Thingish Things

A Touch of Madness at 30,000 Feet

Written By: William F. B. O'Reilly - Aug• 10•11



One small thing I still enjoy about flying is watching the reaction of children on their first airplane ride. No matter how many times I fly; no matter how long the delay or how arduous the security procedures, I am instantly enchanted with the process of flying when I can see it through the eyes of a five- or ten-year old.

There were a couple of them on a flight with me tonight. It was a relatively empty plane, so these kids got to perch in the window seats above the wings. When the stewardess asked for volunteers to move to the back of the plane for ballast, it was nothing doing for these two. They got the wing seats and no one was taking them away.

What really struck me on the trip, though, were the faces of the kids when the flight attendants began the emergency training process — the whole oxygen mask and life raft thing. Giddiness immediately gave way to grown-up solemnity. Their eyes, betraying a trace of surprise, were fixed on the lady in blue.

It took me back to my very first flights when I would try to look nonchalant about the shocking and strikingly grown-up information I was receiving — this thing can actually go down, and in water! — while eagerly trying to store the sequence of survival instructions in the back of my head.

To this day I’m not sure I have it right, and if that mask drops and doesn’t inflate, there is no chance I would trust that the oxygen is flowing. It would be wild-eyed panic for me. (“Air! Air! I need…air!” “Sit down, Mr. O’Reilly!”).

But there’s something else, a suspicion I have subconsciously harbored for more than 40 years, of which these kids reminded me tonight. I have never truly believed there is a life vest under my seat. I don’t care what they say.  And, when I think about it, I have resist the neurotic temptation to drop to my knees and check. I never have, but I swear, one day I will.

I am under no illusion that the thing would spare my life; I just kind of need to know if it’s there, as one occasionally has to tap one’s pocket for a wallet or the house keys. It’s purely need to know.   

“Hey, kid,” I was tempted to say tonight, “check out what color life vest you got.”

But I didn’t. It probably would have broken some law. I do have to ask, though. Has anyone ever checked? Anyone?

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  1. Your Friend says:

    Having twice survived emergency landings, I can assure you, they are in fact there.

  2. Me says:

    “Occasionally” tap? Oh hahaha:-)

  3. Daniel Suib says:

    …and there is absolutely no way that I put my oxygen mask on before I make sure my kids masks are on. Sorry…kids first on that issue.

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