What If?

November 2001

We were returning from Savannah after a wine society conference. After checking in, we noticed a hand-lettered sign that they were looking for volunteers to be bumped, and that compensation would be provided. We considered it – being retired means that you usually don't really have to be anywhere at a scheduled time. But what compensation were they offering? If it was enough, we'd enjoy staying another day – we knew there were no later non-stop flights to Washington. However, their proposal might involve a change of planes in Atlanta during the afternoon peak. In any case, by the time we turned back there were several others waiting to be checked in by the lone ticket agent.

So we proceeded to the lounge. On a previous visit, I recalled that entry required the standard membership, although I don't remember which airline or airlines were involved. This time we had read that anyone could use the lounge for a $5 fee, although this was not advertised within the terminal. After pressing the buzzer with no answer, we found the door unlocked and entered to find no one signing people in, and incidentally, taking money. It wasn't very fancy, although there was a large-screen TV and a copy of the New York Times. No free libations, but a sliding window at one end allowed one to purchase discount drinks from the adjacent bar. The chairs and sofas were plentiful and comfortable, and, as we discovered when we eventually re-entered the terminal area, the walls were well insulated against the din.

The regional jet flight was uneventful. The day was clear and the final descent to Dulles was smooth and gradual – until it was suddenly interrupted by an abrupt climb, followed by a very gradual circle. Few people seemed to notice. Several minutes later the captain announced that we would be a little late because, although he had been cleared to land, he decided that he'd let the German Air Force aircraft that was on the runway depart first. We've flown into Dulles many times when the weather has been very poor. No doubt such a mistake would have been noticed in time even then – still…

After any air disaster there are accounts about the twists of fate – about those who missed the doomed flight and those who came aboard at the last minute. How many others didn't opt out, or in, because of circumstance?

© Copyright 2001 Jack Ludwick - All Rights Reserved