FLYING IS DEFINITELY
FOR THE BIRDS
My wife, who for some strange reason likes to fly, suggested
last weekend we go see the movie "Sully," which is the story of
US Air Flight 1549's plunge into the Hudson River in January of 2009.
I don't like to fly. I'm fairly certain that every time
I step onto a plane, I'm going to die. I'm convinced that's the reason I'm
the only person in the world who likes airline food. Since it's probably
my last meal, I might as well enjoy it.
"Please don't make me go," I begged.
"I'll have nightmares for weeks."
"You'll like it," she said as she dragged me
to the car. "Everyone survives. It should be comforting."
"It was brought down by birds," I answered,
looking skyward for those evil winged predators. "I don't need to be
reminded that my life could be snuffed out by a duck."
I admit I did like the idea that the plane glided for quite
some time before splashing into the Hudson. And the fact that a plane
could successfully land in water was a plus. Hope is a beautiful thing.
So I bought my popcorn and soda and settled into my
seat for some entertainment and therapy. After 17 previews of coming
attractions, "Sully" began.
The first scene, sure enough, is of the huge Airbus 320,
engines trailing smoke, gliding over New York City. Yes, I thought, planes
do stay in the air without power. But instead of settling into the Hudson,
it smashes into a building in Manhattan, sending a fireball into the air
and killing everyone onboard.
It was Tom Hanks, who plays Captain Chesley
Sullenburger, having a nightmare, soon to be followed by one of my own. I
looked at my wife, my eyes wide with fear and regret. All she could do was
I have hated flying ever since my first flight at the
tender age of four, when my grandmother bounced me on her knee as the
plane taxied down the runway at SFO for a holiday trip to Disneyland. She
got through the second verse of "Jingle Bells" before I threw
It never got any better. I fly for business, I fly for
vacation. I'll go anywhere, anytime. And I'm expecting to die every time.
The problem is that I see headlines. The airline, the
location, the number of DEAD. In big, bold type, spread across the front
pages of every newspaper in the country, usually accompanied by a picture
of what is left of the so-called magnificent flying machine---a twisted,
charred piece of metal. On the ground, where it belongs.
I know all the statistics. I know how flying is the
safest mode of transportation. I know it's completely irrational to feel
safer in a car, where knuckleheads and drunks are coming at you at 70
miles per hour, sometimes only separated by a white line.
It's my father's fault. I can remember it like it was
yesterday. I was 7 years old and we were driving past SFO on 101. He
pointed to a huge Boeing 707 sitting on the tarmac and innocently asked,
"Ever wonder how those big planes stay up in the air?"
55 years later, and I'm still wondering. So it was comforting
to watch "Sully" and note how far the plane glided before
settling into the Hudson, saving the lives of all 155 passengers. There is
something to this "lift" concept after all. It reinforced my
mantra which I say to myself during every takeoff: "It's an airplane
with wings, not a rocket ship."
Unfortunately, I walked out of the theater thinking
more about other things. Like how a bunch of suicidal birds could take
down a huge airliner. That just doesn't seem right.
I'm supposed to feel safe in a metal tube that can't
even withstand an attack from a duck? I don't think so. And yes, I know it
was a flock of Canadian geese, not a duck, that brought down Flight 1549,
but a bird is a bird. No racial or nation profiling here.
In the end, "Sully" was pretty much a
disaster, at least for me. All I could think about was the calendar and my
flight to San Diego coming up in a few weeks. And I wasn't happy.
Yep. Migration season. I'm a goner.