As an air passenger, we might think that being delayed or missing a flight is the worst thing that can happen to us. On a recent flight with my family, we experienced something that was far more severe. On December 23rd, 2015, we were on Southwest Airlines flight 2547 that left from Oakland International Airport at 6:13am and circled for four hours before making an emergency landing back in Oakland.
A Big Surprise
Our holiday plans this year had many twists and turns. We were excited to have my parents come over for the holidays and spend time with us. However they had to cancel their trip for personal reasons. So we thought, let’s go to New York instead and spend time with family and friends on the East Coast if they couldn’t be here. We had booked this trip to New York at the very last minute and were excited about the possibilities in connecting with loved ones throughout the holiday. The only caveat here is that we kept it a surprise so nobody knew we were coming.
Getting to the Airport
We almost didn’t make our flight. Early morning flights are the toughest when you have a toddler. With all our bags packed and our flight set to leave at 5:50am, we knew it would be a challenge. With cabs hard to find early in the morning, we decided to go with Uber and a middle-aged Indian gentleman showed up at our home. As he opened the door to his Camry, in went the car seat, our luggage and of course our little guy who was in a wonder as to what’s going on so early in the morning.
As the three of us finally settled into the car, we departed our home at 5am! Yikes, a mere fifty minutes before our flight was supposed to depart. Our driver understood our dilemma and got us to the airport in 22 minutes! I don’t believe we hit a red traffic light along the way. It was almost as if the Universe was supporting us throughout the journey.
Getting through Security
As you can imagine during peak holiday time, when we entered into the ticketing area for Southwest Airlines, it was a zoo! The lines extended out beyond the entrance to the ticketing windows and by observing the faces of these folks, one could tell that there were lots of grumpy travelers on that morning. Luckily for us, we fly Southwest quite often and were able to jump in to the Priority lane in which we were the first in line. Whew! Usually, in the age of technology that we live in, we could have just downloaded an E-Boarding pass, but when traveling with a lap child, there’s no other way around it than to go to the check-in desk and manually process the boarding pass.
As soon as we got our boarding pass, we scrambled our way to the security screening area. After a quick show of ID, we went through the security lane in record time! Thanks to TSA Pre-Check , all three of us had nobody in front of us and we zipped through. It was almost too good to be true. Collecting all of our luggage and loved ones, we rushed to gate 28 and we couldn’t believe that we made it while the aircraft was still boarding.
After a huge sigh of relief, and getting from home to boarding gate in 45 minutes during peak holiday time was in itself a miracle! We definitely had our stars aligned that morning. New York here we come!
On the Plane
Being towards the end of the boarding line for Southwest flights is not an ideal situation as there is no assigned seating, and go by a first come, first serve basis. As we walked deeper into the plane we noticed that there was not complete row of 3 seats available, and we immediately started thinking of how we would situate ourselves. We almost felt that our luck would stop here when a gentleman in Row 18 sees the three of us and offers his seat. Being that it wasn’t a completely full flight, we ended up with an entire row to our self! On top of that there was enough space in the overhead bins to accommodate every piece of carry-on luggage we had.
We sat in our seats and my wife and I looked at each other with giddiness that the Universe lined up such a smooth journey till this point. We were ready to relax and just enjoy the flight from that point onwards. We knew we were meant to be on this flight.
In being one of the first flights out of Oakland Airport that morning, there was no waiting in line to take off. As soon as we neared the runway, the pilot kicked the engines into full throttle and we were on our way. About 30 seconds into the air, a ‘thump’ sound sent vibrations through the plane and it was accompanied by a significant spark that came from the left wing of the plane. A few seconds later, this was followed by more thumps and more sparks from the left side. In total, it happened four times within a span of 20 seconds.
As we were seated in the middle of the plane close to the wing, I remember seeing these flashes of lights and immediately thinking that we might have hit some birds upon taking off. There was indeed concern amongst the passengers, but I didn’t notice anyone freaking out.
About two minutes later, the pilot came on and indicated that there was a mechanical issue with the landing gear and that we would be heading back to Oakland airport in 15 minutes.
Those 15 minutes turned into 4 hours! The second announcement from the pilot indicated that we would be making a few circles as the aircraft needed to burn fuel in order to make the plane lighter in weight. The trimmer our plane was on weight, the better it would be for landing as they did not want to take unnecessary risks with suspect landing gear. It seemed like every 30 minutes the pilot would make an announcement that we’re still burning fuel over the course of four hours.
The three of us treated this situation no different than we would have with any other flight. My son was knocked out and sleeping comfortably between my wife and I. Whereas my wife and I took the time to catch up on our own sleep! As you can tell, we are a family that likes to sleep!
It seemed that the more we stayed calm and composed, the more our son felt at ease too. Children are really good at picking up on our energies. If we were panicking and sweating, I’m sure our son would reflect our own fears back at us with his own uneasiness.
Finally, as we neared the four hour mark, the pilot came on to make one more announcement. He indicated that we would make a low pass first close to the Air Traffic Control tower so that they could visually inspect our landing gear. The second pass would be our actual landing.
As we flew in low the first time around, other passengers indicated that there were helicopters nearby as well. The first pass seemed good, and now we were making our way to the moment of truth. Would we land successfully or would there be some hitch?
As we made our way to the runway, I could see out the window that there were emergency vehicles ready to take action. It reminded me of those scenes I would witness in the movies. We were living that reality. We slowly descended and the rear wheels connected, without any issue and then the front wheels touched down and within moments it was done. We had landed successfully, and rightfully so, many of the passengers applauded to a big sigh of relief. As we got off the plane and went through the baggage claim area, it was a media circus as all the major news channels were lined up taking interviews with everyone. That’s a whole separate blog post in itself!
Trust the Universe! Throughout the entire experience, I had no doubt that we would be back safely on the ground. I truly believe that we were meant to be on that aircraft and go through those four hours in the air. On any other day, we would have missed that flight. Being that 51 minutes before departure, we were still getting into our cab, it was a miracle we got on board amidst the holiday rush, the heavy lines, traveling with a toddler and finding a row of seats together. Having experience as a frequent flyer, these types of things just don’t align themselves as easily as they did on that day. So yes, we were meant to be on that flight.
Why? Why did the Universe choose us to be on this flight? The simple answer is that it was the Universe’s way of reinforcing that we’re loved and protected at all times. Even during moments like this, we have nothing to worry about.
Even in this moment, whether it’s you or me, everything is exactly where it needs to be. It’s our human nature to want to control, guide and avoid situations like these. However, the more we allow and accept what is in front of us, the more we can start to see that our being is never truly affected by all the happenings on the outside. We may want to make a big deal by playing the role of the victim. Yet, the Universe never puts us in that role; it only brings us the experiences that we are truly ready for.
Photo Credit: FlightAware