The Pilot I Almost EJECTED!

What NOT to Ask a Pilot - hilarious true tale of what the pilot told me 20,000 feet in the air #funny #airplane #travel #vacation #humor

So then…I enter the airplane with trepidation. I quickly glance at my preferred seating section by the emergency exit, but all those seats are taken!

My heart speeds up a bit. Anxiety looms.

Typically, I’m a nonchalant traveler, calmly criss-crossing the country. To me, turbulence is not terrifying – just annoying – especially if it spills my wine or makes my book too jumpy to read.

But a recent flight has shaken my confidence in the air travel industry as a whole – and, in fact, in the very concept of human flight. (That flight made me skittish as a cat on a hot tin roof — on meth.)

I sidestep passengers shoving their bags in the bins.

I trudge down the aisle, desperately seeking a seat near an exit, when suddenly I see him – A PILOT!

Sweet mother of Jesus! Sitting here in the passenger seats — a Southwest Airlines pilot in full uniform with distinguished white hair and a solid, reliable face.

I am so excited! This airline lets you sit wherever there’s an empty seat – and who better to sit next to on a plane than an EXPERIENCED PILOT? He can help me in an emergency – hell, he can even fly the plane!

I scramble over to him quickly. “Do you mind if I sit here?”

“Of course,” he says in a rich baritone voice, exuding confidence and reassurance. I am in love with him. He is 25 years older than me and possibly ill-suited to my temperament, but I don’t care, because if there is trouble, he will save my life and for that, I most surely owe him my undying devotion. (Key word: undying.)

After I settle in, I turn to him and say, “I hope you don’t mind my confiding that I’m a nervous flyer these days — and I feel safer sitting next to you, since you’re a pilot.”

(I want him to pat my hand, proclaim, “Don’t worry, my child, you are safe with me,” then stare straight ahead on high alert, prepared to handle the slightest jiggle or jump of the aircraft.)

But instead, he smiles and says, “Well, the key to being a good pilot is to have as many landings as you have take-offs.”


“And in my 32 years of flying, I have to admit I did have one more take-off than landing.”


“Back in ‘Nam, our chopper was taking heavy artillery ground fire, and we knew it was going down, so my co-pilot and I ejected, deployed our parachutes, and smashed down in a field – with only three broken bones between us.”

He smiles, self-satisfied, and waits for my congratulatory oohs and aahs.

But in my head, I’m thinking: Dude, we are on an airplane right now. We do not have parachutes! We are lucky if we get a pack of peanuts. We don’t even get pillows or thin scratchy blankets, with which to FASHION a parachute! Why the hell are you telling me this story?

But instead I say, “Oh, well, heh heh, I guess we’re lucky we won’t be encountering any heavy artillery on our way to LA.”

To which he replies, “Oh, there’s lots more stuff that can take a plane down other than artillery. One time, we were flying to Seattle, and suddenly the engine….”

I stare wide-eyed as he tells me a story of a near-miss in Seattle. Then he proceeds to tell me about every other mid-air mishap and dangerous take-off or landing he’s had – or heard about – in his entire 32-year career!

I keep trying to steer him away from this topic, but clearly he relishes these spine-tingling gems about missed maintenance checks, co-pilot error, disastrous weather impacts, flight crew hangovers, small cockpit fires, and the damage a 4-lb. bird can do to the engine of a 200,000-lb. plane!

It would be difficult enough to hear these stories if I were safely on the ground, in a bar somewhere, allowing the alcohol to dull the edges of these dreadful terrors.

But I’m hearing about all these airplane malfunctions and near-crashes while sitting ON an airplane, hurtling through space at 600 miles per hour!

As he speaks, I’m turning paler by the minute, trying desperately to change the subject – but also trying hard not to offend — since he is, after all, my appointed rescuer.

So I just keep consoling myself by repeating over and over in my head: But he’s alive — so he obviously survived all these calamities! And I will too!

In an effort to conclude the catalogue of horrors, I say brightly, “Well, those are amazing stories. But you survived them all! You lived to tell the tale!”

To which he replies, “Oh, but some pilots are not near so lucky. In fact, one time in ‘Nam, we had four choppers on the way to Da Nang…”

At this point, I want to stick hot pokers in my ears just to stop the flow of ghastly stories.

I am ready to jump off the plane myself right now just to escape HIM.

I can’t believe that I sought the sage counsel of a distinguished airline pilot about safe flying — only to be regaled with tale after tale of aviation catastrophes!

I clench every muscle in my body and sit, taut and terrified, for the remainder of the flight — desperately wishing for an EJECT button for my seat-mate!

