Thursday, December 9, 2010

Special Edition - Part II: Take Off to the Great White North. Sorta.

Part I of our Road Trip Recap can be found here.

See that picture? 

That's an American Eagle Embraer ERJ-135.  This was supposed to be the plane we
were going to take to Toronto.  Except that it wasn't.  Wanna know why?

Look closer.  See how the landing gear is retracted?  Yeah, see the thing is that the landing gear on ours' wasn't.

And it made for an eventful evening.  Let's take a look back, then.

I had booked our trip on Travelocity.  We got round trip airfare out of Boston on American Airlines and two nights hotel at the Delta Chelsea for a really decent price.   We had looked into flying out on Saturday morning to see if we might be able to hold on to our vacation time at work, but there were no flights out of Boston or Manchester that got us to Toronto before 3:30 pm without breaking the bank.  There was an Air Canada flight leaving Logan at 6:30 am, but that would have cost us over $150 more per person and we would only being paying for one night at the hotel instead of two.  Plus, we'd be spending a boatload of money, only to arrive and have no time to see the city.  So we booked the flights for Friday night at 6:45 pm knowing we'd have to bang out of work a couple of hours early.

It's a good thing we did.

I booked Heather's flight using her married name not knowing her passport was still under her maiden one.  When we realized that this was the case, we decided to get the ticket changed to her maiden name so it would match.  She'd bring a copy of her marriage license with her just in case.

So she called AA and Travelocity, and after wasting an inordinate amount of time on the phone her ticket was changed for a $25 fee.  Or so we thought.

I checked the online reservation to be sure and indeed the change had gone through.  However, when we went to the terminal to retrieve our boarding passes by scanning our passports, I got an error message with hers.  The kiosk told me to go to the customer service counter.  So we did.

Ends up that Travelocity screwed the pooch, royally.  While they changed the name on the reservation, they did not change her name on the actual ticket.  So the ticket agent had to call the American operations center in Dallas to get it fixed.  Apparently Travelocity does this all the time.  After waiting about 15 minutes, we got it fixed, albeit for a $25 name change fee and a $30 transaction fee.  Expensive, yes, but not as bad as it could have been.

So then we went though security where there was the smallest of lines, thankfully.  Sadly, not only did I have to pass through the full body scanner (not bad at all), but I was also patted down afterwards.  It was a half-assed pat down.  Well, they got my ass, but didn't 'touch my junk' as the people like to scream nowadays.

And then we went to our gate in Terminal B.

I hate Terminal B.  Let me give you a quick backstory:

In 2005 my wife, mother and I were flying to Baltimore for Jen's bridal shower.  We were flying out on a Friday night, on American, on an ERJ-175, out of gate B-23.  Everything went fine on that flight.  Until we were cleared for take-off on runway 33L.  We throttled up, began to accelerate and then the pilot shut down the engines.  We had a mechanical problem.

We went back to the terminal where there were people waiting for a bunch of other flights plus the passengers from our flight.  The gate agents had no clue how to deal with us.  They told us repeatedly that they were trying to find us another plane and we waited for over an hour.  They shuttled some people off hurriedly (without their checked baggage) onto a flight to Reagan National in DC.  Then they found a plane to go to BWI.  Unfortunately, it was a smaller plane and it could not accommodate all of us.  It was decided that Jen and I would get on the plane and my mother would fly out in the morning. When they finally took us to a plane (via shuttle bus on the tarmac), we were told that the flight had been cancelled as their time window had closed.  Fortunately, when my mother found out about this back in the terminal, she was the first in line to rebook us on the morning flight with her.

It was a total clusterf*ck.  It made me hate flying American.  It made me hate Terminal B.  And it made me hate the ERJ-175.

So when we got to Terminal B and I saw we were flying out of the same gate on the same type of plane, I had a bit of trepidation.  But this was my epic birthday celebration and I was hell bent on getting to Toronto and having fun.

We got on board and took off fine.  However, just about everyone noticed a loud 'wooshing' noise coming outside the plane.  It didn't seem normal to me, but I dismissed it as excessive wind noise.  Minutes later as we were over the north shore, the captain made an announcement:

Our landing gear was not fully retracting and that was the cause of the noise. They tried cycling it up and down, but it would not retract fully.  They had to leave it down.  However, they could not continue the flight to Toronto.  We would have to return to Boston.

Ok, I thought.  This sucks.  I began thinking of alternate flights. How in the world are we going to get up there in time for the game?

The Captain continued (I'm paraphrasing here):

All indications are that our gear is locked down, but the FAA wants to do a visual inspection so we're going to have to do a low level fly by to ensure that this is the case.  And although all indications are that we are ok, out of precaution we have to assume that this is an emergency situation.  We are going to have to make an emergency landing.

That's when I started to sweat.

Keep in mind, I'm a licensed pilot.  I've been through emergency training.  I've had to have an assist in the air when I couldn't find the airport after fog had rolled in and obscured everything on the gound (I'm VFR rated only).  I've accidentally flown near protected military airspace (oops).  But I also remembered the footage on TV from a few years ago of a JetBlue flight into Los Angeles where the planes front landing gear wasn't locked down.  Fortunately, that plane landed ok.  Unlike that plane, we did not have DirectTV to watch ourselves, either.  That may have been a good thing.

I tried to remain calm and I know Heather was trying to do the same.  But I knew that there were going to be emergency vehicles lined all along the runway when we landed.  I knew all other traffic into and out of the airport was being redirected of put in a holding pattern.  I kept reassuring myself that the gear was fine.  And then I thought worst case - this is a small regional jet.  It can't have that much fuel on it to begin with and the engines are mounted on the aft fuselage.  They won't drag on the ground if the gear folds.

I grabbed my phone out of the seatback and put it in my back pocket.  I tucked my passport in there as well.  Heather did the same.

We came up on Logan from the south and were flying at about 200 feet.  I kept thinking of the fly-by scenes from Top Gun, but this wasn't funny at this point.  The captain came on shortly thereafter and told us that the visual inspection seemed to confirm what the cockpit indications were showing.  We were good to land, though it was still an emergency situation.

We did a large circle over Boston Harbor, presumably to ditch extra fuel, and then came into final approach.  At this point I was scared.  I admit it.  But I didn't want to show any panic outwardly so I kept looking out the window; first the Deer Island treatment plant, then the harbor, then runway 33L.

As we were about to touch down, the co-pilot exhorted us to "brace!" repeatedly.

Ok, here goes I thought.

Right side gear down.

Left side gear down.

Nose gear down.

We're good, I said to anyone who listened.

And we were.  We taxiied back to the terminal.  I was relieved but still quite shaken.  I waved to the firefighters in their trucks in an attempt to bring some levity to the situation.  There was a guy sitting behind us who had just woke up.  He slept through everything!  It was kind of funny, actually.

We pulled into the gate and exited the plane.  I made sure to thank the crew (again and again) for getting us down in one piece.

And then we got back into the terminal.  Alas, the night was far from over.

Up next: Part III - Terminal Velocity and Panic in the Skies


  1. Dude - clearly you should stay away from Terminal B. And American. And possibly Logan. (and how did I not know you are a pilot? And why haven't you been flying us all to various soccer games? Hmmph.)

  2. Order a Sparkling White Smiles Custom Teeth Whitening System online and SAVE BIG!
    * 10 shades whiter in days!
    * Results Are Guaranteed.
    * Better than your dentist, for a fraction of the cost.
    * Same Teeth Whitening Gel as dentists use.