I’ve mentioned a time or two that I don’t like to fly. I spent 28 years wearing an Air Force uniform… and I HATE to fly. If I’m going to go someplace, I prefer to drive. But that isn’t always possible.
Now in my defense, I do better on a large plane versus a small plane. The downside to that is the airlines are using smaller planes to save money. It makes more economical sense to fly a full small plane than to fly a half-empty large plane. I understand that. I don’t LIKE it, but I understand it.
I’ve had some tough times on small planes. While I was in the Air Force, I had a boss that decided he needed to take a trip. And as luck would have it, he decided I needed to take a trip as well. What a great boss…
Now the base we were at maintained a small fleet of Lear Jets that were used to transport General Officers and other high-ranking big-wigs all around the country. Actually, they were available to anyone traveling on military orders, but if you weren’t wearing stars or had the equivalent civilian rank, you were out of luck… unless you knew someone. And as luck would have it, I was one of the ones you needed to know.
Part of my job at the time was to book folks on those planes. As such, I knew when and where they would be. I also knew what days they weren’t scheduled to carry anyone. So he told me to watch the schedule for a day when one of our planes would be available to carry him and me on a trip. So I did.
And the day arrived. Now I have to admit, it’s pretty dang impressive to walk out onto the fight line to your own personal jet. And it was cool because they had pulled it around to the VIP loading area like always. So we got to walk out on the red carpet to get on our personal jet. (OK… OK… it was the painted red cement… but just humor me).
As slick and as cool as this had been up to that moment, reality set in once I bonked my head trying to get in. Now… even after chasing, tasering, and beating the crap out of some bad guy, once he is in handcuffs and being put into the back seat of the police car, there is always a cop there to shield his head and to tell him to “Watch you head” as he is being put in the back seat. (Heaven forbid he bonk his head on the car and have to be given medical treatment).
So I bonk my head and CRAWL into this plane. Literally. This plane was little. Tiny. Miniscule. Standing on my KNEES, I still couldn’t hold my head up straight. But this was luxury. This was how the Big Wigs flew.
Now this luxurious mode of travel seated a max of seven passengers. None comfortably. There were four passengers seats, two on each side and facing each other, and then a small couch at the back that, in a pinch, could seat three.
So the boss got in first (and didn’t see me bonk my head) and took one of the passenger seats facing the back of the plane. I got in and crawled to the seat beside him. He then told me I was welcome to the couch. “How nice” I thought to myself. So after I was settled, not comfortable, but settled, one of the pilots stuck his head in the door and asked me to give him a hand with our luggage.
What kind of rinky dink airline is this that the passengers have to help with their own luggage? So I crawled back to the front of the plane to get our luggage. The pilot got onboard and went to the back of the plane and laid my seat down so the luggage could be put back there. Now… I’ve never flown on a plane so small they had to take it apart to load your luggage, but that is what happened.
So I handed the luggage to the pilot in the door and he slid it to the back to the other pilot and we continued this routine until all the luggage was loaded. Both pieces. And once they were out of the way, I crawled back into the plane and, DAMMITALL, hit my head AGAIN.
So I crawled back to my seat, got strapped in, listened to the emergency instructions (which was pretty much if there is an emergency you’re gonna die, cause you won’t be able to get that door open) and settled back in my seat. To pray.
If ever in my life I become religious, it’s when I fly. I don’t know if it’s because I feel closer to God way up there or if it’s just the fear, but either way, I pray a lot when I fly. So I prayed as we taxied out, I prayed as we started down the runway, I prayed as we lifted off… I prayed so much God probably put me on hold to take some other prayers.
So we’re off and we’re flying and I’m kind of looking out the window and kind of chatting with the boss and kind of looking around the cramped quarters we are crammed in when… WHOA!!
