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November 9, 2006

Thanks, Bismarck!

Oxygen MaskLast night, half-way through a twice-delayed cross-country flight on Continental, my ears popped suddenly. I felt a rush of cold air at my feet, and as I yawned to equalize the pressure I looked around and saw the other passengers yawning and holding their ears.

Seconds later overhead panels dropped and the yellow oxygen masks, so familiar from the pre-flight safety briefings, appeared above our heads. Probably because there was nothing scary -- no turbulence, no smoke or flaming engine -- my first thought wasn't fear but rather annoyance. Once I saw those masks, and that they aren’t something you push a button to retract, I knew that plane wasn’t going to be taking me home.

(Tip for future reference: You really have to pull hard to snap the mask off the cord that keeps it above head level. Really hard.)

We'd lost cabin pressure for an unknown reason. The pilot took us down to a lower altitude and then landed safely in Bismarck, North Dakota, after an hour of pretty tense flying.

It was after 11 pm, and the airport had already had its last departure. But when we unloaded a plane full of tired, frustrated travelers, the skeleton crew at Northwest Airlines was already working to arrange transportation and lodging for more than 100 passengers. And when Continental decided to fly a new plane in from Houston, to pick us up and continue on to Seattle, the staff rallied to organize snacks, order pizzas, and arrange hotels for people who wanted to stay overnight. TSA screeners and other employees were called back in, and everybody stayed till after 3 am getting us moved to the new plane and safely back in the air.

We landed a whole lot of inconvenience on Northwest and the Bismarck Airport staff, but they were pleasant and cheerful and went out of their way to be helpful. They made an awful night a whole lot better.


Posted by Bob Pritchett at November 9, 2006 9:55 AM

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