The plan sounded so simple. I was going to meet some old friends for a guys’ weekend in Maine. My buddy Ron and I would fly out of LA in the morning, land in Boston in the afternoon, meet up with our East Coast friend Jay at the airport, and drive up to Maine for an 8 p.m. lobster feast.
But as I settled into seat 11A on American Airlines for a 7 a.m. departure, I had no clue that I was about to nosedive into the worst travel experience of my life.
I recently chronicled the stomach-churning journey in a TikTok story, which went viral. Apparently, others like to revel in my misery. Or maybe they can relate to it?
I’m not the only passenger barely escaping death in the skies these days. While there hasn’t been a major U.S. plane crash in over a decade, the number of potentially dangerous airline disasters has increased significantly, according to a new report by The New York Times.
Emergency Landing No. 1
About 20 minutes into our flight, somewhere over Death Valley, I was awoken by a panicked flight attendant racing down the aisle, “Prepare for emergency landing!” he shouted. “Prepare for emergency landing!”
Those are four words you never want to hear. Obviously. I shot up to attention and tightened my seatbelt, scanning the faces of the other passengers to see if they were equally as concerned. They were.
Related: 11 Passengers Aboard a Delta Flight Hospitalized After ‘Severe Turbulence’
I noticed that my ears were popping like champagne on New Year’s Eve, and the plane was suddenly the temperature of the desert below. A passenger next to Ron began to shake uncontrollably as the plane swayed to the left and took a massive dip toward the Amorgosa mountain range. He held her hand and assured her (and himself) that it would be alright.
The pilot got on the PA system and explained that they had lost most of the power in the cabin, including the electricity that controlled the pressurization system. The immediate pressure drop triggered the emergency masks in the cockpit to drop, he explained, and to prevent that from happening in the main cabin, he had to rapidly descend from 30,000 to 10,000 feet so that we could breathe oxygen.
We all exchanged terrified looks, engaging in silent prayer as the aircraft’s descent resembled that of a paper airplane steadily swan diving.
After 30 excruciatingly long minutes, the plane landed back at LAX. A fleet of fire trucks greeted us in case any unexpected flames planned to make an appearance.
We were told a crew would “try to fix the problem” with the aircraft, but there was no way my friend and I were getting back on that plane. American was able to book us on another flight on JetBlue. We’d be an hour late but still on track for our lobster feast.
We boarded JetBlue bound for Boston, a bit rattled but also content knowing the chances of having another flight mishap were slim to none.
Emergency Landing No. 2
I was about two and a half hours into Avatar 2: The Way of Water, munching on some free snacks from the JetBlue pantry, when the plane began to dip. The pilot informed us that, unbeknownst to anyone on the plane, we’d been circling Lake Erie for an hour and were now out of fuel.
The plane would have to make an unexpected landing in Pittsburgh. I looked at Ron across the aisle. This can’t be happening, right? But minutes later, we stared out the window at rain-soaked Pittsburgh International Airport.
We remained on the tarmac for two hours, then three, then four, as rain pelted the wings, and black clouds hovered above. Twice, we taxied down the runway for takeoff, and twice, the plane returned to the gate due to airport closure.
By this time, the pantry had been raided by starving passengers, hoarding Cheez-Its and Vegan Butter Pretzels like it was the early days of the pandemic. I had the good fortune of being seated next to a method-acting teacher who insisted on teaching me loud breathing exercises that would calm me down.
To add insult to injury, Ron learned that the American Airlines flight we were originally supposed to take to Boston, the one that ran out of power — that plane landed safely at Logan Airport an hour ago.
Related: Kristen Bell and Dax Shepard’s Family ‘Stranded’ at Boston Airport During 9-Hour Delay: ‘We Made Quite a Home Here’
Grounded in Pittsburgh
Mercifully, they let us off the plane in Pittsburgh, and the passengers gathered in the terminal to trade conspiracy theories: The plane left LA with half a tank of gas to save money; the crew wanted to stay on longer to earn overtime pay; the pilot had a mistress in Pittsburgh. It was 1 a.m. We were visibly hungry and agitated. Security was called to protect the poor late-night gate attendant from an angry mob desperate for answers.
All the airport restaurants were closed, and there was nary a vending machine in sight. One of the passengers announced that Auntie Anne’s Pretzels was open in another concourse about a mile away. An expedition gathered to make the trek to Auntie Anne’s, Ron among them. I lay on the terminal floor, looking for a comfortable place to spend the night.
Just then, an announcement from our pilot. We would brave the thunderstorms to the south and try to get to Boston. As we boarded the plane, I texted Ron to return. He was loading up on Auntie Anne’s, at least 15 minutes away. I told him I was leaving without him if he didn’t make it back in time. It was every man for himself at this point. He sprinted back, pulled a hammy, and boarded just in time. Warm pretzels never tasted better.
Emergency Landing No. 3
The trip from Pittsburgh to Boston was smooth until we hit Hartford. That’s when the plane started to bounce and shake like we’d just been tossed into a washing machine. I looked out the window, and I could see flashes of lightning on the horizon. Passengers were clinging to their armrests. Some were cradling their loved ones in their arms. The pilot said he was desperately “trying to find a way around this storm.”
Method acting teacher had her foot on the seat in front of her and her hands on me and the window. It was like being aboard the Yellowjackets flight minutes before it crashed. I didn’t know if we’d survive.
The Auntie Anne’s, which had been so delicious a half hour earlier, began to make its way towards the emergency exit of my esophagus. I reached for the “for motion discomfort” bag in the pocket in front of me and hoped it wouldn’t come to this. All the while, I watched the in-flight map on my screen trying to mentally will the plane’s progress to Logan Airport. But we were now beyond Boston and well over the Atlantic Ocean, heading directly towards Nantucket.
I turned to Ron and said, “We’re about to make emergency landing #3.”
Once the pilot got underneath the storm, he turned around again and steered us back to Logan, where we landed safely.
It was 3 a.m. We had been traveling for 21 hours.
Our East Coast friend Jay had checked into a motel, giving up on us hours ago. We told him to make sure it was cheap because we would only be there for a few hours. Now, there is “cheap,” and then there was the rat hole he’d checked into. The place reeked of urine, with stained carpets and the AC so thick it hurt to inhale. The guy at the check-in desk had a tear tattooed below his eye, signifying he may have killed someone.
My guess was that he’d probably had his fair share of harrowing experiences in his life, but when he saw me, it must’ve told him something. “Hey man, you okay?” he asked. “You look like you’ve been to hell and back.”
“Three times,” I told him. “Three times.”