Add a Pinch of Stress

Many years ago, I took a flight from Houston to Oklahoma City. It was a normal flight for me. But this time, I was seated next to a psychologist. He worked in central America, but was traveling back to Oklahoma City for a visit with his mother. He was very sell-assured and did not for a minute mind telling me of his accomplishments.

I noticed that we had arrived in the Oklahoma City area, but rather than landing, we were circling. Having landed at the Will Rogers Airport many times, I was familiar with the normal flight patterns. This was not normal.

After awhile, the pilot came on the intercom and said that while all seemed okay, the light that indicated the landing gear was locked into position had not come on.   We were returning to the Dallas Airport. (Dallas was the home base for this airline.) We would pass low over the airport and let the technical people study the situation and then make a decision on what to do.

This caused a great deal of conversations around the plane. But my seat partner suddenly became very quiet. The flight attendants asked me to help them prepare and I agreed. We took blankets and asked people to put their shoes, purses, glasses, etc. into our make-shift bags. When we filled up a blanket, we stored it in a restroom.

At this point, I observed a strange phenomena.   Women would hand over their purse with little objection. But when it came to the shoes, many were not easily convinced. They did not want to give up their shoes. (I never understood why this was necessary, but the flight attendants were adamant about it.)

By the time this was accomplished, we were in the Dallas area. We made a pass , slow and low, and we could see many people with binoculars, studying the landing gear of our plane. After a few minutes, the pilot was back on the intercom, telling us that the landing gear looked okay. So, they were not going to put down foam, because If the gear was securely locked in place, it was safer without foam.

My psychologist seat partner refused to give up his shoes. Finally, two flight attendants, both barefooted, came and told him that every other person had complied and we were in a holding pattern until he complied. Grumbling loudly, he handed over his shoes.

At this point, he became very vocal. He blamed his mother for his being on this flight. He hadn’t wanted to come at this time, but no, nothing would do for his mother but that he come see her. She wasn’t dying or anything. He ranted and griped the seat back in front of him so severely the person seated there ask him to stop shaking the seat.

This self-assured, confident man, became a basket case once a little stress was placed on him. My thought was that he really needed to see a psychologist.

As we approached the runway, we could see many fire trucks and emergency equipment lined up along our path. he pilot set the plane down softer than any landing I’ve ever been on, before or since. A cheer went up.

We padded into the terminal, all without shoes. Then airline employees brought out all the shoes, purses and glasses. It was a jovial group now that we were safely on the ground. They didn’t even complain about having to look for their shoes.

So, put your characters under some stress and see how they change. It happens in real life. It should happen in the lives of your characters. Even if they are not psychologists.

Share your moment of stress with us.  Thanks.

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11 thoughts on “Add a Pinch of Stress

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  2. I guess we know that the guy on the plane would be a poor protagonist. One dead body and he’d get all cranky! Don’t we like to put our protagonists in one stressful situation after the other? And we don’t even offer them a valium to get through!

    I hate to fly and avoid it, but I’d be more than happy to part with my shoes if I thought it would help get through a bad spot, but then I’m a chicken and I wear cheap shoes-no loss.

    • We do treat our protagonists poorly, don’t we. But, in the end, we (usually) let them come out on top. I gave up my shoes instantly. Never did understand why, but anything they think will help. Thanks for sharing, Lesley.

  3. In 1987 I landed a B-52 in Michigan with two engines out (we still had six good ones). It was about 4:00 AM, but none of the crew was tired-we all perked up with the stress. As we flew west over Lake Huron, I could see a lot of activity at Wurtsmith AFB. Approaching the runway environment, I noticed a sea of red, blue, and yellow lights-emergency vehicles were everywhere. We landed without incident, and then was towed to the parking area. Throughout the ordeal, I wasn’t the least bit stressed. I had confident in my ability, in the aircraft, and in the emergency people awaiting our arrival. I enjoyed your piece about stress-learned from it.

    • Well, I’m impressed. Were the two lost engines on the same side? Cool under pressure is probably a requirement for flying B52s. And confidence in one’s abilities. Thanks for sharing that experience. A lot of us will be impressed, not just me.

  4. How very interesting! I had a similar experience once, flying into Denver. My companion said we seemed to be circling. And then we saw the fire trucks. Would we land in foam?

    No announcement was made. I guess the Denver observers must have decided the landing gear was okay. If there had been an announcement from the pilot, we might have had panic.


    • My question is – for everyone – would seeing all the emergency vehicles help, or make one more concerned? I’m voting for “help.” Thanks for the comment, DAC.

  5. Jim,
    My list is so long I can’t choose just one! I fret/stress over everything! I’m still fretting over $20 I lost back in 1980! The wind blew it from my hands as I got out of my car!!
    That’s one reason I DON’T fly. The what-if stress would kill me. I have flown before but had to have medication to pull it off.

    • And $20 was worth a lot back in 1980. For me, it isn’t the flying that worries me. It’s the getting to the airport that gets me. Particularly if I take the northern route and have to travel on the L.B. J. Freeway. Now, that’s scary. Thanks for stopping by, Ann.

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