Flight Switch: A Scary Story With An Unexpected Ending

“The Holy Spirit brought you home.”

two pilots in flight cockpit
Image by Thomas Zbinden from Pixabay

Once in a while things work out for you and you know a higher power had a hand in it.

This happens to me whenever I fly. 

Sometimes it’s super obvious, like the time I switched to an earlier flight from Denver to New York and lived to tell about it. The planets aligned, the dots connected, the puzzle pieces fit — just for me.

I’d been in Denver for the weekend getting together with two old college friends — “old” in that we’ve known each other since 1987. We’re only 52. 

That Monday, we each had flights back to our respective corners of the country. Stacey and Liz had morning flights so they took an early train from Union Station to the Denver airport. I planned on taking an afternoon train, seeing as I was on a much later flight.

I would hang out in our nice hotel room reading, watching TV, scrolling on Twitter, or possibly go up to the rooftop pool. At eleven hundred hours sharp, however, housekeeping knocked, not tentatively as they usually do, but as if an assassin was on the loose on my floor, except instead of hearing, “Let me in or I’ll get shot!” the person said, “Housekeeping!” You’d think I was at a military training camp.

“I’m packing up. Be right out!” I said. By which I meant, “Go away. I’ll be out at 12:30, ok?”

Not four minutes had passed when they knocked again, louder still. Well, those loud knocks changed my week’s trajectory. “Ok, ok, I’ll leave already!” So I grabbed my backpack and thought, “What the heck. The Denver airport’s not a bad place to hang out. Might as well just get there earlier.”

The Denver airport’s set up in a user-friendly, stupid-proof way, much like an app. It’s the last station on the train, so there’s no way to miss your stop. There’s one security line for all gates and all flights and one train with three stops that takes you to all gates.

I planned to settle near my gate at one of those counters with outlets to charge my iPad while I worked and played on it. Upon reaching my gate, however, I noticed there was another New York-bound flight leaving soon.

“Hello. I’m on the 3:50 flight. Could I change to this earlier flight?” I asked the kind employee at my gate.

“Possibly,” she said, checking her screen, “But there would be a 75-dollar charge.”

I had a life-altering decision to make because anything having to do with flying feels like life or death to me. I called my husband so he’d tell me what to do. I knew that if I changed to the earlier flight, it would crash and if I stayed on my original flight, then that one would crash.

Well, Cesar was no help because he’s an engineer-turned-realtor who doesn’t even blink if the plane shakes like a broken washing machine. “Be sure to ask whether you can still get on that later flight and not be charged 75 dollars again if the new flight is canceled. Let me know what you do. Bye.”

Well, the airline person had said “Possibly,” so I would ask for the flight change and let fate decide:

“I’d like to switch to the earlier flight. But first I need to know whether I’d still be able to get on the later flight if this one’s canceled.”

“It won’t. It won’t be canceled. The plane’s at the gate already, see?” the lady reassured me.

“But if it is canceled,” I insisted, “Will I need to pay $75 again?”

“Don’t worry, we won’t charge you $75 at all. Not even for this change.”

Fate was clearly favoring the earlier flight and I had no choice but to switch. I guess it made sense too, right? I’d get to New York earlier and, instead of JFK, we’d land at La Guardia airport, which is closer to home.

Not being one to trust fate 100%, I boarded with trepidation, peeking into the cockpit (as I always do) and noting the pilot and co-pilot were two middle-aged men — middle-aged being what I want to see, someone with many flight hours under their belt like Captain Sully, the pilot who safely landed a jet on the Hudson River.

As usual, I buckled in, swallowed my Clonazepam, did the sign of the cross, and began praying the rosary the moment the plane sped down the runway for takeoff.

The rosary helps me pass the time until we level off and I hear the pilot say, “We’ve reached our cruising altitude. I’m going to turn off the seatbelt sign now. For your safety, please keep it fastened when seated in case we encounter any unexpected turbulence.”

It was a bumpy first half an hour, so much so the flight attendants reminded us the seatbelt sign was still on and noted that the captain had instructed the crew not to begin their service. They too needed to stay seated and buckled in.

Not a word from the pilot though, which always makes me nervous. What kind of malfunction could possibly be keeping the guy from getting on the loudspeaker and informing us in his matter-of-fact, everything’s-just-fine voice that “We’re going through a bit of bumpy air. I’ll turn off the seatbelt sign as soon as we get past it. Thank you for your patience.”?

This was not good. We were going to crash and I would be in the town paper: “Local woman who changed her ticket at the last minute was among the victims of crash of flight 123XYZ.” Stacy and Liz would be calling me frantically and then calling each other, reassuring themselves that I was on a later flight.

I’d be the relative with the most unusual cause of death. Every great-grand-descendant would know about the unfortunate ancestor who’d died in the crash of a plane she wasn’t supposed to be on. I’d be the cautionary tale: Don’t go changing things, especially flights, at the last minute.

Some time after I finished my first rosary, the plane leveled off. The flight was average, with bumpy air now and again and a crew member — never the captain — on the loudspeaker notifying those who didn’t hear the ping or see the red sign that the captain had turned on the seatbelt sign, and to “please stay in your seats with your seatbelts fastened at this time.”

A dozen minutes into our descent, the pilot finally decided to let his voice be heard when he announced (more to the crew than to us passengers), “We have begun our descent into La Guardia. Flight attendants, please prepare the cabin for landing. We’ll be touching down in approximately twenty minutes.”

And we did.

Twenty minutes later, the aircraft had been safely landed by our quiet, able pilot, toward whom I felt a ton of gratitude and goodwill. I thanked God too, knowing that God keeps my fear of flying alive because it invariably prompts me to pray and believe in Him. Or maybe it’s just conditioning as a result of my Catholic upbringing. I pray it’s the former. I would much prefer for God and the promise of eternal life to be real.

When I got in the car with Cesar and Diego (my son), who’d come to pick me up, I told them all about the flight and how relieved I was to be alive. They too were happy, though they didn’t see anything miraculous about it.

A couple of hours later I was checking my email and saw three messages from the airline, which regretted informing me that my 3:50 PM flight had been delayed, then delayed again, then rescheduled for the next day — which would have been terrible seeing as I had my class (I’m a special education teacher) end-of-year celebration the next day.

I called my mom and told her my flight saga.

“The Holy Spirit brought you home,” she said.

Another story about my fear of flying: An Open Letter to Airline Pilots

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