I’ll preface this with: If you plan to fly anytime soon in bad weather, this isn’t the story to read. Before Friday, the roughest/scariest flight I had taken was from Las Vegas to Los Angeles in 120mph crosswinds… that’s now the 3rd roughest/scariest flight.
After my MSP->ATL flight was delayed 2hrs, I finally board my standby ATL->JAX flight (missed the first one due to the MSP delay) at 9pm... expected to arrive home NLT 10:45p… but Mother Nature had different plans.
We were warned the ride from ATL->JAX would be bumpy…ok, no biggie… been there, done that. It was rougher than they expected… if your seatbelt wasn’t on you would EASILY have been thrown from your seat. One person defied the orders and tried to make it for the bathroom… no luck, they ended up 2 rows back across someone’s lap.
We were immediately put into a holding pattern @ 5k’ when we got near JAX… the storms were too rough. We made 3 attempts… all VERY VERY rough and all aborted. When I say rough, most people (including me) had 1 or 2 hands on the seat in front of them to fight the natural “rag-doll” effect our bodies naturally wanted to endure with the rough flight. After the 3rd, they sent us out over the Atlantic to wait for a 4th attempt. Suddenly, there was a brilliant white flash, loud boom, and the plane’s power flickered for a few seconds… including the engines. Up until that time, I had never heard a more terrifying sound: airliner jet engines sputtering at 5k’ feet up over the ocean. Everything came back to life and the pilot informed us it was a static discharge… like we do dragging our feet across the carpet in the winter… not a lightning bolt. Now, we were being vectored in for our 4th attempt. A few minutes later, we were between 5k’ and a few thousand feet up, gradually descending. Now, the second scariest moment of my life:
Suddenly, the plane was pushed down… hard & fast… we find out later we are caught in wind shear. 2 seconds into it, the pilot pointed us no less than 30-degrees up and 20-degrees to the left and floored the engines (louder than on takeoff)… but we were still going down… VERY HARD & VERY FAST. There is no scarier feeling than one moment being bumped around a bit, gradually descending for landing and the next moment at full power pointing towards the sky but falling fast with the sensation of a rollercoaster drop. People were screaming, crying, and afterwards, puking all over the place. This lasted for at least 15 seconds (it felt like a minute or two)… FINALLY the plane shot upwards… climbing hard and fast… more-so than I’ve ever felt. A few minutes later, the first officer comes over the com: “we’re currently at 19k’ climbing to 36k’, and as you seasoned travelers know, that last attempt was very bad… this isn’t safe, we’re almost out of fuel, and were heading back to Atlanta.” The trip back was just as rough as the drop down.
We land in Atlanta, but as we’re going down the runway, we see all the emergency vehicles lined up on the runway. As we pass, they pull in behind us… after a few minutes they shut their lights off and cancel the call. Now safely on the ground, the pilot informs us of two things:
- A static discharge is a bad thing for a plane… some of the electronics were fried and that’s why we saw the emergency vehicles… that we had just had a very dangerous flight.
- We were being transferred to another plane to make another attempt to get into Jacksonville. Why a new plane? “The current one isn’t fly-worthy after that shock and it needs to get a complete systems and structural inspection.” A case could have been made for changing planes after so many air-sick bags had been utilized.
After giving it some serious thought, I passed on my gut reaction to stay the night and try again tomorrow eating the ticket as a loss. We boarded our new plane around 1am, but had to wait for the crew to search out and remove bags for 30% of the original passengers who went with my gut. Finally, by 1:45, we were on our way back to Jacksonville. The worst flight of my life is behind me, the worst is behind me right? Now for what I rank as the 2nd worst flight of my life...
This flight was just as bad as the first, except for the shock & wind shear. The only thing worth noting here was the fact that the approach was very scary as we were bounced over the place and when we landed, the pilot slammed it down hard... hardest landing I had ever felt. Fine by me... if I were the pilot I would have wanted to make an impression as well. Finally, I was home by 4am, but was still so amped up with adrenaline, I couldn't get to sleep until 5am.
Delta & this flight crew gets my "atta-boy". They can't control the weather, and when things got dangerous, they didn't push it. For me, these two flights now rank as #1 & #2 on my "most scary & rough flights ever" list.