Flying in a Massive Plane, Time Lost and a Trip to Hawaii

Noah's airbus cartoon
Noah’s airbus
Cartoon by Dan Rattiner

Ten days ago, my wife and I embarked on a three-week vacation, flying first from John F. Kennedy International Airport to Los Angeles and then, a few days later, flying further on to Hawaii.

At JFK, we boarded a giant 600,000-pound airplane filled to the brim with 150 people, 400 suitcases and a half-dozen airline employees operating the pulleys and levers. A truck pulled us out backwards from the gate.

It is absolutely impossible that this thing, weighing what it does, can get off the ground. But when the pilots started the engines, the airplane began to emit a noise like a screeching dinosaur, after which it slowly bumped its way down to the end of a nearly three-mile runway. It stopped, turned around, and as the pilot put it in first gear, roared even louder. And it moved, slowly at first, then faster, until, reaching a certain number of miles an hour where the wind collecting under its wings was able to heave its nose upward to sniff the air, trembling and rumbling, it clawed its way even further up to tremble and shake while precariously pulling the rest of the plane up after it. A miracle. Soon, gaining altitude, it warily turned west in the hopes of heading toward California without hitting anything else flying around in the area.

Inside the plane, there are two ways to deal with what is happening. The first way is to help. You could, at the critical moment, jump up and down to give the plane an extra oomph. But you are strapped your seat. So instead, you just cheer, applaud and shout encouragement.

The second way is to pretend none of this is happening. You can, uninterrupted, watch two consecutive movies on the screen attached to the back of the seat in front of you. Or you can close your eyes and go to sleep. Then with the six hours up, you awake to find yourself still strapped in but at a gate in Los Angeles with everybody else happy to be alive and eager to get on with their lives. They have experienced, while you have not, the landing. In their heads, they replay the struggle with the controls, a finger out the window to test the wind, a glide pattern sending them recklessly through the clouds killing many birds while many survive and then providing an unexpected lunging thump onto the runway with the whole contrivance clacking, creaking, and rattling, trying not to blow a tire or catch fire or have a wing fall off with the aircraft and everybody killed. That is what usually happens. But not this time. This is a lucky flight.

Personally, I make myself choose to be part of every horrible minute. There’s no movie for me. They need my help.

Still another matter is what time it is when you arrive in Los Angeles, as compared to what the time was when you took off. Think about it. You’ve been strapped in for six hours. But when you get off the plane, they tell you it’s been three. How could this be?

It’s even worse flying off to Hawaii. When you do that, it should be twelve hours lost since you left New York. But they tell you it’s six. Where did the time go? I have no idea.

What I do know is that when my daughter calls me from California, particularly in the evening in New York, she is all chatty and talkative because it’s afternoon, while I struggle to keep up with what she is saying because I want to go to bed.

I’ve been making a study of this. The workday is 9 to 5. A lot gets done during this time. And in the morning, it’s all to the advantage of New York. We are coming up with new strategies that we put into effect while my daughter, in California, not yet fully awake, has no idea of what is going on.

Then in the afternoon, my co-workers and I go to a bar to have a drink and forget about work while she, now up, gets to look at the mess we’ve made and clean it up to her liking. Advantage California.

But after arriving in Hawaii in the middle of the Pacific Ocean — after we’re told where the life jackets are on the plane so we’re “saved” even when the crossing fails — there is even more time lost. I wake up in Hawaii (I am writing this in Hawaii), brush my teeth, shower and shave and have a leisurely breakfast, while at 11 in the morning, everybody in New York — my business is in New York — is just punching out for the day at 5 pm.

I’ve missed it. Now I have to wait around for tomorrow morning to get things done with New York and the same thing happens. Done and done.

So I go out for a swim and just forget it.

It is laid-back in California. But it’s unbelievably laid-back here in Hawaii.

I like it. I mean, what the hell.

Here are a few things that happened. My daughter in California called when she was on her way to work in the morning. It’s half-an-hour’s drive. Yet here in Hawaii, the phone rang, waking me at 4 a.m. and I saw on my phone that it’s her. It rang three times then stopped. I think it suddenly occurred to her that we were in Hawaii. So she hung up.

Another thing that happened in Hawaii is that we happened to go to a sports bar at 4 in the afternoon where some people were watching South Carolina play UConn in the women’s final game of March Madness and it said South Carolina 40-UConn 23. A minute later a notification appeared on my cell phone that South Carolina had beaten UConn 69 to 49. This time thing can really play tricks on you.

What I am told by others is that, somehow, the lost time will all return when we fly back to New York at the end of our vacation.

Well, I’m not sure I’m up to going back to New York aboard that airplane, after all those things that almost happened on our way here happened.

Maybe we’ll just stay.

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