Sunday, April 8, 2012

The Guy in 23B

It was a fine afternoon and evening for an airplane ride down to New Orleans. There we would stop briefly to let off Bourbon Street-bound revelers (many of them already merrymaking) and pick up hung-over Love Boaters. Then we would launch on a sunset chaser to the Left Coast.

Mike—a seasoned Navy pilot—and I had the cockpit set up and were ready. Only a few last minute bags to be loaded and we would be pointing the 757 toward the Big Easy. 

Then came the comment from the lead flight attendant that no captain ever wants to hear. “Captain, we need to have a CLR moment.” CLR means Command, Leadership and Resource management. It's a far too heavy subject to talk about, but you can guess it up, I trust.

Such a statement elicits a big sigh from the guy with the four stripes, usually accompanied by a subtle smirk on the guy with three. He knows his boss is about to earn the bucks he doesn't get.

“A lady in seat 24C is worried.”

I waited expectantly for more details. Was she worried about the weather? The condition of the plane? My flying skills? What?

“She's worried about the guy in 23B.”

Mike chuckled. I sneered at him.

She proceeded to fill in the details. The guy in 23B looked to be Arabic. The woman suspected he was up to no good. He had asked her for a pin—a sharp pin. He said he needed it to take the SIM card out of his phone. Apparently she was afraid he would use the pin to convert our jet to a weapon of mass destruction, and that she might be the first of thousands of victims. When he could find no supplier of a pin he did something that utterly stunned the woman—he slowly opened his passport.

Yes, he opened his passport.

I considered calling the FBI. The man opened his passport, for pete's sake. Mike leaned his head back and cackled like a hyena.

The flight attendant was not amused. “But the woman said he had something sharp in his passport. She's worried.”

“What?” I asked. I wanted to say “Knife? Axe? Spear Gun?” but knew I could not trivialize the flight attendant's concern. That is bad CLR and would invite trouble.

“I think it was just a writing pen,” she answered. “So what should we do?”

I sighed and look back at the smirking Mike. He knew his overt amusement annoyed me.

“Do you think the man is behaving strangely?” I asked.

She thought. She shook her head. “No.”

About then a customer service agent stuck her head into the cockpit. “Zone wants to know why we are not closing up.” I looked out front at the camera mounted on the terminal, pointing at us. Big Brother was watching. (“Zone” is a mystery to pilots in our company. We can't talk to them. Don't want to. They've got no frequency and no phone number known to us. We don't know where they're located. They communicate with us via proxies, such as the agent.)

“Tell them we are discussing a possible security problem.” She nodded and disappeared.

I looked back at the Lead. “Do any of the other flight attendants back there think the man is behaving strangely?” 

She left briefly and came back with two of her compardres in tow.

“No. They all think the woman is over re-acting.” The other two nodded.

“Then, do you think maybe the woman is a problem with our flight, and not the person she is accusing?”

She thought, looked back at the compadres. “No. I think she'll be all right.” They nodded.

“Then what's your recommendation for me?” I asked.

“I think we can go on. We'll keep an eye on them both.” The compadres nodded.

I looked across at Mike with arched eyebrows. He knew this was an invitation for his opinion.

“I'm okay with it, Boss,” he said, grinning like a goof.

The Lead faded back into her lair, satisfied—apparently. So was I. The CLR moment was over. Successfully negotiated. With that brush fire stamped out, we were anxious to be off.

But other haunts would emerge from the recesses of our Boeing bird before the night was over.

Stay tuned.

                                                                             Pretty, eh?