I dropped into the window seat, on the wing. The exit row. According to the red safety sign, the window-cum-door weighed a mere 41 pounds. “I could lift that,” I thought. “I bet I’d get super-adrenaline, like babies who can’t even crawl but can suddenly clean and jerk SUVs to free their trapped mothers.”
I pulled out the safety instruction card from the seat pocket in front of me. I assumed saving the plane would necessitate the old “grab the top – grab the bottom – pull – twist – toss” maneuver, like so:
With rising panic, however, I realized my window required an entirely different procedure.
First, you arrange your arms crisscross applesauce, so that your non-dominant hand is wrestling with the vital top handle that will either cause the door to open or trap you in the plane, assuring your death. Meanwhile, your dominant arm is dangling uselessly at your side, struggling to find purchase at the bottom (fig. 1).
With arms awkwardly in place, you bend your knees in a “now I’m taking an uncomfortable shit” stance (fig. 2), which is convenient because if you’ve just crashed landed, you literally already are.
Now you are cradling 41 pounds of plane and you really want to chuck it out the window BECAUSE THAT MAKES SENSE. Instead, you’re directed to rest the window on the empty seat beside you (fig. 3).
But we know that no plane seat is ever empty. So sorry nice lady who didn’t try to talk to me at takeoff. If we crash? I’m required to crush you.
I immediately started rehearsing the weird arm movements in my seat.
When the flight attendant asked if we’d assist the crew in the event of an emergency, everyone declared “Oh yes!” A row full of Captain Sully Sullenbergers, they were. No one seemed terrified. No one else was practicing the moves.
But as soon as we took off? They were firing up their iPads, drifting into Candy Crush comas, and devouring their seven pretzels without a care in the world.
“What is wrong with you?!” I wanted to scream. “We are in charge of the safety of passengers from Row 11 all the way back to Row 25 because THERE IS NO REAR EXIT ON THIS PLANE, PEOPLE!”
It was up to me.
My bladder filled, but I dared not empty it. I slid my phone into my back pocket so I’d have it after the emergency landing (fig. 4). “That was good thinking!” the grateful captain would say as he pinned Delta wings onto my charred sweater. “You saved the day so we could call 911 immediately!” Then everyone would cheer because Yay! I’m the hero! I’m Jack Shephard and not the dude who got sucked into the turbine in minute two of the “Lost” pilot!
I did not relax on the descent. I did not relax when the thrusters deployed. I remained at attention as we taxied to the gate. Even as the jetway slammed into place, I thought, “We are on the tarmac and anything could happen and dozens of people might need to escape out my window.”
Finally, I deplaned. I don’t think any astronaut in the history of the space program has ever been more relieved than I was as I set foot in Newark and thought, “That’s one small step for The Reedster, one giant shit she didn’t take in her pants.”