Fasten Your Seatbelts—Rough Ride Ahead (By Marcia Thomas)

Clear air turbulence is unpredictable, since it comes out of the blue. Unless a plane ahead of you encounters and reports it, you do not have any warning until you hit it, as was the case on our flight from San Francisco to Kansas City in August of 1976.

My flight partner and I knew each other well. In fact, we had learned that we were born on the same day—November 7, 1945. She was named Marcia Kathleen (Kathy) and I was Marcia Darlene. We worked well together.

When a plane hits an air pocket as we did, it drops, becoming weightless, and everything that isn’t strapped down floats upwards. Our first indication of turbulence on that trip was a huge and unforeseen air pocket.

Kathy was serving coffee in the aisle. With a tray holding cream and sugar in one hand and the coffee server in the other, she didn’t have a free hand to latch onto anything. She said that her feet hit the ceiling along with the coffee, which rained down on the passengers beneath. I grabbed the handle of the parked liquor cart, which probably weighed 200 pounds, and in spite of our combined weight, the cart and I rose at least eight inches before setting back down. Fortunately, the passengers were fastened in their seats. Otherwise we would have had a lot of extra trouble.

Eventually things clamed down and we landed safely in Kansas City. The plane and flight attendants were going onto Washington D.C., with a fresh crew of pilots boarding at the gate.

The second officer is responsible for a “go around” in which he goes through the cabin and walks down on the tarmac to inspect the exterior. When he finished, he returned to the galley, where we were setting up for the flight. With a puzzled look on his face, he asked, “That older gentleman standing in the aisle back there, is he half-crocked or something?”

I looked back, turned to the second officer and said, “No, I don’t think so. Why?”

“When I went back there he asked me if I wanted some coffee, which was strange as it was. I said, ‘No,’ and he said, ‘Well, if you do, it’s up there.’ Then he pointed to the ceiling.”

“Oh,” I giggled. “You weren’t on that last flight. We hit severe turbulence.”

Kathy came out of the galley and joined our conversation. “Oh,” she said, “That was the guy who was sitting around where the coffee hit the ceiling and rained down on everything. There wasn’t anything anybody could do about it.”

The next week we were in the galley when the turbulence hit again. I grabbed hold of the counter railing, and watched as the coffee in my cup made a nice arc through the air and landed on the first flight attendant. I was very apologetic, but of course it wasn’t my fault. You never know when turbulence is going to hit.