— Darcy Perdu

Original Illustration for So Then Stories by Mary Chowdhury

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(Ever turn to someone for support and guidance – only to be freaked out even MORE?  Like a doctor who confirms your WebMD fears?  Tell your travel terror tales – or anti-reassurer stories below!)

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42 replies on “The Pilot I Almost EJECTED!

  1. Lori said:

    I was totally tensing up as I was reading…I think I would have thrown up on his lap!

    • ha! that would have been a GREAT strategy to stop his stories! I should have done that!

  2. LOL~!! Some people can’t take a hint. He probably did it on purpose and enjoyed every minute of it. I hope you had a continuous refill of wine.. if anything he would rescue you and you would be moderately unconscious :) Have a great one! -Iva
    Awesomely Over-Zealous recently posted..A Sedating MindMy Profile

    • yes, unconscious would have been a great improvement! (me OR him!) Ha!

  3. Yeah, it would’ve been time to look for a conversation changer… a wife, a dog, talk about names if he was wearing a name tag, something….

    • yes, please! I tried a few avenues to change conversation but he was enraptured with his tales — and as terrified as I was, it was also sort of like a train wreck — my mind was pinging between “look away, look away!” and “omigod, THEN what happened?!” yikes!

  4. Cate said:

    My husband was an aircraft mechinac in Viet Nam and he loves to get on the airplane and tell everyone in earshot his old war stories. Yikes! Fortunatly we only fly together every couple of years but a trip to Hawaii is coming up. Any advice on how to shut him up in advance?

    • oh my lordy! Order 83 vodka tonics, STAT! Maybe it will lull him to sleep the whole flight! And if HE won’t drink them — give ’em to the rest of the passengers! They’ll need ’em! :o)

    • yep, that’s me — I really know how to pick ’em!! :o)

  5. Lori said:

    This is such a funny post. I get such a charge out of these stories and comments! Thanks for entertaining me! I can’t quit laughing…

  6. Oh my god! I would have shit myself. Those stories scared me and I’m sitting comfortably on the ground, no where near a plane. What a douche.
    MomChalant recently posted..Changes To The BlogMy Profile

    • yes, even on the ground, I’m too scared to hear the stories or see airplane disaster movies!

    • yep, I think he was so excited to have a captive audience, he conveniently forgot my admission of fear!

  7. Bwahahahaha. I guess he couldn’t tell from your white knuckles that his Nam stories were not going over well. “Oh, no, LOTS of things can take down a plane…” Bwhahahahaha. With friends (or appointed rescuers) like this, who needs enemies?! –Lisa

  8. Does he have a blog? That might be a healthier outlet for his storytelling than scaring the wits out of nervous flyers. He could call it, “One Time in Nam”

  9. AinOakPark said:, Darcy – why didn’t you just spill some tomato juice down your pants leg and into your shoes and purse?! Then the “bad thing” would have happened on the flight and you would have been fine! (I am referring to my comments after your Cat on Meth “trip” story.)

    • Ha! Yes! I need to just travel with tomato juice and toss it on myself whenever I’m nervous!

    • William, you crack me up!! What a creative idea! Maybe he WAS a ghost pilot! Yikes — even scarier!

  10. I’m sorry, but I had to laugh at this. I’m a Flight Attendant, and there’s a reason pilots aren’t Flight Attendants – they usually are a tad clueless about dealing with people! (There are some awesome exceptions to this rule, of course.)

    Early in my career I realized I was terrifying some passengers when a couple asked me some questions about safety procedures on the plane and I answered honestly and in detail. The couple was intrigued and fine, but the passengers sitting around them were wide-eyed and looked horrified!

    Ever since, when someone asks me a question about safety, I ask them “Why do you want to know?” and sometimes “Do you really want to know?”…and if they insist I keep the answer brief.

    When someone tells me they’re a nervous flier, I immediately move into ‘comfort and reassure’ mode. So sorry you got Capt. War-story instead! But I love your re-telling of the experience!

    Consider yourself lucky; those old ‘Nam pilots are the absolute BEST ones to work with! They’re also some of the best pilots around. Sadly, they’re all retiring these days. So he may have sounded scary, but you were actually in very good hands. :-)

    Love your story telling abilities!!
    Carrie recently posted..Frugal Fridays – The Moon CupMy Profile

    • Carrie, please fly with me on ALL my flights! You sound so calming and reassuring! And I’m glad to know I was in good hands with the former Nam pilot! Fortunately we landed safely so no nee for parachutes!

  11. You would have done better to sit next to a slob who was half passed out. It reminds me of people who talk about disgusting bodily functions while you’re trying to eat. I don’t have a weak stomach but I do have this wonderful appetite and I don’t appreciate some ill-mannered, mindless dimwit dulling my greedy expectations of the great meal I would like to enjoy.

