Airliner (Part I)

by Christopher Misiti

It was an early morning in San Francisco; the sun rose gently over the hills as the fog lifted over the bay. People woke up for their jobs, grabbed their coffees from Dunkin', and went off for another day's work in a cold, cramped office, staring at their computers for eight hours.

Jeff Whitham wasn't for this lifestyle. He'd been staring at computers all of his life in school, let alone do it or his entire life. No, Jeff was different; he'd wanted to be out, going to different places, seeing the sun rise and set over the ocean. Jeff was a pilot, and he'd been doing it for seven years now, and he hasn't been happier. He'd seen the corners of the nation, and the reaches of the globe as for as Asia and Europe. He had flown Boeing 737's, 757's, and now, he was on the monster McDonnell Douglas MD-11. Although it was one of the older planes in the airline's fleet, and was loud as hell with its three engines, he'd loved flying her.

As he checked his luggage and put his uniform on, his girlfriend, Donna walked into his bedroom. She was all ready to go, wearing her Saint Christopher medal out so he could see it. There was one thing about Jeff and Donna; Jeff was a pilot, and loved the sights and sounds of flight. Donna on the other hand, was terrified of even stepping on a plane. He'd convinced her to come with him for a short vacation up in Alaska. It's one of the few flights she's ever been on in her entire life. He wasn't about to pick up and drive for near to sixty hours when he could fly there in four.

"I have to be honest, Jeff. If you weren't flying this route, I probably wouldn't have gone!" She said to him, helping him with his shirt.

"Oh, come on Donna. I keep telling you, there's nothing to be afraid of when flying. You have a better chance of getting struck by lightning than being in a fatal plane crash." Jeff replied, fixing his epaulets. "These people are professionals. If they didn't know what they were doing, the airlines wouldn't let them up there in the first place." Donna shrugged, she still wasn't convinced.

"I know, but what about all the plane crashes that happened back in the day? Especially that one in Japan! You scare the shit out of me when you watch those Air Disasters shows!" Jeff laughed at this.

"Things were different back then. There are so many technologies in place to ensure safety on planes. And besides, I watch those to better myself as a pilot. To learn from the mistakes of those who were involved in crashes, even if they wasn't caused by pilot error."

Jeff finished putting on his uniform and they gathered their luggage and stuffed the suitcases in the car. They managed to fit them in, even though Donna's was twice the size as his.

"Honestly Donna, how much could you possibly need for one week?" He said, slamming the trunk closed.

"Don't question me Jeff! A woman needs a lot to take care of herself." She said. He laughed, shaking his head. They both got into the car, and drove off. The highway wasn't as crowded with traffic as they thought it would be, so it was a short ride from their house to the airport. San Francisco International Airport wasn't the largest airport in California, but nevertheless, it was very busy, even at six o'clock in the morning. Californiair, the airline that Jeff flew for, had a hub in every major California airport, including LAX, San Diego and San Francisco.

They left their car in the long-term parking lot and walked to the terminal. Since Jeff was a crew member, they bypassed the massive line of people waiting and checked in faster. Donna checked her humongous bag and they continued into the main terminal. They had a quick breakfast at Starbucks and then walked to the gate. The massive MD-11 was parked outside. It still had the old dark teal and gold livery, unlike the newer planes, with the light blue bellies and curved stripe across the fuselage.

"I'll see you on board, okay?" Jeff said as he kissed Donna. He greeted the airport attendant at the gate and walked through the jetway to the plane. As he entered the plane, he saw the flight crew preparing the cabin and the captain starting pre-flight preparations.

"Morning Captain." He said, putting his bag in the cockpit's closet.

"Hey Jeff. Good to see you again." The captain aboard the flight was Rick Connelly, a fairly new captain on the MD-11. He and Jeff had about the same experience on the plane between them. "I'm just setting up the FMS with our route. You want to go check the exterior of the plane?"

"Sure." Jeff replied, taking off his jacket and hanging it behind his seat. He left the cockpit and walked to the back of the plane, smiling at the attendants as he walked by. He exited through a staircase in the aft of the plane, and went out on the tarmac, doing his visual inspection of the jet. This plane was old, older than the rest of their MD-11's in the fleet. The paint was faded, and you cold see the individual rivets and metal plates as tiny black spots on the fuselage. Despite that, there was nothing that could've grounded the plane, it was in perfect working order. Jeff went back into the plane and sat down in the cockpit. The gentle hum in the entire plane signaled that the power was up and running.

After about thirty minutes, the plane was fully setup and ready to fly, as the first passengers started boarding. They closed the doors as all the passengers were in their seats, anxiously waiting to depart. Donna was in the far rear of the plane, nervously opening and closing the window looking at the wing. The ground crew attached the plane to the tractor and started pushing it out of the gate.

"Good morning, folks. This is the flight deck. On behalf of the entire flight crew, I'd like to welcome you aboard our flight today." Said Captain Connelly over the PA. "Our flight today should take around four hours and fifteen minutes, so we should have you in Anchorage before noon. I'll hand it over to the cabin crew now to show you some safety information about our McDonnell Douglas MD-11. So sit back, relax and enjoy your flight."

The crew pushed the plane out perpendicular to the gate and left it there for it to start taxiing. Jeff powered up the plane, starting the three engines one-by-one. There wasn't that much traffic in SFO at the time, so they taxied to the runway rather quickly.

"San Francisco tower, California 35 heavy, ready for takeoff, runway 28 Left." Connelly said into his mic to the air traffic controller.

"California 35 heavy, San Francisco tower, winds gusting 020 at 285, runway 28 left, cleared for takeoff." Said the air traffic controller.

"Cleared for takeoff, runway 28 left, California 35 heavy." Connelly finished. "Would you like to do the honors, Jeff?"

"Certainly cap'." Jeff replied. He grabbed the yoke with his right hand, throttle with his left and slowly pushed them forward, spooling up the engines until they were at full power, making a low, groaning buzz. The plane lifted seamlessly off the ground and departed out of SFO. As they climbed, they flew over downtown San Francisco, the Golden Gate bridge and the Northern California mountain ranges. They climbed through the clouds and went up in the morning sky, with the sun shining on the wings. The plane finally slowed its climb as it came to 35,000 feet.

A few minutes after they reached their cruising altitude, Jeff called one of the flight attendants into the cockpit to sit in his seat while he went to go check on Donna. He walked to the back of the plane where she was sitting, seeing she was still gripping on the armrests, eyes closed. He sat down next to her, and she looked at him.

"You alright? You look like you're in an electric chair." Jeff joked. Donna just glared at him, but finally spoke up.

"I'm fine." She said quietly. "But why couldn't you get me into first class? You don't pay for tickets!" Jeff shook his head.

"Its safer back here than it is up there, just in case of... anything." Jeff rubbed his head. "Besides, this was all they had. I'll try to get it for you n the way back." Jeff gave her a kiss and went back up to the cockpit. Now for a long four hours in the sky.

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