Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Terror Aboard Flight 39

The following is a reproduction of the text written on a comment card and handed to a flight attendant by Joe Johnson, a passenger (and alleged terrorist) aboard Hawaiian Air Flight 39:

“I thought I was going to die, we were so high up, I thought to myself: I hope we don't crash and burn or worse yet, landing in the ocean, living through it, only to be eaten by sharks, or worse yet end up on someplace like Gilligan's Island, stranded, or worse yet, be eaten by a tribe of headhunters, speaking of headhunters, why do they just eat outsiders and not the family members? strange... and what if the plane ripped apart in mid-flight and we plumited [sic] to earth, landed on Gilligan's Island and then lived through it and the only woman there was Mrs. Thurston Howell III? No Mary anne (my favorite) no ginger, just lovey! If it were just her, I think I'd opt for the sharks, maybe the headhunters.”

Damnit, try as I might I just don’t see a threat there, neither expressed nor implied. What I see is the amateurish ramblings of a frustrated storyteller, of an inept, ineffectual short-story writer who hasn’t yet mastered the craft. What Joe needs more than censure and punishment is mentoring and tutoring (well, okay, he needs a lot less stupid and more good sense, too). But, hey, those are just my opinions.

Another of my opinions is that the pilot’s response to Joe’s note was a knee-jerk reaction that did more to endanger the plane’s safety than ol’ Joe, in a lifetime of dreaming, ever dreamed of doing. Once the military escort arrived, passengers’ safety declined exponentially. If those fighter jockeys are as trigger-happy as Portland-area cops . . .. Let’s just say I’m glad I wasn’t aboard Flight 39, or anywhere along its flight path.

Could the flight crew have handled matters differently, more rationally? Sure, they could’ve, and the flight could have continued uninterrupted and landed safely in Hawaii. As a member of the flight crew, you first have to ask yourself how much of a threat Joe actually poses to the aircraft and its passengers. He’s not displaying signs of violence or otherwise behaving in a threatening manner; short of having an explosive device, a battering ram or a key to unlock the door, there’s no way he can gain access to the flight deck. Of course, you know that Joe has none of these things on or about his person; both Joe and his luggage have been screened, scanned, x-rayed, inspected, sniffed, poked, prodded, felt up and patted down multiple times, as has every other passenger aboard. Passengers are more likely to die of a heart attack while waiting for the plane to take off than they are to become a victim of a terrorist’s bomb mid-flight.

Maybe a better way to defuse this situation would have been for the flight attendant to read Joe’s note, carefully, then return it to him with a note of her own attached:

Thank you for your submission to In-flight Entertainment Magazine.

Your story has an interesting plot and it shows much promise, but in its current form is too short to suit our needs. Please expand the story to 3500 words, avoid run-on sentences, correct spelling and capitalization errors; format double-spaced w/2-inch margins, then resubmit.

Pays $1.00 per word on acceptance.

Problem solved.

Q >>>