Friday, December 29, 2006

Air Travel

Recently, I went to London on vacation. Naturally (in this day and age) it involved air travel. The flight originated from RDU on 12/16, heading to Chicago for a connection to Heathrow. There was about a five-hour layover in Chicago, so there was plenty of buffer for things to not work right.

Anyone who travels by plane more than once a year is aware of the difficulties encountered in air travel. There is always something new and exciting to deal with. For example, you have to pack any carry on liquids into a transparent bag, and the containers must all be smaller than 3.5 fluid ounces of content.

Our flight from RDU to ORD was delayed, due to weather in Chicago. It was not delayed a little, but delayed a lot -- something greater than two hours. While this was not an issue for us, it put pressure on other folks who had connecting flights. Now, different people deal with travel stress in different manners. As one example, I was flying with a colleague and her family who were en route to India for three weeks vacation. They missed the connecting flight to Delhi, but the weren't freaking out.

Another example of someone on the plane is one where the situation wasn't handled well. This young lady engaged in a cell phone conversation from the plane while we were waiting to leave RDU (you know, one of those conversations that really should be held in private, not in front of 115 people on a plane). This lady spent about 20 minutes yelling at her significant other about how it was his fault that the plane was delayed, and how this was so disruptive to her life. The other 19 minutes were variations on the same theme, with the interrogative "do you understand me?" punctuating each cadence. This was clearly an example of someone who doesn't have a more global view about things.

I have the benefit of practicing yoga, and in generally I keep a pretty cool head about things, although I do understand the stress that can occur with travel as my most challenging trip was to Bangalore

The question naturally arises: "Is it worth it to get all worked up about travel?" We have to understand there are things out of our control, and we have to go with the flow. Contingency planning is valuable. However, for me, the answer was revealed based upon the following.

We boarded the flight for Heathrow, which was leaving late due to accumulated delays in Chicago. Other folks had to hurry to make this flight, some trying to return home to London. One such family was a man, his wife, and daughter who were returning from a week-long cruise. I was seated by the aisle and I often watch the other passengers boarding. This gentleman, probably in his 60's, was carrying a computer bag. I thought is was a little odd that he was hunched over just a bit.

The line was moving slowly, and this fellow made it to a place in the aisle just beside my seat back. I noticed that the man started falling backwards. I reached out to grab his right arm and try to stabilize him as I thought he's just lost his balance. The weight into his arm kept increasing as the fellow kept going back toward to floor. As his face came into view, I saw that this man was in serious trouble, most likely already dead. There is a vacant look in the eyes which communicate the absence of life, the exodus of the spirit.

Very quickly, we formed a team to do what we could to help this man. Fortuitously, the man sitting behind me was a medic, the lady sitting across the aisle one row back was a doctor. The flight attendants quickly brought oxygen and a ventilating bag, but they didn't have a defibrillator, which was a surprise. We worked with this man on the aisle floor beside my seat until the medics came. Unfortunately, he had no vitals. The medics took him to the jetway and tried to help him, but to no avail.

This man's wife and daughter stood in the aisle and saw their husband, their father pass away. I felt their grief, and could empathize.

In the aftermath, it turns out that this family had to make a dash across the airport to make their flight. While there is no evidence suggesting the stress of trying to make a flight can cause a heart attack (which is almost certainly what happened to this man) I do believe that stress can cause your body to weaken and leaves you vulnerable.

While this for me was a serious life lesson in why you shouldn't "kill yourself" to get to a flight, others missed the point. Helping this man caused a further delay in the flight, and other passengers were angry and stressed because of the further delay. Some people just don't get it, and that's sad.

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