The Perfect Flight

You’re not going to believe this story. But it’s true. I was there. I kind of wish it hadn’t happened when it did. I’d appreciate it even more if it had happened more recently.

In the late 1990’s, I was headed up to Nashville for a gig at the Bluebird and some time with my old buddy, Rod Picott.  Karen dropped me off at the Austin airport that afternoon and I stood in line to check in.  After Karen drove off, it occurred to me that I’d left my guitar at home.  Oh, well.  I’ll use Rod’s.  It’s always stressful trying to get a guitar on board anyway.  At the ticket counter I was informed that my flight would be seriously delayed. The plane had hit a large bird on its approach to Austin, and the nose cone was damaged. They were flying a new plane in.  It would be a few hours.  I could rebook on a flight through Dallas, but it would get to Nashville at about the same time as the delayed direct flight.  American would buy me dinner if I wanted to wait for the original flight.  Free dinner!  Woo-hoo!  I was a seriously struggling musician at the time and I’d gladly wait a few hours to get a free meal.  So I called Karen, had her bring my guitar to the airport, bought a Time magazine and went to get my free dinner.  The gig wasn’t till the next day, so I was perfectly happy.

A couple of relaxed hours later, I headed up to the gate, where they told me it would be a spacious flight: only 4 people had elected to stay with this flight—everyone else had rerouted through Dallas.  But the plane and crew were here and had to be in DC the next morning, so the show must go on. When it was time to board, the other 3 people were nowhere to be found. It appeared that I would be the sole passenger on this MD-80 to Nashville! The ground crew as well as the flight crew were all a twitter about it.  They’d never seen a flight take off with just one passenger. So I headed on down the skyway to meet my crew. Captain Bob Gibson greeted me warmly, saw my guitar and asked if I might treat the crew to a concert in the air. I said, sure! My three flight attendants all wanted to meet me, the passenger, and they sat me down in first class (my first and only time) and got me a beer. They hung out with me in the front of the plane and talked about how they’d never seen such a thing. The prettiest one said, “I just want to take my clothes off and run up and down the aisle!” I gulped on my Coors lite. I felt like a rock star: first class with my guitar, chatting with the captain and three stewardeses, all interested in me and my guitar. It was nice to see them let their guard down and just be themselves. “We don’t need to do this, do we?” asked Juanita as she held up the demonstration seat belt. They were happy to be pretty much off-duty.

After we off-loaded some fuel (the plane was out of balance because of the light load) we took off into an orange evening sky. After a few minutes, Captain Gibson got on the intercom. “Well, Slaid, it’s great to have you on board. We’re headed to our cruising altittude of 33,000 feet. I’m going to turn off the seatbelt sign . . .” He came back into the cabin after a while and I got out my guitar for a few songs. It was kinda akward. I wished I knew some flying songs but I couldn’t think of any. I did a song about my Dad because he’d just had heart surgery. Captain Gibson told me he ran a little B&B in Maryland and I could come by any time and play in his bar. He gave me his card. Two years later I took him up on the offer and Karen and I had a nice visit.

I suppose I should have asked to see the cockpit—this was way before 9/11—but I didn’t want to be pushy. Hell, I still felt a little guilty just being in first class. Coming into Nashville the captain came back on the intercom: “We’ll be touching down in 20 minutes.  I hope you’ve enjoyed your flight, Slaid.” The flight attendants packed me a grocery bag full of champagne, orange juice, little liquor bottles, pretzels and peanuts. I signed them all up on my mailing list and passed out a couple of CDs. What fun it was to meet Rod at the airport with a bag of goodies and a helluva story.

Every time I fly American I look for Captain Bob Gibson, and my favorite three flight attendants.