April 11, 2024

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The Girl on Flight 333

By Tom Watson

The following is a story I wrote to my kids. It refers to events that they all remember.

It must have been ’72 or ’73 when I went to our Mehoopany Plant near Tunkhannock, PA. to take Kepner-Tregoe’s week-long course in “Analytical Trouble Shooting” (ATS). The trip up had been miserable; Tallahassee to Atlanta (change), Atlanta to Newark, N.J. (another change, with only a short time for baggage transfer), and Newark on to Scranton-Wilkes Barre on a puddle jumper. Despite my worries the bags did make it, and at last I drove a rental car on to Tunkhannock.

Once there however, the week had been a great one. The ATS course was well presented and was worth bringing back to our plant at Perry. In addition, I had made some good friends and contacts as well as playing some tennis in the afternoons after work.

It was now Friday afternoon and for my return the flight I boarded Eastern Airlines Flight 333 in Scranton-Wilkes Barre. This was a through flight all the way to Tallahassee. That is, if you call a flight which stops in Allentown, Pa., Washington, D.C., and Atlanta a through flight. I boarded at about two in the afternoon and would arrive in Tallahassee at around nine that night. At least, I didn’t have to change planes, or worry about my luggage getting lost.

The first leg, from Scranton to Allentown was uneventful. At Allentown a lot of people got on for the Washington leg, and the plane filled up. The flight attendant came to me, just before takeoff and asked if I would move to another seat, so that a couple could sit together. I said I would.

My new seat was a middle one, between a well-dressed man in his forties, and a young woman whom I judged to be in her early twenties. I said hello. He responded cheerfully, and she grunted. During the flight the man and I talked about our business interests, and she read a book. We made a couple of attempts to include her in our conversation, but she would have none of it.

As we made our landing approach to Washington the pilot came on the intercom with a description of everything we were passing. “This is my hometown, and I love to show it”, he said. “On the left is the recently famous Watergate Hotel. Off the right wing you can see the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial.”

The girl beside me suddenly snarled, “Why do people who feel good think everybody is interested in what they are?” She stuck her nose back into her book.

For some reason I asked her what she was reading. She turned the book over for me to read the title but said nothing. The book was something about Zen. Just about the time the wheels touched Washington’s runway, I asked her what Zen was. I don’t remember her answer to that question, but the dam broke.

It turned out that she was a mathematics teacher at Keystone College (where I had played tennis several times during the previous week). She had just been in the wedding of one of her best friends, and to a baby shower for another. “No-one can talk about anything but husbands and babies anymore” she said. “I get so sick of no-one being able to hold a sensible conversation.”

We talked while the plane taxied in to the airport, and while our Washington passengers got off to be replaced by new ones for Atlanta. This time the plane did not fill up, and I was not asked to return to my originally assigned seat. The plane took off as our conversation continued.

She was on her way to West Palm Beach to join her parents for a sailing tour of the Bahamas. “My best friend is going on her honeymoon, and I’m going to the damned Bahamas with my parents. It’s not fair!” she wailed. “The last thing I want to do is go on a trip with my parents!”

I told her about sailing in the Gulf with you five kids. We talked about how I would drop you off about fifty yards apart to find the scallops, and then sail back to pick you up, one by one, “frogman” style. I told her about the time a scallop closed on Heather’s hand, and how we tickled it with seaweed to get it to let go. By this time, she was laughing!

Somewhere between Washington and Atlanta she bent over and picked up her purse. She had gotten out her airline ticket and started reading it when a strange look came on her face. “I was supposed to change at Washington”, she said. “What am I going to do now?”

I said, “Let’s get the stewardess, and see what she can arrange. “We called the stewardess and explained the problem. She departed for the flight deck to see what might be done. I sat talking to the girl, trying to assure her that something could be worked out. She told me she had watched her bags go by on the conveyor belt at Washington and had wondered why they were being unloaded there, but she had gotten involved in our discussion, and had let it slip her mind.

In five minutes or so the stewardess returned and said there was a flight to Ft. Lauderdale, leaving twenty minutes after our landing time in Atlanta. They had space and would have a special car to take her to that flight. That flight would arrive in Ft. Lauderdale at almost the same time as her original flight’s arrival in West Palm Beach.

The only remaining problem was that her parents were expecting her at West Palm Beach. My assignment then became one of getting off the plane in Atlanta and calling her parents before they left home. The change for them would not be significant because they would have only a half hour drive either way. I only hoped they hadn’t left home yet.

As we approached Atlanta the other passengers were told that two people in the tourist cabin had extremely close connections and asked that they remain seated until they (we) could get off first. When we arrived at the gate the stewardess came back and escorted us to the door.

As we got off into the night, a car drove up to take my friend to her flight. When she started for the car, she gave me a hug, and ran off shouting, “I’m so glad I met you. Now I can hardly wait to get on that sailboat with my dad!”

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