When I was younger, I wondered how flight attendants managed to remain calm during turbulence, or even when the airplane would journey through thick fog, let alone a storm. Don’t they ever worry about the wings breaking off? What if another airplane is flying directly at us and the pilots can’t see it? What if we need to land and they can’t see the runway?
As a person who hadn’t flown much, my irrational fears and questions seemed completely legitimate. I had no idea how much more went into a flight than just what the pilots could see from their tiny flight deck windows. I did not know that aircraft wings were made to be flexible, in order to give and bend to withstand turbulent air. I did not know that I was generally safer at 35,000 feet than I was walking across an intersection in broad daylight. I would not have expected that I would one day fall in love with flying during a thunder storm, like I did today on my flight from Orlando to New York.
I am three months into my flight attendant career and only now have I realized my love for turbulence – Mother Nature’s hands rattling the sky. The direct and unexpected jolt is nothing new to me, but this time I tune in. With a flight load of only 13 passengers, and not much to do, I take a window seat and begin to gaze outside. We tear through fluffy gray patches of sky, lightly bouncing along the way. I can see water streaking off the ends of the wings all the while. And then the light fades out as the sun sets in the west, and the lightning makes its appearance.
One moment, there’s a pitch black sky, with the faint light pollution from the MD-90’s flashing lights in the background. The next minute, a fiery white-hot beam dances and illuminates all of the thick tropical storm clouds in sight. One small crack of electricity to uncover what appears to be a 20 mile radius of sky. And then it happens again. And again. Sometimes far away, sometimes so close, it looks like it could touch the wing outside of the window. I wonder what it would look like if it did.
The gentle turbulence continues to rock me. My mind is so consumed by the amazing natural show of light that’s occurring right in front of my wide open, bloodshot eyes, I lose track of time completely and slip into a trance. The universe is so strong, so mighty and vast, so capable of wonderful things. I think about how soothing it is to slip away into peaceful thoughts.
I dare to consider how long I can remain in this intrinsic state. And then a passenger presses their call light. A chime sounds, violently ejecting my mind back into reality and placing my love affair with the sky on hold, for now. I bravely look forward to the next time I am fortunate enough to meet the storm.