taking off


It was delicate snow and we hadn’t heard any mention of the polar vortex sweeping its blizzards in from the north. Just light snow, nothing to worry about because our plane to LA was due in a couple of hours, then the final long leg back to Australia. Our six-month adventure was drawing to an end, as adventures usually do these days, with two draining air flights, no sleep and plastic food. We sat in the lounge watching the snow fall. It was light, and seemed to be melting as soon as it hit the tarmac. A final, beautiful glimpse of Dulles Airport and farewell to Washington DC.

Things changed by the time we boarded. The snow was heavier and the wind had rushed in, turning the lazy fall of snowflakes into a thick white moving curtain. But it’s okay, I thought, they do this all the time. We settled into our seats. The captain told us that before we took off, we’d need to taxi to an area of the airport where the plane could be cleaned of snow and then sprayed with a kind of anti-freeze that would prevent more snow sticking to it. That’s good, I thought, they’re taking precautions.

Time passed; we taxied, and taxied some more, to what must have been the outer reaches of the airport, if not the state itself. We waited. Time passed. The captain reassured us that the cleaning team was on its way. On its way? I thought we’d come this far to meet them. Peering out the tiny windows we could see only a white blur of snow. They do this all the time, take off in snow, I thought. And it’s good that they’re taking precautions. The man next to me, in the window seat, pulled out his mobile and made calls about being delayed. ‘Washington is ridiculous,’ he said into the phone. ‘An inch of snow and they go into a panic. How do they think other cities manage? Just crazy. It’s only been snowing for a few hours. Ridiculous that we have to wait and fuss.’

Oh good, I thought. Someone familiar with snow and planes, someone who knows; it’s obviously no big deal.

The cleaning team arrived. We could see nothing, but there were sounds of spraying water, a few bangs. Time passed. The captain, cheery as ever, told us that unfortunately the cleaning team would have to go over the plane again because the snow was falling so heavily it was covering the plane as soon as they cleared it.  Another half hour at least. The man next to me took out his rosary beads. Oh no. ‘And,’ the captain added,’ if you have a connecting flight in LA, you might not make it.’ We had one of those.

We waited. The cabin crew served orange juice and water, but the attendant ran out of supplies before she reached me. ‘I’ll be back with more,’ she said, and she was, but she started on the row of seats behind me. I lifted my hand, opened my mouth, but she was busy, preoccupied. And there were other things to think about. Outside the snow fell in a thick white haze. The captain with his reassuring voice told us that the plane had now been cleaned of snow and sprayed. ‘We just have to wait for them to clear the runway of ice and check that it’s safe for take-off.’ What? Ice now? The man next to me worked his way through his rosary beads, one by one. I watched the silver crucifix slip off his knee.

‘Okay!’ The captain again, relentlessly cheerful. ‘The runway’s clear, just one more thing to do. First Officer Jones will come into the cabin to inspect the wings, and make sure they’re clear of snow.’ Ookaaaay, I thought. Or perhaps we could just go back inside now, leave this flight for another day. I was in the row of seats in line with the wings, and First Officer Jones smiled, excused himself as he squeezed past and shone his little torch out the window. I peered out. Snow, yes, on the wings. I can see it. Can he see it?  ‘Mmmm, doesn’t look too bad,’ he said and smiled, as he squeezed back into the aisle. He checked the other side and walked back to the cockpit, crisp in his white uniform. Not too bad? I thought. Is that a measurement? Just how much snow is safe? ‘So, how about a round of applause for First Officer Jones,’ the captain called. Everyone dutifully clapped, though I decided I’d be more inclined to clap if First Officer Jones had gone outside to check the bloody wings.

And then there was no turning back. ‘Cabin crew prepare for take off.’ We taxied, gathered speed, the man next to me, the man who knew about snow, crossed himself and caressed his rosary beads. I thought about the wings, the piles of snow I’d seen, but there was nothing I could do now, and I didn’t have any rosary beads.


7 thoughts on “taking off

  1. What a hoot, Robyn … You clearly lived to write another post.

    I would have felt like you. We are watching too many Air Crash Investigations on TV these days!

    I remember a sudden ice storm when we lived in the Dulles airport area. We were in a mall … All fine and clear before we went in, but in the space of an hour or so all hell had broken loose. Our normal 20 minute drive home took a couple of hours. The DC area, as your man said, is not well set up for such weather.


    1. A very uneventful flight, thank goodness. And we even made the connection because the plane was flying in from New York and was delayed even longer than us. But I do love those moments when you look back and ‘see’ the cameo, and its comedy.

      We were surprised, actually, that the schools were closed on days with only a fairly light fall of snow, and we wondered how they managed. But then, we know nothing of snow and its ways. And we didn’t have to drive.


      1. We are heading off to LA and Toronto (where our daughter is currently living) in mid-April. I reckon Toronto-ites would laugh at the behaviour of Washingtonians around their bit of snow. But it’s all about what you are used to and what your infrastructure is set up to manage isn’t it?

        Glad the flight was uneventful and that you didn’t miss your connection.


      2. Ah, you’ve chosen a sensible time to visit Toronto. Our youngest daughter spent a term on exchange there January to May, and said it was so hard to go outside because it felt like the cold was eating her face off! She was disappointed that, just as the weather was warm enough to explore the city, she had to leave. Hope you have a great time and good flights. Don’t watch Air Crash Spectacular or whatever, will you?!


      3. Thanks Robyn. I had really wanted to go in May rather than mid-April cos I’m a wuss and love the warmth, but we haven’t seen our daughter since August 2012 and even those extra couple of weeks seemed just too long! She’s finding this winter pretty horrendous, but it’s her second there, and she also did a year’s exchange in Virgina (Charlottesville) and visited the US another winter. She doesn’t like the cold. Why does she do it! I believe Toronto is beautiful. Have been to Canada a few times but more east and more west, so I’m looking forward to it. Have never seen the Great Lakes.


  2. So beautifully told Robyn. Rosary beads are a pretty good indicator – if you see me on a plane with them, you would need to be quaking. Glad to hear you are both home safe and well.
    When is the book due out?


    1. Thanks Pauline. The flight was actually boring and uncomfortable, and our connection was delayed, so we had time to spare. It’s funny to be back to this searing heat.
      And the book is out in March next year, so a long wait, but they tell me that in publishing terms it’s perfect for preparation and marketing. So I’m learning patience.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s