A lot of you have asked to hear about my experience on flight 2332 yesterday, which was all over the news. For those of you who did not hear about this flight, you can read the story and watch CNN’s coverage of it here. My editors at Her.meneutics have also asked me to write some reflections, which you can look for Monday.
In the mean time, I thought I would share a little bit about what happened and some brief thoughts on where I am with it right now.
Although the cause of the flight delay and all the events that transpired were the result of one flight attendant, this fact was not clear to us for quite some time. Shortly after the plane left the gate we were informed that there was a mechanical problem and we would not be able to depart, so we thought we would return to the gate. Strangely, the plane kept taxiing to the runway, which was our first red flag.
The flight attendant then asked for the pilot’s response, but we heard nothing. She kept informing him that we were waiting for a reply, but there was only silence as the plane made its way to the runway. That is when we became even more alarmed. We were afraid the pilot had gone rogue and, since the cockpit was locked, there was nothing we could do about it.
Soon the other flight attendants intervened. They clarified that there was no mechanical problem and we would still be taking off, and that’s when it got confusing. We kept hearing, “Prepare for takeoff and cross-check” followed by “We will not be taking off, we will return to the gate” or “We cannot go any further until everyone is in their seat and the overhead bins are closed” (no one was standing and the bins had been closed for quite some time). This back and forth went on long enough to escalate our concern, but then our fears skyrocketed when the flight attendant pronounced, “It won’t be my responsibility when this plane crashes.”
She mentioned the word “crash” more than once, and you can imagine how that affected the atmosphere on the plane. She also talked about American Airlines going bankrupt and even spoke Spanish at one point. It was extremely confusing.
Plus, the pilot STILL had not responded to any of this and was still headed toward the runway. Passengers were asking to get off off the plane and the pilot didn’t seem to care, so I finally called 911.
The 911 operator said I wasn’t the first to call, that they were sending people to us, and to stay on the line to tell her what was happening. I gave her a play-by-play and asked if we should take the emergency exits but she said no. She told me that as long as we were on the ground that we were ok.
Eventually the plane turned around and headed back to the terminal, at which point the operator said they had heard from the pilot, he was aware of an altercation with one of the flight attendants, and was taking us back to the gate. Apparently, the pilot couldn’t hear the PA system so he hadn’t been responding because he simply didn’t know what was going on.
At one point, some of the passengers pinned down the flight attendant after she engaged in a struggle with one of the other flight attendants. When we arrived at the gate the police were waiting. We could hear her blood-curdling screams as she was removed from the plane.
After the FBI and TSA had assessed the situation, we were given a new crew (who was GREAT) and about an hour later we took off for Chicago. I have to say that it took a lot of trust to stay on that plane because it was the last place I wanted to be, but they took great care of us and we landed safe and sound.
Over time we learned that the flight attendant may be bipolar and was having a severe manic episode. This makes a lot of sense and puts the whole thing in perspective.
This information about the flight attendant has also helped us to direct our prayers as we process the experience. We have decided to focus on praying for her healing because a) she definitely needs it, and b) I think that is the best way to soften our hearts and feel less victimized by her. Plus, I don’t think she was intentionally trying to hurt us anyway.
So that’s what I would ask you, to join us in praying for her. Few of us have our worst moments broadcast on the national news, nor do our worst moments occur in such a public and high stakes environment, so she needs a lot of grace, as we all do.
Also, thank you to those of you who prayed for us while we were on the plane, and continue to pray for us as we work through our residing fear. We feel it.