15 May 2015

It's a bird! It's a plane! It's All of the Above!

When I was a kid in Brooklyn, there was a movie theatre on St. John’s place, just off Utica Avenue. The "Congress" was so decrepit we called it “The Itch,” but we went anyway. Hey, ya had to keep up with the serials, it was a short walk from our house on Carroll Street, and on Wednesday afternoons they gave away crockery.  We had a whole set in our house.

The NY-NJ Port Authority's LaGuardia airport is the airline terminal equivalent of “The Itch.” Like its namesake theatre, it is conveniently close by, though instead of cups and saucers it dispenses agita.

Last week Jesse and I used LGA to fly to another paradise spot, Detroit, on our way to Ann Arbor for  Jillian’s graduation ceremony. We departed from the armpit, err, airport on time, 2 PM.  We are scheduled to land in Detroit at 3:35.

As we climb to cruise altitude, Jess, sitting at the window, says to me “Hey, dad,  just saw a bird go by my window.” I shrug. A split second later, a slight thump. We look:

Looked to us like a small dimple and some bird goo. No problemo, right?

Wrong. The Captain gets on the intercom and in the casual faux Texas twang required of all airline pilots who grew up in Brooklyn, says, "Well, folks, we, uh, kinda hit a bird back there, and, uh, so we'll go back to LaGuardia and check it out. So just sit back and relax.  And, uh,... please keep your seatbelts on."

Few minutes later, another twang: ''Uh, folks, we're a little heavy, so we'll, uh, just fly around for a bit and burn some fuel before we land.  And, uh,... please keep those seatbelts on."

"Fly around for a bit" is airlinespeak for " Fly around for an hour."

Ultimately, we make a "non-Sullenberger" landing, i.e., when we do land, we land on land.

We get back on the tarmac at 3:25 PM.  As we  taxi to the gate, a gentleman from India who sits across the aisle from me, and who has maybe three words of English, leans across to me, holds out his boarding pass, points to the initials "DTW", and asks "Here?"  I shake my head from side to side, point to the initials "LGA" and say, "No, here!"  I wonder: do they watch The Twilight Zone re-runs in India?  Because that's where this gentleman was at that moment.

So our planeload of survivors floods the boarding gate, mingling with a plane's worth of would-be passengers who have not yet encountered their birds.  We are told to stay close, a decision on airworthiness will be handed down "soon."  "Soon",  of course, is more airlinespeak.

Half an hour later, I wander over to an adjacent gate, from which vantage point I can see our aircraft:

I am encouraged. I am confident the experts in this picture will look at the tiny dimple in the wing, and we'll be back on board and in the air in a trice.  While I was at the window, I spy our pilot and ask him if he thinks the guys gathered about the wing will likely agree the plane is airworthy. He laughs. "Those guys? They are from the Fish and Wildlife Service, and they need to do their swabs and analysis to find out what kind of bird it was. Only after they are finished will the maintenance guys even get to look at the plane and make a decision."

You cannot see them in this photo, but there is no question that the spirit-ghosts of Messrs. Christie and deBlasio are hovering over this scene.

As promised, AA soon thereafter wheeled out a replacement airplane.  Uh, another translation note: "Soon" in airlinespeak is 3.5 hours en anglais. 

Oh, yeah,  the Michigan graduation ceremony went off without a hitch.  As did the return flight.

Our bird strike out of LaGuardia was hardly a one-in-a-million occurrence. This was the second bird-strike emergency American Airlines had incurred out of LGA in less than a month! The previous one was an "engine ingestion", and that plane land was required to land at JFK. All these encounters have one thing in common: the suicide bird always loses. Whether the deceased then goes on to a place where it is entitled to nest with 40 virgin pigeons, I dunno.

The NY Post loves this stuff. Too bad they had to use a file photo because I didn't send 'em my pix:

Stay tuned. Who knows what excitement tomorrow will bring? One thing you can count on: all future LGA episodes will continue to be brought to by the management team that controls traffic on the George Washington Bridge.

A bientot.

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