Prairie Memories by Gary Heintz: “Floating” Over The Atlantic
We were awestruck, watching the huge 747 land at the Omaha Airport. My first wife and I were waiting, along with another 500 State Farm people to board that monster for a flight to Munich, Germany. I had read about these planes, holding 500 passengers in rows of up to 12 people, three on each side and six across the middle, but couldn’t imagine the actual size of the aircraft until we boarded. We were seated up front, the second row from the nose of the plane, and looking back, the seats seemed to stretch forever, broken up only by the five bathrooms located at intervals down the center of the cabin. We settled in for a long flight, the huge plane lumbering to the end of the runway, revving up it’s engines, then lurching forward, driving us back into our seats. It was controlled mayhem as the plane seem to be blasting off, launching into the air at a severe upward angle and maintaining that angle for what seemed like forever before finally levelling off. After a few minutes of flight, the captain came on to say we were going to land in Bangor, Maine, to refuel before continuing to Munich. He said that a 747 had never taken off from the Omaha airport before, and because the runway was comparatively short, they wanted to be as light as they could be when becoming airborne off the short runway. He also apologized for the rollercoaster takeoff. It didn’t take long and people were walking around, visiting with friends and associates, getting refreshments and using one of the five bathrooms on the plane.
After refueling in Bangor, we settled in for an all-night flight, waking up to see the coast of France, and feeling the plane slowly descend as we approached the Munich airport. After landing, busses transported us to our hotels and we began a ten day stay, touring Bavaria and Austria, eating German chocolate, driving eighty miles an hour down the autobahn and being passed by big Mercedes going much faster, visiting historic sites, many of them somber and disturbing, and enjoying the time with friends.
The trip home was going to be a non-stop, daytime flight from Munich to Omaha, our flight path far above many smaller planes making the same journey. The novelty of looking out the window wore off when we seemed to spend much of our time either in or above the clouds. People started to let down from all the activity of the last ten days. My wife started to fidget when we were about three hours from Omaha, looking down the aisle, seeming to be searching for someone or something. I finally asked her what she was looking for. She didn’t tell me for quite some time. In the meantime, people were walking up and down the aisle, visiting and saying goodbyes to friends before the flight ended. Finally, my wife said, “I need to go to the bathroom”. I looked down the aisle to the nearest bathroom, about 25 feet away. “Alright”, I said. “It looks like its unoccupied”. She didn’t move. I thought she hadn’t heard me, so I told her again it was open. She whispered to me, “I’m afraid to get up”. “Why?” I asked. “ I’m afraid I will make the plane rock if I walk around!”. “What? Look at all the people standing in the aisle. You won’t make this plane rock! You went to the bathroom when we flew over, didn’t you?” “No, she said, “ I was asleep the whole time, and didn’t go until we were in the Munich airport”. Stifling a chuckle, I finally convinced her we wouldn’t crash if she walked carefully to the bathroom. She moved slowly and carefully, hanging onto the backs of the seats along the aisle. When she came out of the room, she nearly ran back to our seats, breathing heavily, sure she had tempted fate by answering nature’s call while over forty thousand feet in the air.
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