Of all the LA to New York flights (and I've taken them all), the 8:30 am flight has got to be one of the worst. You have to get up at the ass-crack of dawn to even make the plane, it takes off before anything opens on the west coast, and yet, it's 5:30pm on the east coast when you land, so productive work on that end is out as well. This is the story of a particular strange occurrence that happened on the 8:30 am LA - NYC, about a year ago. I know, you will think I"m making this up, and although I do write fiction, I don't think even I could have come up with this one. OK, so -- it's the 8:30 am fight, which as we've established, sucks a little bit. I can’t decide whether to drink coffee to wake up or take Ambien to go back to sleep, that sort of thing. The trip starts to look up, however, when they seat me in the exit row, which I like because I am free to roam the plane at will without bothering anyone.
A cursory inventory of my seatmates reveals nothing of great concern—regular looking business guy on my right, and to my left, next to the door, mid-60’s Filipina grandma lady I will later learn is named Linda and sews her own clothes.
8:15. The door is closed. We’re locked and loaded. We begin to taxi when suddenly, I am awakened from my morning stupor by Linda shaking my arm. Shaking it! In halting English, she tries to explain that something is wrong with her foot. “Can you help me?” she says, softly but urgently. At this moment I actually wonder if this is going to be one of those situations I write about later. How Spalding Gray of me.
“What’s wrong?” I ask, not really wanting to know. I’m not by any means a cold or uncaring person, but airplane time is me time….no cellphone, no email, no one to bother me. Five hours of uninterrupted time to catch up on magazines, clean out my purse, and get ahead of everyone else at email. There is no room for “Can you help me?” in “airplane me time.” But, the businessman at my right is going to win an Academy Award for his performance of “I’m Really Asleep Over Here,” so I get involved.
“My foot….it’s caught in the door.”
I look down, and lo and behold—her chubby little foot, clog sandal and all, has been smashed in the door by the TSA. Apparently, being diabetic and having only partial feeling in her foot, she had been resting her foot in the door jamb, only to have it jammed in the door without her knowledge or feeling. As unbelievable as it seemed, her foot was actually wedged in the door. Apparently, having only sporadic feeling in her toes, Linda did not notice this sad fact until a few minutes had passed.
She begins to cry. A flight attendant (later called Tom) looks over from the jump seat. “What’s wrong, ma’am?” he whispers. I can see in his face that he’s praying it won’t be something that will make him pick up the in-flight phone and stop the takeoff, because that would throw off his evening plans. With limited English, Linda is really unable to capture both the absurdity and the statistical improbability of the situation that’s unfolding, so I intervene. “They shut her foot in the door, and it’s stuck….you have to get them to either stop the plane and open it, or come over here and help me pull it out. She’s hurt.”
Since this is more than I bargained for at 8:15am on a Wednesday, I know just how the flight attendant feels. While Tom folds his lanky six foot frame into prime “foot pulling out” position, I get out of my seat and hover over the foot, the ankle of which has started to swell precariously. Together, Tom and I pull Linda’s foot out of the door. She wails. Clearly, the foot is broken. I’m mentally re-organizing my day to accommodate the plane going back to the gate, the ambulance, and the time delay when to my shock, Linda insists in broken English that she’s ok, and Tom calmly sits back down in the jumpseat to await takeoff. Amazingly, she stoically asks for an aspirin, takes it, and falls asleep, leaving Tom and I in the wake of the broken foot incident.
Pain is certainly a relative feeling, and so I don’t feel like I can insist that Linda get off the plane and deal with her mangled limb, but I am dying of curiosity. Is this a woman with an inhuman tolerance for pain? A pain fetish? How is she asleep? This is unbelievable to me. I’m not going to label myself wimpy, but I will say that I once drank too much coffee before a flight and had to get off because I didn’t want to fly for five hours because I felt “funny inside.” Flying with bones broken by the airline? Out of the question. Still, she’s asleep, and the plane takes off.
Two hours into the flight, Tom comes over to see what’s up. “I think she’s faking,” he whispers softly, leaning over slightly to examine Linda’s tear-stained, sleeping face. “This kind of thing happens all the time.” This last statement sends me into another tailspin of wonder….what happens all the time? People’s limbs being smashed by the airline? People with the pain tolerance of an elephant flying in spite of crippling injuries? I can barely compose myself to answer “I don’t know….I pulled it out myself, and it was definitely stuck in there. How could she fake it? Why? What would be in it for her?”
“I don’t know,” says Tom, adjusting his blue and gold neck cravatte, but now I have to fill out an incident report.” Tom leaves to go finish the beverage service and I’m left wondering what’s going to happen when Linda wakes up, as I can see her foot swelling beyond the constraints of her black leather shoe. Because I’m near the service area, I manage to surreptitiously fill a bag with ice and put it on her foot without waking her up. I’m barely through my first trashy magazine when she awakes with a start, and is zero to hysterical in 15 seconds.
She obviously regrets the decision to not get off the plane, and manages to get out the fact that (in addition to a broken foot) she has a heart condition and can’t take anymore drugs. Tom and I, having appointed ourselves inflight physicians and “situation experts,” decide it’s better to keep icing the foot than to let her take anymore medication. “Maybe we should land,” I whisper, as if I have any say over the matter. “I don’t think she can take three more hours of this.” Maybe I meant I couldn’t take it, as I had now become Linda’s compatriot in pain, keeping her calm and refilling her ice packs. She tells me about her life, her daughters, and the family reunion she’s trying not to miss, then miraculously she falls back to sleep.
Two more hours crawl by. Tom won’t make the call for the emergency landing without being explicitly instructed by the injured passenger that she is in need of medical attention, and I’m pretty sure Linda doesn’t have the magic word combination to get us on the ground. Why is this my problem?
Four aspirin, six icepacks, and many tears later, we arrive in
Finally, finally, I reach the baggage claim at 8pm, greeted with the news that my luggage has been sent back to LAX. “You weren’t here to claim it,” says the woman slumped behind the computer at the
“No ma’am, I can’t say that there’s anything we can do….it sounds like she might have been faking.”
Sadly, the sound made from snapping a cellphone closed does not encompass rage quite as well as the sound made by slamming down one of those old Pacific Bell phones we used to have in my house. I’m not sure the customer service agent really felt the weight of my vitriol.
Mental note: next time take the Ambien before the plane takes off, and never, ever sit in the seat next to the exit row.
Lost Luggage Place, her intensely long nails leaving me to wonder how she types at all. “But…..a woman’s foot was broken on the airplane….did you not hear about this?” I decide I’m better off getting the luggage delivered and taking the whole thing up with customer service, who I call in the cab on the way home. I’m so baffled by the day, I do the unthinkable. I ask the airline for a free flight to compensate me for having to do Tom’s job all day. “Are you a doctor?” sniffs the agent, incredulous. Patience at an end, I start yelling. “No, but would it matter if I was? There was an actual crime on my flight, resulting in bodily injury….don’t you think you might want to offer me some incentive to further patronize your airline? No? Some frequent flier miles? How about an apology?” I know that yelling is not making any difference, but now it’s just making me feel better.
Newark, all of us exhausted. Someone (perhaps Tom) has alerted the airport to the situation, and the plane is immediately boarded by police and EMTs, who tell everyone to remain seated. Tom has underestimated the situation, to say the least. Apparently, the airline breaking the foot of a passenger counts as an actual crime, and so we all wait on the runway for several hours while an investigation is conducted, interviews are taken, and Linda is put on a stretcher and carted off to a Newark-area hospital for something stronger than aspirin, courtesy of the airline.