“This Is Your Captain, “Know Where The Exits Are”

This weekend is the National Speakers Association ( NSA) Thrive conference. I had never attended and I was excited to participate with a friend from Virginia, Hugh. We made plans to attend. He was connecting through Chicago and me through Dallas to the conference that was being held in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

As I prepared to go, I was watching the weather reports as there was severe weather moving through the southern United States. I had a 7:12 am ET flight so I was up early, making sure I crossed all my “T’s” and dotted all my “I’s.” All good, got the airport early and the flight was only a few minutes delayed.

When I boarded, I went to my usual seat, exit row window ( yes since the Miracle on the Hudson, I usually sit on exit row window unless I get upgraded). When I was getting to my seat, I noticed a Captain was sitting in the middle seat. I hadn’t flown next to a Captain for quite a while so this was a special treat.

The Captain was based in Dallas and a 25-year veteran who started with US Airways. We quickly struck up a conversation. As we began departing the gate, the flight attendant sat in front of me at the exit door. An amazing conversation broke out.

The Captain opened up his iPad and was watching the weather as his next flight was going to be from DFW to BWI. He showed me the flights that were enroute to DFW and the weather. We had strong headwinds and the flight attendants didn’t offer service for at least an hour.

As our discussion continued he showed me that the Captain of our plane was heading north toward St. Louis and then circle south to avoid as much weather as he could. A normal 2 1/2 hour flight turned into about 3 1/4 hour flight which meant I was going to be stretched to catch my next flight to Albuquerque.

He showed me my flight had already been boarded by the time we landed and told me, I bet you are pretty resourceful, there is another flight at 1 pm. I told him thanks for that heads up and I was pretty good at moving flights around. As we departed, I told him when he was in Charlotte, to look me up and I would give him a personal tour of US Airways 1549 when the museum opened. He told me he’d take me up on that offer.

I went straight to the Admirals Club and spoke with Jo, one of their Admiral Club representatives. She told me that the 1 pm to Albuquerque was full but I had an option to go to Santa Fe and drive and that flight leaves at 11 am. I chose that option as I would have waited until 7 pm for the last flight to Albuquerque. She put me in first class, 4D, and I hustled to the gate.

I boarded and got to my seat, did my regular routine, read the instruction card, and prayed for the Captain and First Officer to have the skills and wisdom to get me to my destination.

We took off on time and about 30-40 minutes into the flight the Captain came on the intercom and said he was turning back to DFW as he had many warning lights going off. He instructed to know where the exits are then we began to bank.

I have heard something similar to this before and as he banked I had a flashback to January 15, 2009 as when we banked, I saw the skyline of Manhattan out of my window. I told the guy next to me to open up the shade and make sure he held his phone and had his ID. He looked at me like I was crazy but he did it. The lady across the aisle was looking up and down the aisle and she asked me what was going on. I told her the same thing, make sure you have your phone and ID on you.

We began to descend quickly. The last time I felt that kind of descent was on January 15, 2009, so I knew something was not good. I noticed the flight attendants start to lock down all the doors of the compartments and cart, told the passengers to put all trash in the pocket of the seat in front of them, and then they jumped in their seats. When she said “Put your trash in the pocket, ” it was a signal to me to stay focused and prepared.

I saw I had some cell service so I texted my EA, Kelli, and my wife, Terri to let them know something was up and asked them to watch the flight number.

The Captain came on one last time and said make sure your seat belts are locked, read the instructional card and know where the exits are. He said get ready as we were going to have an emergency landing.

That was my signal to get ready to brace as we were going to have a hard hit.

I looked out the window and saw the runway was cleared and there was a fire truck and EMS vehicle on the right side of the runway. I thought the plane either lost an engine or the wheels would not engage. I texted Kelli and Terri one more time and told them to watch the flight and for me.

I put my head down just like I did on January 15, 2009. The Captain and First Officer got the plane down with a rougher-than-usual landing but solid and with no incident. The fire truck and EMS quickly drove up to the right side of the plane.

I looked at the guy next to me and he was more concerned that he wasn’t going to get to Santa Fe on time. The lady across from me was breathing hard but in good shape. I texted Kelli and Terri and told them we got down without incident but I didn’t know my next move.

Once the all clear was given, I departed, thanked the Captain and asked him what was going through his mind. He told me he didn’t know what happened but with all the lights flashing, thought there may have been a fire or something that could cause a fire, so he made the call to go back to DFW.

The Captain apologized for not getting me to Santa Fe but I told him that’s no big deal. Like the previous Captain told me, ” you are probably pretty resourceful” and that is what I told our Captain. I was grateful that we had a Captain and First Officer who managed their mindset or state in a situation where it could have gone a different way.

As I was scrambling to see where I was going next, I went to the Admirals Club, sat down, had a Coke Zero, and got a little emotional. I was grateful not only for how the Captain and First Officer handled the situation but also for my experience on the Miracle on the Hudson as it gave me a reference on how to handle uncertainty- to always be prepared, not judge other people, stay focused, and maintain your mindset.

It’s the secret sauce on how to handle uncertainty when life throws you a curve ball.

Yesterday was another example that life is full of uncertainties. You can put yourself in the best possible situation but things happen that are out of your control. Everyone will have at least one day in their life where they meet uncertainty.

That’s when you realize that all the moments are put in your life for a reason. They are there to prepare you to be able to step up and handle it. All those little challenges or problems you have faced were there for a reason and a purpose and will serve you.

When you face uncertainty, such as when you are on a plane and all of a sudden, something happens out of your control, you have to create the conditions around you for the highest opportunity to win and to create opportunity out of that uncertainty.

You need to

  • Maintain your mindset
  • communicate effectively with yourself and others
  • be prepared by “knowing where your exits ” are
  • employ resourcefulness
  • stay aware
  • have gratitude

I ultimately did not get to Albuquerque but my friend Hugh supported me as did the management at NSA and I truly appreciate that. There was only so much resourcefulness I had yesterday. I needed some certainty and my friends, Kelli, Terri, and American Airlines were able to give me that certainty as I headed back to Charlotte for a late-night safe and uneventful landing.

Remember, when you face uncertainty, it’s there for a reason and there is a moment in your life that was there to prepare you for it and to give you the certainty that ,