Rule Number One: Keep Your Seatbelt On!

I was reading this morning about a United Airlines flight that encountered sudden and severe turbulence. It was somewhere over Wyoming, I think.

A couple of crew members and two or three passengers were hurt got bounced off the ceiling.

I’ve probably made the trans-Pacific flight from Hawaii to the U.S. mainland 200 times over the years and, except for quick trips to the lavatory, I never, ever take that seat belt off.

I did have a nervous moment a number of years ago. I had been on Guam for business and was heading back home to Honolulu. It was a late night departure on one of those great old PanAm 747s and I was in a window seat just forward of the wing. We hadn’t been airborne for more than a minute or two when there was a loud bang and a bright flash right outside my window.

The plane continued climbing with no apparent problems, but after another few minutes, it slowed and we leveled off. A few seconds later the captain came on the PA and – I promise you – he had the undivided attention of everyone on board. He said we had “lost” our Number Two engine and had leveled off at 14,000 feet, but would be returning to Guam.

“We’re going to be circling for the next 30 to 40 minutes while we dump fuel,” he said. With fuel on board for the 10-hour flight to Honolulu, we were, of course, too heavy to land.

So we dumped something like $35,000 worth of jet fuel – the captain assured us that it would evaporate long before it could reach the ocean – and landed without incident. Pan Am put us up in a hotel and booked me on another one of their flights two days later.

At the time, passengers flying in and out of the Guam airport boarded the planes from the tarmac and I clearly remember a long walk out to the plane and climbing up one of those portable stairways. As we were walking to our plane, another 747, I noticed one of the male passengers had stopped and was staring at that giant aircraft. Then I saw it, too: the usual two engines under the right wing, but there were three engines suspended from the left wing. It was startling at first, but the explanation was simple: Guam didn’t have the facilities to repair the blown engine from my earlier flight, so the airline had to transport it to Honolulu. That’s the only way they can carry those huge things.

By the way, have you ever boarded a Boeing 747 from the tarmac? Until you do, it’s impossible to fully appreciate how HUGE it really is. And, as you climb up those steps, one thought goes through your mind: There is no way this sucker is going to get off the ground!