Pilots, Prank Wars and American Idol (Part 2): The Exit Row
The Exit Row
After three days on the job I was loving my new job as a flight attendant. My mischievous pilots had finally stopped pranking me and we were just having a great time getting to know each other. With each flight I was becoming more comfortable and confident in my job and could finally enjoy getting to meet new people and exploring new cities.
One of the duties as a flight attendant is to make sure that the people who are seated in the exit row are ready and willing to help in the case of an emergency. I'm sure if you've ever been in or around the exit row, you'll hear the flight attendant say, "Do you realize you are sitting in an exit row? In the event of an emergency, are you willing and able to assist me?" and then they'll wait for each person to verbally respond. The reason for this is two-fold, they want to be sure that passengers understand the responsibility AND they want to be sure that they speak English. Random little factoid for you.
What most people don't know, is that right below the exit row is the landing gear.... Which brings me to one of my most memorable flying days.
It was the last day of my very first four-day trip and it had been a great way to kick off my career as a flight attendant. We were on our way back to Newark, our home base, and everything was on time and running smoothly. About twenty to thirty minutes before landing in Newark, I started to prepare the cabin for arrival. A familiar, "Ping, Pong" rang through the cabin. The pilots were trying to contact me. I made my way to the PA system to see what they needed. It was pretty rare that they would call at this time because as we approach 10,000 feet or below, the cockpit is usually, "sterile". This means that there is no communication with the pilots so that they can concentrate. We were getting close to that 10,000 foot threshold so I was definitely curious.
"Hi, gentlemen, you rannng?", I joked.
"Meline, I need you to listen to me very carefully, this is important," said the captain in a very serious, no-nonsense voice.
The hairs on the back of my neck started to stand up. Something wasn't quite right here. I responded by saying, "Ok" and the captain began to give me instructions.
"Our landing gear is stuck," he said.
I almost passed out. Surely he couldn't be serious. If our landing gear is stuck and we can't fix it in flight, it would mean a belly-up landing. This is a rare, but definitely doable landing that uses the aircraft's fuselage to coast along the runway. I learned about this in flight training and while it can be done, it's extremely dangerous. Needless to say, I was all ears and anxiously awaiting his next words.
The captain went on to say, "There's something you can do to help. It looks like the gear is caught on something. We need you to go to row 12, the exit row, and jump up and down as hard as you can."
Now... granted, the regional, Embraer 145 Jet that we were flying on was small, but I didn't know that my jumping up and down could have that kind of affect on the airplane. I stood there, silent, and looked down the aisle at all of the passengers. How was I supposed to explain jumping up and down? I stood there, contemplating what to do next, but time was running out and if the captain says to do something, then that's what I would do.
"Ok, I'm on my way, how many jumps? Or do I just keep jumping until something happens?" I asked the captain.
He explained that five jumps should do it, then come back to the front and call them to see if we made any progress. I acknowledged, hung up the phone and started toward the exit row.
As I approached row 12, I started thinking about what I should say. Since I could not, or would not, tell them about a possible emergency landing, I just decided to stay silent. I faced forward, so that I didn't have to make eye contact with the passengers. Then, with all of my might, I began to jump.
One. I jumped down with all of my might. Two. People were starting to turn around to see what was happening. Three. I was starting to feel completely ridiculous. Four. I could hear the murmurs of confused passengers and was waiting for the inevitable, "What the heck are you doing". Five. Whew, I was done for now and made my way to the cockpit.
As I approached the front of the plane, above the humming of the jet engines, above the talking passengers, I heard the unmistakable sound of hysterical laughter. It was coming from the cockpit. Damn. They got me good.
"So, I'm guessing the landing gear was never stuck," I said in an unamused voice.
The pilots tried to answer but couldn't generate a single word because they were laughing too hard. I think I heard a, "I'm sorry but that was SO worth it," from one of them but otherwise it was just laughter. I promptly hung up.
As I prepared the cabin for landing and took my seat, I looked at fifty confused and amused faces. I realized that the frequent flyers, and business travelers probably knew exactly what had just happened.
Once we landed in Newark, those experienced flyers had nothing but sympathetic and kind words for me. All I heard was, "You'll find a way to get them back," and "You are truly a great sport".
I have a pretty good sense of humor so I was later able to laugh at myself over this. The pilots definitely thought it was funny but I swore them to secrecy. My first trip was finally over!
What did I learn? Sometimes it is ok to be silly and laugh at yourself. And don't ever, EVER, assume that you can "unstick" landing gear by jumping up and down in the exit row.