    • ha! yes, half-passed out would have been better! him OR me!

  12. This is so freaking hilarious! I love it. I can’t believe he just kept going – telling you more and more awful flying stories. Sheesh!

    Also – totally agree with the comment that you should have thrown up on his lap! Ha.
    Kristi Campbell recently posted..Parenting: The UnexpectedMy Profile

    • That really WOULD have been the best strategy! That’s definitely my move if anything like that happens again! :o)

  13. I hope I don’t think about this post the next time I fly. It’ll look like I’m just sitting there in my seat and laughing for no particular reason, which is awkward.

    • Actually, I LOVE your idea! Just sit there, laughing for no apparent reason! — people will steer clear of you, then you’ll have the row to yourself!! :o)

    • I like it! I could just have a sudden attack of narcolepsy!

  14. Mishee said:

    You think your flight was bad. Here is a series of facebook posts from my sister during a flight she took earlier this year. It is only funny because it didn’t happen to me. Also you may need a strong stomach to keep reading….

    “Not trying to be funny when I ask God to help me make it through this flight. Why does this ALWAYS happen to me. I’m stuck by a guy with juice spilled all over his pants who is taking up half of my seat (and he’s not big just a hog). He has snot coming out of his nose and an orange colored juice mustache. I am literally sick…
    February 28 via mobile

    Ewww I just literally got chills…I looked down and his hand is all orange from wiping his mouth. I feel puke in my throat.
    February 28 at 12:03pm via mobile

    Luckily I have 2pkgs of sanitizing wipes, 3 hand sanitizers and 2pkgs of Clorox wipes along for the ride.
    February 28 at 12:07pm via mobile

    Ohhhhh I just shuddered. The back of his hand has an orange streak from just wiping like a child…..
    February 28 at 12:08pm via mobile

    I forgot to mention he was picking his ear and I abruptly looked at him and shot him a dirty look.
    February 28 at 12:10pm via mobile

    OMG I just can’t believe how weird people are. He just took his nasty hands and touched every single snack before deciding which one to take. I’m dying here!!!! And u all wonder why I’m such a germaphobe!
    February 28 at 12:25pm via mobile

    The plane is full so I can’t move. And yes he’s an adult.
    February 28 at 12:51pm via mobile

    No way!!!! Suddenly he just rested his arm on my LEG because he’s reading a magazine. I’m literally glued to the window. There’s nowhere to go….
    February 28 at 1:04pm via mobile

    Also I busted him trying to rub the snot from his nose so he pretended to be scratching his eye
    February 28 at 1:05pm via mobile

    Just busted him picking his nose so I looked right at him and groaned in disgust!!
    February 28 at 1:18pm via mobile

    Omg he was totally picking his nose again and I go “ewwww” loud so he’d hear me and he just acted like he didn’t hear me!
    February 28 at 2:22pm via mobile

    26 minutes and counting till arrival.
    February 28 at 2:30pm via mobile

    I was trying to sleep and I was all the way glued to the window and suddenly his elbow was right in my side! And he just left it there until I moved and huffed really loud!
    February 28 at 2:32pm via mobile

    OMG no exaggeration. I’m literally shaking with anxiety!!!!! He just picked a big chunk out of his ear. Looked at it and picked another. Then started picking his nose and finally I said “OMG please don’t!!” And then I covered my face in disgust!!!!
    February 28 at 2:44pm via mobile

    Just survived the worst flight of my life!!! For those of u who don’t understand, if you’re scared of spiders it’d be like sitting next to a giant spider for 4 hours!!! — at Paradise, Nevada.
    I would’ve rather sit next to the spider for real!!! I was literally shaking and rocking back and forth!!! I ended up yelling at him again and he just waited a few seconds and then started back up when he thought I wasn’t looking.
    February 28 at 3:39pm via mobile

    Oh and when he would pull a chunk out he’d either wipe it in the color of his shirt or run his fingers together until it fell off!!!! I could see it on his finger. He stopped to look at it!!
    February 28 at 3:41pm via mobile”

    I’m soooo glad I wasn’t on this flight :)

    • oh lordy, I would DEFINITELY have jumped out the exit door at 30,000 feet to avoid THAT seat-mate!!

  15. what a great trip you must have had. the only thing that would have topped it off was if the inflight movie was Alive, about the andes plane crash.
    mike recently posted..Do dogs get embarrassed?My Profile

    • eeek! I can’t even watch an airplane disaster movie when I’m on the GROUND much less in the air!