We were on final approach to Orlando International Airport in an Airbus 320A.
The plane bounced and jerked as the pilot side-slipped in the turbulent gray rainy day, and he set it down hard, harder than I can ever remember hitting the tarmac in a commercial airliner, and we bounced, he hit full throttle and we strained back into the air, climbing, climbing, a steep take-off angle, back into that same gray sky.
I hadn’t expected that, and the quiet that encompassed the passenger compartment indicated I was not alone in pondering that touch-and-go landing attempt.
An Airbus 320A has a maximum landing weight of 142,200 pounds, some 71 tons.
I didn’t know that at the time. What I did know was that the airplane weighed a lot, and it had just slammed onto the runway and bounced off, and we were airborne again.
No word from the pilot.
I was in seat 14D, an isle seat, and the man in 13C took the plastic laminated emergency procedure folder out of the seat in front of him. I was one row behind the two center exit doors. Though I was not seated there, I strained to read the door release information printed under the window.
My dad was a pilot and years back my brother and I had soloed in a Cessna 172 dad had an interest in, so I was familiar with touch-and-go landing procedures, but I figured it wasn’t protocol to practice with a planeload of paying customers.
We climbed to altitude and banked into another approach pattern.
No word from the pilot.
I thought about how much I did enjoy this life, and how I really was not ready for it to end. I had just spent a warm, loving weekend with family in what might have been a tough transition for my Mother in an assisted living facility in Wayne, NE.
That was running through my head, as was the question of whether or not the A320 undercarriage could sustain the sort of pounding it had just received, and whether we might be making a landing with damaged wheels or gear, and the thought that maybe I should switch my phone off airplane mode and make some calls to those people I love….
I thought of all the loose ends I would leave and was briefly sad for some of them, but it was interesting to see what came to the top, songs I hadn’t taken the time to record, a book only partially written, the unfinished addition to our home that would end up being a headache for Tracy rather than a pleasure…and that’s where my thoughts lead me, back again to the people I love. And I was comforted knowing that they knew I loved them, and I knew they loved me. I don’t know that life can be better than that.
Still no word from the pilot.
Passengers began talking again, shifting in their seats, me in mine, making contact with those next to us to whom we’d said precious few words on a two-hour and forty minute flight. Small talk and banter about things other than the next attempt at a landing.
The man in 13C put the emergency procedure folder back into the pouch in front of him. We circled, began the second final approach buffeted by the wind, the gear shuddering to locked position as we bumped and bounced in the rough air, the landscape outside a blur at a landing speed of some 150 mph, our 71 tons hurtling once more towards the ground.
Conversation stilled as the usual sounds of landing a large aircraft enveloped us, and I listened, attuned to noises that might be out of the ordinary, and heard none.
This time, this time the plane settled gently onto the runway.
We clapped our hands, relief, perhaps shamed by our own musings, our own helplessness as our fate was decided by forces outside of our control, but we clapped.
With no mention of the first attempted landing, the flight attendant keyed her mike and announced, “Welcome to Orlando. Baggage can be picked up at carousel 3.”
Welcome to Orlando indeed.