It was a puddlejump from Springfield to St. Louis. On a plane so small the cockpit door was a curtain and the passengers were distributed through the cigar tube of a cabin so as to best and most evenly distribute their cumulative weight across the aisle. If one could call the narrow catwalk between the seats an aisle. The use of the term seat was suspect, too. They were jump-style, like the folding kind you’d find in the back of an extended-cab pick-up truck. About the same size. And half as comfortable.
“I’m guessing there’s no beverage service on this flight,” said the husky fellow across the aisle from Ethan who smiled and shook his head and then took a long realizing look at the man. Husky was polite. This guy was huge. So out of proportion to his seat that it was comical.
And I’m his counterweight? Ethan thought, making a note to get back doing more things that required actual physical activity, and less of those that did not. Like curling pints of beer from the bartop to his mouth.
For as cramped as the jet was — Ethan slumped down to look out the window and confirm there was an actual jet engine attached to the wing — the flight crew acted as if they were on a 747, going through the motions of welcoming the passengers aboard and demonstrating how to fasten the seatbelt and use the cushion as a flotation device if need be. Never mind that there wasn’t much in the way of water between the birthplace of Lincoln and the Gateway to the West. And never mind that one cushion wouldn’t do much for either Ethan or his counterpart across the aisle. They’d need several.
In a few more minutes the plane was on the runway and cleared for takeoff and away it went, leaving the absolute flatness of middle Illinois behind. See ya, murmured Ethan as he watched it recede out the window.
Banking through a u-turn a few minutes later the plane leveled and, the pilot then came on the intercom to say he’d turned off the fasten seatbelt sign and that they’d reached their cruising altitude and expected clear conditions and smooth sailing for the 40-minute duration of the 90-mile flight. No sooner had he told everybody to enjoy the flight when some unexpected force acted upon the craft and in a moment it went from its cruising elevation to about a couple hundred feet less and falling. Maybe a thousand for all Ethan new. Not nose-first, belly first. As if the plane had hit a never-ending dip. For what was far too long to Ethan’s liking it kept going in that direction, leaving him up off his potential flotation device and his seatbelt pulled taut across his lap keeping him from going any further in that helpless limbo.
To say it was a relief when the plane bottomed out doesn’t come close. Ethan was flung back into his seat almost crying in relief and fighting the urge to go to the flight deck and hug everyone there for whatever it was they did to get the plane going straight and level again.
Then came the click of the intercom again. “Well… sorry about that added excitement folks,” quipped the pilot. “We’ll do our best to keep her out of any more potholes from here on out.”
You do that, Ethan thought and tried to will his heart to stop hammering in his chest. Playing it over in his mind, he didn’t think he screamed out loud. At least he hoped he hadn’t. With the flight attendant coming quick down the aisle, he looked over at beefboy, hoping for an exchange raised eyebrows and perhaps a shared “whew.” Instead Ethan saw Beefboy had a far different experience than his. Apparently having unclipped his seatbelt the moment the pilot indicated he could, nothing kept him from flying up headfirst up into the bulkhead and now he was out cold. What with the blood and his head being where his feet should be and vice versa, worse even.