilot would be running late. We’d be off the ground by 10.30. So just hang tight, folks.
Nobody stirred. Nobody seemed miffed. We were snug in that giant tin cigar. Many earholes were plugged with earbuds blasting music. A couple people read books. Some folks slept. I sat straight and stiff, imagining I was the revered late Sheikh Al Alawi. Strapped in comfortably to my seat like the great Sufi saint sat on his mattress. I even mimicked his dazed look. Not a care in the world. (“Ta-walk-uhl-law-a-law!” my spiritualist would say. It means “Trust in God” in Arabic.)
At 10.38 the customer service representative came on board again and said the first officer was running later than he’d thought. And actually he wouldn’t get to the airport until 11.30 to midnight.
That’s when the scoffing began. Nobody was OK departing two hours later than planned. Especially so late at night. What could the First Officer be doing that he forgot he was to fly out that day? And was he really on his way? Or was this just something to coax us off the plane and keep us subdued for two more hours while the airline scrambled to figure out something.
If it’s just the first officer, I said to the girl beside me, then who cares? Maybe we can take a chance and let the captain take us all the way.
The girl was very short. I thought she was a kid until I saw just past the hood of her sweatshirt the untended hairs above her lip and the light wrinkles on her face. She listened to music. A white cord was plugged into her iPhone.
Hell, I told her in a louder voice, if the Japanese company TEPCO can trust the safety of the world by paying homeless men a couple bucks an hour to clean up Fukishima, then we could strap just about anybody into that second cockpit seat and let it ride.
Still no response from my fellow passenger. It is growing increasingly difficult to trade ideas with modern day technology zombies. Always plugged into some sort of vapid entertainment experience.
Listen, I said, if a handful of Saudi Arabian hijackers who couldn’t fly single engine airplanes worth a shit could pull unimaginable feats in the air with jumbo jets filled with passengers and aim them at the World Trade Center towers, and also make one disappear into the side of the Pentagon, then just about anybody could assist the captain in lining this big buzzard straight to Los Angeles.
Was my fellow passenger sleeping? Were my words crouching in between the lyrics of the music she listened to? Was I affecting her dreams?
I mean, if George W Bush could learn to fly an airplane in the Air Force between toots of blow and raucous no-pants parties at the Skull & Crossbones club, then I think you or I could assist the captain in rocketing this jet through one thousand miles of warm air.
Only when the other passengers in the rows ahead of us stood did my fellow passenger stir. She pulled back her hood, yanked out her earbuds, and yawned. She hadn’t heard a word I’d said. But then again, I’d planted subconscious seeds. They could sprout at any time. They’d need a little water and sunshine. It was hard telling if she got much of either.
We de-planed with moans and grumbles. The great sheikh had departed from my mind, and I too was grumpy. No longer could I pretend I was one with life and life’s disruptions. I was frustrated. But not as frustrated as the guy behind me. An oaf of a passenger with gnarly neck and facial hair and bewildered eyes.
“What the fuck kind of show is this?” he shouted at the United Airlines servant who manned the gate’s doors. The servant only nodded, as if to say, What the fuck, indeed.
How could a pilot forget he was scheduled to fly? I sat next to a row of wary passengers. We fingered the tags on our luggage. Then, conversation began.
The first round of rumors were of mild content. PG, perhaps. The pilot had been on a romantic weekend with his fiance, and everybody knows how time slips by in those situations. Drinking champagne and feeding each other tiny nibbles of cheese, while tucked away in a cabin in the mountains. Pilots are human too, I think one of the passengers said.
But then it got worse. “You ever seen that Denzel Washington movie, Flight?” a pudgy, wearied woman asked. She held a polka-dotted pillow to her breasts. “I sure hope this pilot isn’t one of those.” In the movie, Washington is a hotshot pilot, but he’s a drunk and a heavy drug user. He’s nailing one of the flight attendants in his off time while they indulge in liquor and narcotics.
“But all the flight attendants were present,” a man said. His face was shaped like a wolf’s face, but stripped of hair. Pale and sharp.
“It may not be an attendant on our flight,” the pudgy woman snapped back. She didn’t finish her sentence with, You moron, but her tone implied it.
“Then so what?” the man asked.
“We don’t want a pilot who’s got half his blood in his genitals and not his brain to jump behind the wheel of our plane, that’s what,” another passenger said.
“Shit, I’m sure some of these United Airline boys fly that way all the time,” the angry man with the neck beard said. “Half in the bag, all horned up. I went to college with pilots.” He ground his fist into his thigh. “Biggest party animals I know.”
The entire row of passengers slumped in the handicapped section of the gate mumbled over the possibilities of a drunk pilot, sprawled on his bed, getting the phone call that he was supposed to be at the airport. Like a champion, he tooted a snort of marching powder, burrowed into his BMW, and aimed it at the airport
Soon, he’d be co-piloting our metal bird into the air and aiming it at LAX. Bleary-eyed and upset. All the gauges and dials blurry before him. Thinking about breasts and butts and thighs and lips.
Meanwhile, a well-meaning bald man wearing orange-framed glasses kept asking one question the red-haired lady didn’t know how to address.
“How do we know he’s fit to fly?” he asked. “What kind of a doozy of a pilot forgets he’s scheduled to fly?”
This bald man, I never did catch his name, was actually parroting my own frustrated questions. He asked them politely, but at intervals of every other second he bit his lower lip. I watched the United Airlines customer service employee glance from his eyes to his lip, back and forth.
What could that gesture mean? His voice was soft, his demeanor kind, but that lip bite betrayed an undercurrent of aggression. Was it sexually charged? Hadn’t Kim Kardashian bitten her lip in a similar way while being pounded from behind by a useless slug of a human being named Ray J?
The bald man had snatched between his teeth his lower lip while we were engaged in friendly conversation. I said, What kind of pilot doesn’t remember he’s supposed to fly? Now he’s racing into town, rushed and out of sorts, and he’s going to sit in the cockpit and steer that bird straight into Los Angeles?
That’s what had prompted my new bald acquaintance to politely ask the United Airlines servant for more detailed information.
“What are we supposed to do?” he asked. Finally his voice was getting loud. “We paid for tickets. How can we trust the crew now? Shouldn’t we have a better experience than this?”
The agent offered a smile of reassurance and shook her head. She didn’t know.
“What are we supposed to do?” he asked again. “Just…I don’t know…trust in God?” He bit his lower lip.
Ta-walk-uh-law-a-law! I said.
[credit to L.Chang for above photo]