Wide Awake: What a Trip
The twists and turns of a plane ride home

We blamed it all on my oldest daughter, Klein. We were at the airport last month, about to return home after a short vacation, when she said these words: “Great, we’re through security. Nothing bad can happen now.”

Immediately, the other four of us yelled at her: “Don’t say that!” “Did you really just say that out loud?” “Do you know what’s going to happen now?” I think Maura kicked her.

Of course you know what happened next: we sat on the runway for two hours and 45 minutes. The captain would give us updates over the intercom. Every time he spoke, he told us the problem should be fixed in 20-30 minutes. Every time, for almost three hours.

There was a family of four across the aisle from us, but one row back, and they didn’t speak English, only French. They kept trying to ask a stewardess a question, I think about a connecting flight in Philly. But the stewardess couldn’t answer because of the language barrier (which she made no attempt to solve – remember that, it will be key for later).

We take off, and – I’m not making this up – Klein says, “There, we’re ok. Nothing bad can happen now.” We spent the last almost-three hours complaining that she caused this delay, so you’d think she would never utter such optimism again. My shoulders dropped. I knew Klein had done it again, and I was right.

In the air, the French man across the aisle had an altercation with the stewardess. (Later, the FBI would call it an “assault.”) I saw everything: she was pushing the drink cart down the aisle when he began asking his questions again. The stewardess didn’t say, “I’m sorry, I don’t speak French,” and she didn’t ask if anyone nearby could translate. She just kept saying, “I can’t help you. I don’t understand what you’re saying.” So after a few minutes of the two of them going back and forth, she continued pushing the cart down the aisle. The French man grabbed her wrist to stop her.

That was not a good idea.

She started screaming and immediately grasped his wrist with her free hand to try to release her arm. She yelled (with quite a dramatic tone), “When we land in Philadelphia you are going to be arrested!” She headed to the front of the plane, and we never saw her again.

Keep in mind, the man didn’t speak English, so he didn’t understand her threat.

We could see a buzz going on in the plane’s kitchen. We knew what was happening, but the French guy across the aisle didn’t have a clue.

When we landed, our friend the captain makes this announcement twice: “Ladies and gentlemen, there is a safety issue on the plane. Even when the door is opened, do not get out of your seats.”

The doors open and four Philadelphia police officers board the plane. They come to the man’s seat and motion for him to get up. His wife and two sons stand up and start yelling in French. The stewardess pokes her head out of the kitchen, points to the man and says (with an even more dramatic tone), “Yes, that’s the man!”

He is escorted off the plane. An FBI agent boards and asks anyone who saw the “assault” to stay seated while all the other passengers leave the plane. That took a good 15 minutes, and then another 20 for the questioning.

Our trip home, which should have taken three hours, took seven. But it certainly was an adventure. I learned two things: never, ever touch a stewardess, which my husband Joe says everyone already knows. And if you’re feeling like everything is going well – keep it to yourself.

February 2014
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