Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Jamaican Slide

The holiday season of 2009 delivered its first of several strange plane events in the shape of a runway slide in Jamaica.

The reporting around the runway mishap in Jamaica included the following ironies:

1. The American Airlines flight from Miami had experienced heavy turbulence, and when the plane finally touched down, the passengers clapped; at that point the aircraft began to skid, and the passengers began to scream. This was an unpleasant reminder that the air is not always the most dangerous part of flight—sometimes the ground is just as slippery.

2. When the plane reached the end of the runway, skidding, it "smashed through a perimeter fence" and then came to rest in a "sandy embankment." Perimeter fences around airports are designed to keep nefarious people out. But perhaps we need more airports designed with safety nets to keep planes in, as well. (There was a design in the 1920s for an airfield that was to be situated on top of skyscrapers, replete with safety nets hanging below to catch planes that overshot the elevated landing strips—given the recent runway slides, maybe this is not such a bad idea.)

3. When the plane came to a halt, the "lights went out, and suitcases and bags popped out of the overhead bins and fell onto passengers." This scene is right out of any number of movies that show flimsy overhead bins flapping open and bags bouncing out, comically. But seriously, overhead bins are supposed to keep carry-on baggage contained—most importantly during emergencies. So it is ironic that amidst the pandemonium of a runway slide, the oft-troped overhead bins would fail, too, adding a little bit of slapstick comedy to a terrifying situation.

4. The Jamaican slide was no less dramatic for how the Boeing 737 reportedly came to a stop "10-15 feet from the sea and boulders"—I want to know more details about this scene. How did it feel to deplane out of the emergency exits and hear the surf booming so close by? And was this encounter with the nighttime sea, for anyone on the plane, a pleasant if sudden reminder that they had indeed arrived at their vacation destination?

5. One passenger, Natalie Morales-Hendricks, was quoted as describing the incident as such: “We just buckled and bumped... It was like being in a car accident." The irony here exists at the convergence of cars and planes—these are two utterly distinct contemporary mobilities that keep finding odd resonances. Thus BMW advertises their new backseat configuration as "First Class," and the Northwest pilots who overshot the Minneapolis airport in October were compared to car drivers texting. This suggests something about the inability to recognize uniqueness—and plane crashes much be maintained as unique in order to justify the intensity of airport security and the sanctity of the airliner as a symbol of freedom. Yet even here, on the Jamaican tarmac, the harrowing experience gets gobbled up by the familiar and mundane: "like being in a car accident."