First Flight

The West Jet plane that had departed Toronto Pearson Airport five hours prior started its descent toward the Vancouver skyline and the snaking Fraser River. At first take, the seemingly shoddy design of the vessel upset me. The hollow echo of the sheet metal floor, the Tupperware plastic walls, the tater-tot windows showing telling condensation, the wobbly seats fastened in place by the merest of screws—the helical threads popping like champagne corks under the slightest loss of cabin pressure a surety. I’m the plastic passenger in a child’s toy, I thought in a stupid panic, "first flight" written all over my face.

Petrified in-flight excitement sparked internal dialogue and my nervous leg twitch, which disturbed the passenger to my left. The plumpish woman wholly occupied her allotted space and was well into mine. I welcomed the intrusion, our pressed shoulders a forced intimacy that might lead to an exchange of niceties, socially-grey in-flight cocktails and a hugged parting at baggage claim, but not before she left me with sage, seemingly insignificant advice that would get me out of a Vancouver pickle a year-or-so down the road.

Not so. She avoided eye-contact and glowered at my metronomic leg. No matter, I was too amped up for concern, seeing as it was my first time ever in thin air! I gleamed at the rocky peaks and the creeping shadows the clouds tattooed on the landscape. With only fifty bucks to my name and a place to crash, this was easily the most whimsical maneuver of my young, safe life.

I stoked my excitement with nerdy internal commentary as we descended towards Vancouver International Airport. Cruising out over the rippling abyss of the Pacific Ocean, I noticed we were not stopping at land’s end.

This is a life-shattering move J.D. What the?

Staying our westward heading, we soared farther and farther away from the coast, over a vast, unforgiving mass of black water.

Where is this pilot taking us?

The land was a shrinking crest to our backs as my leg bounced feverishly. I checked the ticket stub in the seat pouch in front of me—YVR, Vancouver, as planned—and carried on the frantic struggle to identify the circumstance that was playing itself out.

This pilot is on a suicide run.

The terror made me sure of it, as I worked out the minute details of why this psycho determined to plunge the only plane I had ever boarded into the hard Pacific sheath below—a watery grave for everyone on board. I glanced down at the expanse of current to approximate time of impact. The ocean kicked up tiny white waves, as though licking its million lips.

The guy caught his wife in bed with one of the flight attendants. Yep, that's it.

I convinced myself of it. Even gave the pilot a name: Gareth, and his hussy-of-a-wife Launa.

He's going to ground the plane into the ocean. He's going to ocean the plane!

This flight was meant to symbolize the end of my past life, not actualize it.

Did I live a good life? Was I good?

Will Gareth announce his intentions over the intercom and apologize for them?

The pilot dipped the right wing, the side I was on, and my gut sank. I slowly bent over pretending to knot my shoelace, groping for the location of the sub-seat life preserver on my way back upright.

A toddler in the seat directly ahead of mine turned his head to marvel at the expanse of sea beneath him. Unaware of any impending danger, the little guy probably envisioned the animated creatures from his Disney films playing their games below the surface. Best that he didn’t know the truth. I paused to envy his ignorance. The thought seized as the plane snapped down. Water leaked into the right-side windows, sky in the left. Gareth had decided to follow through with "Operation: Spite Tramp"—this was it!

Full panic ensued inside of me, from manic brain to stuttering leg, as I waited the socially acceptable time for an adult male to shrill in horror.

At the very least, wait for the nose to drop down and an alarm of some kind. Go out with a morsel of dignity.

Demeanors unchanged, the other passengers went about their in-flight business of hacking at laptops, picking pretzels out of their teeth and reading.

Are you all brain-dead? Does nobody see?

Suddenly, a relinquishing calm swept over me as I melodramatically consoled myself.

I had the chance to see the majesty of these mountains before I died. Most can’t even say that much. And my family knows I love them.

The plane leveled-out its 45-degree slant, dropped landing gear and headed back towards the shore for touchdown. Little did I know, some of the landing strips are positioned such that pilots need to swoop out over the water to angle-in on them, and far enough to leave room for a Boeing 737-800 to make a U-turn.

You're a tool.

My first ever landing freaked me out fiercely. The heavy jolt and ghastly whir of airflow as the vessel struggled to slow down from landing speed made it seem as though the jet would implode at any second. My nerves were completely shot. I sat exhausted, completely still as the muscles relaxed. I dabbed the residual salty fret from my forehead and under my nose, and merciful Gareth nosed us towards a big glass wall. Composing myself, I detected a snide grin on the lady’s face beside me. She had sensed the current of pitiable panic working me over the past four minutes.

A housefly meandered past our row. I considered the precariousness of its travel. And in the air of change, I interpreted my far-from-death experience as a preamble to adventure; a sign that good or bad, land or crash, Vancouver would be an exhilarating place to live. Not even uncertain death could stand in the way.


This is an excerpt from John Goossens' book manuscript To Lain Roads, which was recently long-listed for the SFU Writers Studio First Book Contest. John is currently working on getting his book published, and lives in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, with his wife Jo-Anne and their fourteen-month-old Louis.  

Categories: Airplanes, Pilots, Death

Latest Stories
Checking In/Checking Out

Filter by Category

Everyone has a story to tell...

Submit Yours Here

Points of Departure: