Keep Calm and Carry On

Having boarded our flight from Dubrovnik to London for a connecting flight to Boston, I took my seat between my husband and Aaron, a young British father holding Avery, his twenty-month old daughter. Aaron was seated in the aisle seat across from his wife, who was holding Elizabeth, their other twenty-month old daughter.  Soon after take-off Avery and I began an all-consuming game of “throw the pretzel in the cup”.

After flying for about forty-five minutes, Aaron asked me if I’d heard ”that sound”?

I hadn’t.

He followed up with “Did you see that flame?”

Thankfully, I’d missed that too. 

I told him he seemed awfully calm considering what he was saying and the fact that he was mid-flight with his young family.  He told me that as his father was head of engineering for another large airline, over the years, he’d learned a bit about planes, and their ability to fly on only one engine.  He then said “There’s no way we’re flying to London, though. We’re going to be diverted.” 

About a minute later, the pilot came onto the loudspeaker, telling all passengers and flight attendants to take their seats as we were having some technical difficulties and would be descending quickly to make an urgent landing in Venice.  

Aaron epitomized the old British ethos to “Keep Calm and Carry On”. 

If you have to be diverted, Venice sounds like a lovely place to go. Visions of Gondolas soon appeared in my mind.  Passengers erupted in applause when we landed safely on the tarmac.  Then, as fire engines and firefighters surrounded the plane, the pilot announced that they’d be checking the plane to see if it would be safe for us to continue on our journey. Aaron chuckled:  “It won’t be. This is going to be a long afternoon.”  About twenty minutes later, we were told to disembark. and that we would soon be given further instructions. 

Politics and Pragmatism Meet Head On

As England is no longer part of the EU, we soon learned that Italian authorities had decided that British Air would not be allowed to let us back onto the plane if we were to leave the airport. And more specifically, we would not be allowed to leave Gate 62 other than to get food with our vouchers from the one open restaurant. It was a little after 1pm at that time. Little did we know then that it would be 4:30am before a plane would arrive to continue us on our original flight path. 

Jill Bolte Taylor’s Whole Brain Living In Action

Having landed safely, we initially all occupied a space of enormous gratitude, and made the best of the food and drink available to us (we were, after all, in Venice… so at least prosciutto and Prosecco were readily available!). However, over the course of the next many hours, emotions and attitudes changed. It became an experiment in tolerance and coping mechanisms.  Depending upon ages, obligations, commitments and conditions, a huge spectrum of human emotion was displayed. Some people took to yelling (which made me think about Jill Taylor’s Character 2 fear-based response), others, like my husband, took to rebooking and strategizing next steps (think Character 1 and the “fix it” mentality), others, like me, took to finding Prosecco (it seemed like we should at least enjoy ourselves, Character 3 in high relief), and many, many of us took to sleeping amidst strangers on the floor of the airport, nary a worry about our safety, focused instead on a solitary sense of being with and needing one another, all having the same common goal. 

Many wonderful things happened that night.  Someone called the British Embassy who called the Italian Embassy who arranged for a delivery of diapers and baby food for the children in need. Soon blankets and water bottles arrived, and people shared their inside tracks on re-booking techniques.  Although people were clearly looking after their own interests, they also looked after the group as a whole (Character 4 in full bloom). 

The person who seemed to suffer most in the experience was the young Italian girl tasked with announcing logistical next steps. She was continually given information only later to discover that the information was incorrect and needed to be updated. People wanted speedy answers and she didn’t have them. The more she tried to explain in her rudimentary English, the more people found her explanations inadequate. Her fear was palpable as some passengers confronted her aggressively, and others took out their phones to record her when she spoke. She was moved to tears, and beseeched passengers to try and understand that she was just trying to do her job the best she was able.  A voice of reason quieted an aggressor who soon backpedaled, perhaps through sheer embarrassment over his own behavior.  I felt for this young woman and told her so. Her strong desire to fix the situation interfered with her ability to be compassionate about the passengers’ experience. She also needed compassion, as she was put into an impossible situation. Others rallied around her as well and once she felt supported, she softened a bit and adjusted her tone. She even smiled. 

By the time the plane arrived to take us to England, flight vouchers and free food offers were met with disdain. People simply wanted to get home. 

My Silver Lining

Our flight debacle resulted in our having a twelve-hour layover in England, which meant I could visit with my sister again, having only had three days with her at the beginning of our journey. Having a sister who lives in England means I don’t usually get time with her twice during the same month. We embraced that opportunity. Sleep could wait.  Home could wait.  I was grateful.

Keep Calm and Carry On

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