Every time I hear that somebody is on cloud nine, I wonder what happened to the first eight clouds. But the ninth altocumulus, not to be confused with the second alto sax, was where I found myself after the airplane on which I was a passenger had to turn back, possibly after hitting the fourth altostratus, causing so much inconvenience that I got a free beer out of the deal.
My anxious airplane adventure began en route to Washington, D.C., where I was winging it to visit my older daughter, her husband and their three children.
About 10 minutes into the 10 a.m. flight from New York’s LaGuardia Airport, where it takes longer to find a parking space than it does to fly to Washington, something felt wrong. It was as if the engine was wired on caffeine and couldn’t stop humming a really bad song that plays over and over in your head.
My head, which had been empty, filled with dread as I saw Shaqwanna, one of the two flight attendants, on the phone. As soon as she hung up, I heard this announcement:
“Due to a mechanical issue, we are returning to LaGuardia. Please fasten your seatbelts.”
There was, we were informed, a problem with the bleed line.
“Sounds like the plane needs a transfusion,” I told Toni, the very nice woman sitting next to me.
“Are you a doctor?” she asked.
“No,” I replied, my heart racing, “but I could use one.”
The bleed line, we were further informed, provides air that pressurizes the cabin. It would take about 15 minutes to fix once we were back at LaGuardia. If that didn’t work, we’d have to change planes.
“To make up for this,” I asked Paige, the other flight attendant, “will you be serving beer?”
“It’s always an option,” replied Paige, who had been on the job for only two months. “I’ve had some delays,” she told me, “but this is the first time we’ve had to turn around.”
After we landed, I spoke with the pilot, a pleasant young man named Joe, who looked barely old enough to drive a car, let alone fly a plane.
“Do I qualify for infrequent flier miles?” I inquired.
“Considering we didn’t go too far, you should,” said Joe, who has been flying for six years.
“Paige told me I could get a free beer,” I said.
“She’s the boss,” Joe stated.
It turned out that the problem had no quick fix, so we had to change planes. We got off and were directed to a terminal gate where our new plane would be.
On a table, there were snacks, which served as the lunch we would not be served once we were again airborne.
I walked up to the desk and spoke with a friendly “customer experience representative” named Yvette.
“I was told by the crew that I could get a free beer,” I said.
“You deserve one,” Yvette said with a smile. Then she handed me a voucher for a complimentary cocktail.
About half an hour later, we boarded the new plane. I took my seat and, after taking off, waited for Paige to come by with the refreshment cart.
“Hello!” she chirped. “Welcome back!”
“I have a voucher for that free beer,” I said.
“Here you go,” said Paige, handing me a cold one.
Later, I handed her my drained can.
“This really hit the spot,” I said.
“I’m glad,” said Paige.
I was glad the new plane didn’t have to turn around.
After we landed in D.C., I congratulated Joe on a good flight.
“The second time’s the charm,” he noted.
“I was on cloud nine,” I said. “And I got here on a wing and a beer.”
Jerry Zezima writes a humor column for Hearst Connecticut Media Group, which includes his hometown paper, the Stamford Advocate. His column is distributed by Tribune News Service of Chicago and has run in newspapers nationwide and abroad. He is also the author of four books, Leave It to Boomer, The Empty Nest Chronicles, Grandfather Knows Best and Nini and Poppie’s Excellent Adventures, all of which are “crimes against literature.” He has won seven awards from the National Society of Newspaper Columnists for his humorous writing.