Exiting Quinhagak

“He gets airsick” she chirps, handing over his duffle and walking away. I show him how to work the seatbelt, put him where I can see him, and then hand him an airsickness bag just in case. His little legs stick straight out of his snowsuit. We taxi out onto the snow. It’s a sharp, breezeless day, not a ripple. He’ll be fine. Smoothly pushing the throttle in the Cessna 207, the engine roars to life. Tiger by the tail, we jump into the morning—my favorite part.

Quinhagak is a 15-minute flight from Eek. I smile back at the boy. He smiles back sweetly and then promptly projectile vomits all over the side and back of my seat. He waves at me with his airsickness bag and looks out the window. How did he produce such a volume of bile?

Holding my breath we circle and land. The teacher’s family that I’m picking up is waiting excitedly on the ramp, ready to start their vacation. In ground school they missed some things. I carry a sleeping bag. I’m prepared for crashing on the Tundra and surviving a storm, but not this. The teacher is holding a baby bag. I ask her for a diaper. The boy goes with his aunty. I mop up the puke and improvise, changing gloves as I work. 

Patiently and a safe 40 yards away, the competition watches from his 207. He’s waiting for the family to bail, sure of himself. He’s probably got paper towels and a trash bag. Veteran-like, he spits his chew and waits to steal my customers. I feel like an amateur faking it.

But the teacher is sticking with the program. We load everyone in the plane. The dad has me concerned. I put him up front with me and open the air vent right into his face. He presses his forehead against the frozen window, sucking air. It looks like he may add to the mess. The stench is revolting. We taxi out. I wave at the other pilot, middle finger up inside my mitten.

This family is my hero! The flight is longer to Bethel. I want to send them Christmas cards, buy them pizza. Allies to my inexperience. They tumble out near the terminal. When it’s time to vacate the Alaskan bush, it’s a physical sensation: Get out now.... Their exit amplified by puke.


Deborah Elder is an airline pilot currently living in Fort Worth, Texas.

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