Flying the Friendly Skies

Flight attendants ran through their routine safety presentation — demonstrating the complex workings of the seat belts and vaguely gesturing towards various emergency exits. No one was paying any attention to them. It was the beginning of what we all assumed would be just another normal flight.

The thrust of the engines pressed us back into our seats as we slipped into the evening sky. Refreshments were served, and the in-flight movie was underway when a tense voice took to the intercom. “Ladies and gentlemen, may I have your attention please…”

Now, there are certain things you never want to hear when you’re flying, but what came next might take the cake:

“…we’ve just been informed that there’s a bomb on this plane.”

It was as if time stopped. The movie went black; snack carts hurriedly disappeared. Flight attendants rushed us through emergency procedures, and this time they had everyone’s full attention. The captain spoke next, preparing us for a rapid emergency descent… and at that moment, the giant 747 channeled its inner F-14. Like Maverick tailing Jester in “Top Gun,” we rocketed downward at an angle never meant for commercial flights.

For the next 10 minutes, every quirky mechanical clank or turbulent bump sent a shiver through the cabin. The intercom suddenly crackled to life: “Everyone in crash positions!” Instructed to lean forward with hands covering our heads, we plunged into our final approach. Reverse thrusters roared as we touched down, bringing the hulking jet to a halt in half the normal distance.

I should probably mention that in retelling this story over the years, virtually every listener becomes envious at this point. Apparently jumping through an airplane’s emergency exit onto a giant inflatable slide is on nearly everyone’s bucket list!

There are many other details I could share. But looking back, it was most interesting to observe the various stages of passenger behavior over the course of the night.

As the evening began, travelers were primarily interested in their own petty desires. They wanted the best seat, the best overhead bin space, the tastiest snack or drink — and they were generally irritated that the flight was running a bit late.

Enter the bomb scare… and an instantaneous shift in mindset. The seating arrangement suddenly became irrelevant. There were no further concerns about the snacks or estimated arrival time. People transformed into attentive, model flyers when faced with a reality that they might not even be alive for another 15 minutes.

But there was yet another change in behavior that night. Stranded for several hours inside a small regional airport, the passengers came together in a special way. Our luggage and carry-on bags were still on the plane, and the terminal had shut down for the night. All the shops and restaurants were closed. We had nothing… but no one complained. We were thankful to be alive! We talked together like old friends. We shared what small snacks were provided. Later we formed a spirited fireman’s line to transfer our personal belongings from the old plane to a new one (there were no baggage handlers on duty at that hour). Everyone happily pitched in. We were a tight-knit group now. A family with a common bond.

I can only hope that family-type mindset characterizes us as Christians as well. Unfortunately, we often find ourselves caught up in the earlier, self-centered categories, don’t we? How much of our time do we spend thinking mostly of ourselves, our wants, our preferences, our fleeting comforts… Or how often do we become model Christians only when a crisis hits us directly? Alert, obedient and prayerful… until the danger passes.

The remaining leg of my journey that night was the most enjoyable flight ever. My fellow travelers and I shared a unique connection and camaraderie that others might never understand. What a great picture of the life God desires for our Christian family: working with each other as we travel through this life, sharing His provisions, thankful for God’s grace and a new life in Christ, and looking forward to our future arrival in heaven together!

Philippians 2:2-4Then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests, but each of you to the interests of the others.

– Ron Reid