“Please return to your seats, fasten your seat belts, put your seat into the upright position and stow your tray tables for landing”
You know the drill: the familiar sound of the flaps descending; the whoosh of air as the undercarriage deployes. The end markers of the runway come into sight, then – hopefully – the gentle thud of the gear making contact with the ground.
That’s how it’s supposed to be. But Los Angeles International airport – LAX to its friends – was having a bad day last Wednesday. The worst windstorm in 10 years so they said.
We spent a while circling, not particularly uncommon at peak times. Not that I was complaining. Watching the nighttime urban sprawl of LA never gets tiring.
But we were getting bashed about by the wind. Not since I flew into Munich the day this was filmed have I had such a rough approach.
Yet the flaps came down, the gear deployed and the runway markers came into view. The problem was they were only in view out of one window as the pilot struggled to keep the plane level. Out one side was nothing but runways out the other nothing but sky. Not a good way to land.
Seconds later the two massive General Electric engines whirred to life and the plane, now all but empty of fuel after a long flight across the Atlantic, and much lighter, soared skyward like a rocket.
A flustered-sounding pilot quickly came over the intercom to say something about wind sheer and how we’d be coming around for another try. We circled bumpily over the pacific again, me happy to have more time taking in the view.
Second time around was only marginally less bumpy than the first. I wasn’t particularly confident that the pilot wouldn’t fluff it again. But in a rather assertive move, he forced the undercarriage onto the tarmac with a thwack and we eventually came to a rather shaky stop on the taxiway. Even at standstill, the wind buffeted the plane like a child’s toy.
As the tow truck lugged us to the gate, a couple of bright flashes lit up the sky. With a cloudless sky, it wasn’t lightening but, it turned out, an electrical substation blowing.
Immediately the floodlights on the airport apron fell dark, then a few seconds later so did the lights in the terminal. The huge LAX airport was plunged into darkness, including, rather alarmingly, the control tower.
The pilot came back over the intercom to say that it might be worth making ourselves comfortable whilst the ground crew came up with a plan to get us off the plane. Clearly the jetways wouldn’t budge without power and with a terminal in darkness, it was probably better for us to wait on the plane. Besides, the ground crew had other priorities, like fetching stray baggage containers that were being blown about the airfield.
The cabin crew, who must have been tired after a long flight, quickly got to work raiding the galley and handing out water, crisps, coffee, newspapers, magazines – whatever they could find, they put to use.
The contrast with last week’s debacle at Heathrow couldn’t have been starker.
After about 45 minutes, power was restored and LAX flickered back to life. The doors were opened and I made a dash for immigration.
But not before I thanked the crew and asked – to myself – if they could provide training for British Airways.