From my strategic vantage point on the luxurious rear couch of this personal jet, I could see all the way into the cockpit. This wasn’t like a commercial jet where they have a door that shuts and locks. There was a little folding door…accordion door… whatever you wanted to call it that could close the cockpit off from the passengers. If they thought to close it. Ours had not thought to do so. And as such… I could see everything that was going on in the cockpit.
I could also see what WASN’T going on and at the moment I happened to look, NO ONE WAS DRIVING THE PLANE!! One guy had a book and was writing in it and the other was digging through a brief case beside his seat. I could see the steering wheels, BOTH OF THEM, clearly just wheeling away by themselves with no steering going on. I thought that was why they called them STEERING wheels. Someone, oh say… the PILOTS, were supposed to steer that wheel. And to make it even easier, they had put TWO of them up there so they didn’t have to fight over just ONE!!
No one was steering. We were gonna die. That’s all there was to it. We were just gonna die. The pilot guy, the one not steering, or not piloting, or not doing whatever the heck he was being paid to do, had said before we left if there was an emergency, we were just gonna die because we wouldn’t be able to get that door open.
I was ready to prove him wrong.
It was about this time that I realized I needed to use the bathroom. Bad. REAL bad. Did I mention yet that this was a small plane? Well… I came to learn that sometimes when you want luxury, you have to forego necessities. Like… if you want sleek speed, you have to give up a big plane. And when you give up a big plane for luxury and sleek speed, one of the necessities that are given up is a bathroom.
Again… this was a plane that Air Force BIG WIGS flew on regularly. DAILY. And it didn’t have a bathroom. But don’t fret. Don’t let the absence of a bathroom worry you. Don’t lose sleep over the concern that was weighing heavily on my mind.
Just to catch you up… we’re on a TINY jet, flying at LEAST 10,000 miles an hour, I don’t know… 15… 20 miles high… nobody driving… and no bathroom. Are ya with me?
So then I found out that while, no, there wasn’t a bath ROOM, what there WAS is a toilet DRAWER. Now folks… with my hand raised… I kid you not. As good as I try to be at finding humor for you, I could NOT make this stuff up.
There was not space on this plane for a bathroom. So somebody, and I guarantee you that the somebody in THIS case made BIG bucks, came up with the bright idea to put a toilet drawer on this plane. Now truthfully, I don’t think it was actually called a toilet drawer, but if it looks like a duck… and QUACKS like a duck… I’m gonna call it a duck. And what this plane had was a drawer that pulled out that had a toilet seat on it. Hence… a toilet drawer.
Now if you remember back to the start of this saga, I bumped my head getting in this hell hole (oh yeah… I’m WAY past the idea of it being cool to fly on a personal jet. This is nothing short of a hell hole now). And after I bumped my head and got inside, you couldn’t stand up. Heck… you couldn’t even kneel comfortably. As I knelt/crawled to my seat, my head was still at a 45 degree angle.
So, if you think about it (and you KNOW I do), the design of this plane posed a huge problem to trying to use the toilet drawer. There was no way you were gonna be able to stand up to lower your pants. And, while I haven’t tried it, lowering my pants while kneeling with my head at a 45 degree angle wasn’t appealing either. So that left laying in the aisle, next to my boss, pulling my pants down, and then crawling to the toilet drawer.
Folks… I thought about that. I thought LONG and HARD about that. And in the end I made the tough decision to just wait it out. Many things went through my mind. MANY things. Like… what if I’m sitting on the toilet drawer and we hit turbulence? And what if I’m laying in the aisle with my pants down and the plane crashes? Is THAT how I want to be found? What would people think? I mean… I could just see the crash report:
Pilot – Strapped into left seat
Co-Pilot – Strapped into right seat
Boss – Strapped into passenger seat
Tom – laying in the aisle with pants around ankles
See… y’all just NEVER know the things going on in my head and how far in advance I’m thinking. But luckily, we made it to our destination without me having to use the toilet drawer. The boss and I did our visit and flew home three days later. And if you think THIS was bad, man… the flight home was REALLY bad.
And that’s MY take.