If Birds Fly, Why Can’t I?


Everything is fine until the plane starts to move. Up to that point the experience is like sitting in a carpeted egg box. As the plane leaves the terminal parking area, the wings show the first signs of poor engineering and loose rivets. With each bump on the airport runway, the huge wings flutter. The flex is minimal, but only total repression would allow you to not see the wing tip movement. My first response is to make certain that my seatbelt is right, although the totality of a crash has always made the seatbelt procedure seem ridiculous.

Throughout the flight, I am devoted to the signal lights above my seat. I believe that firm adherence to the “No Smoking” and “Fasten Seat Belt” signs will insure the safety of the flight. It is as if that were my way of controlling the flight.

“Is this is 727 or a DC 10?”

“Which plane, design, and manufacturer was involved in the last crash?”

“Remember the saying, ‘Never two without three.”

“Damn it, were there two crashes this year, or only one?”

“Perhaps there were three already this year. Perhaps there were several in Europe or Russia. You never know. The local paper doesn’t report each plane crash. If only there were three crashes already, then I’d be safe.”

The stewardess is informing us of the emergency procedures in case of a land crash, sea ditching. or oxygen deficiency. They seemed so bored, so mechanical, so very pretty. What an exhausting job! I try hard to believe that they really are knowledgeable about, planes, engines, and flight. Certainly, if something went wrong they would detect it, and being very sensitive I would read it in their faces. Actually, I know better. The hostesses are no more aware of aerodynamics than I am. They must serve 164 people a meal, a cordial, a snack, a drink, and still look pretty.

The captain announces his presence, our flight arrival time, our cruising attitude and speed, and the weather in Dallas. Who cares! I want to ask him if he flew a B-29’s in World War II. Was he an ace? Does he drink? I want to see his face, his confident smile and sparkling eyes. I don’t care when we arrive. The airline worries about schedules. I need to know that we will arrive!

I survey the passengers looking for a young child, preferably an infant. If there is a God in heaven, he won’t take the life of an infant. Yes, there are two infants. One I can’t see, but I can hear her loud and clear. The stewardess finds the screaming charming.

“Oh, what blue eyes you have. Oh, she is so cute.” It is as if the infant were truly unique. In fact, the infant is great! Two babies are almost a guarantee of a safe flight.

Seated near the first-class compartment is a rather swarthy man. Approximately 36 years of age, dark complexion, and slick black hair. His jacket is wrinkled and his nails are dirty. He could be trouble. What kind of trouble? A hijacker, a bomber, or just bad luck. Just ready to die, since he’s obviously good for nothing and, damn it, he is on my plane.

We’re next in line for takeoff. The engines are revved up. It sounds as if the captain is testing the engines. We’re not moving, so he must be testing them. What a time to test the engines! I wonder if the hundreds of dials and lights in the cabin are all green, or blue, or at least on! A red light would be bad, but a yellow light is even worse. Yellow means caution. Not yes! Not no! Not stop! Not go! Just beware? Beware of what? Human error causes 99.9% of all crashes. If the captain has to decide in the face of a yellow light, is that the beginning of human error?

The engines sound so smooth, and very powerful. We head down the runway, faster and faster. Could he stop now? I try and estimate the speed of the plane. Maybe we’re going 100 mph. I have never driven my car more than 70 or 80 mph. I can’t tell how fast we’re going, but we are airborne. We rise in the air and the clang! crunch! squeal! What’s that? I look out the window. The wing is still there. I can’t see the damn engines since they are bolted at the tail. I hope the bolts hold. The noise must be the wheels being raise, or the flaps flapping. More squealing and grinding noises. The last noise was the flaps. Why doesn’t the ground crew grease the joints? What is so difficult about properly lubricating the gears? How often is the plane overhauled? The interior shows signs of wear. The seats are worn and some of the plastic light fixtures are yellow with age. How old is this plane?

We bank to the left and continue to gain altitude. If you turn the steering wheel too sharply, will the plane refuse to flip over? How many back-up safety systems are there? Even the idea of a back-up system is frightening. You install a back-up system when you know the front system will go haywire! The “No-Smoking” light goes out. That means any gas fumes that have accumulated in the cabin have dissipated. The seatbelt sign stays on.

The stewardess offers drinks and the food orgy begins. The food is worthless. The quality is always poor to neutral, but it is so welcomed. The food occupies the sense. Little packages to open, butter to spread, drinks to balance. I finish everything on my tray. Even the powdered chocolate mousse tastes fine. I could eat all the way to Dallas. The seatbelt sign goes off. I leave mine fastened. Why not? Why unfasten the seatbelt? The seats are cramped, the air is stuffy, the leg room is minimal, and the elbow room is non-existent. So why not leave the band around your stomach? Besides with the first sign of turbulence the “Fasten Seatbelt” sign will light once again.

Darwin was right. Evolution follows natural laws of nature. Fish swim, snakes crawl, and happy little blue bird fly, but why, oh why, can’t I?