So, on the way back from Istanbul, we had a layover in Munich and then boarded a United flight to fly straight to Chicago. The first five hours of the flight were boring enough that I read Zoo City and got most of the way through Pump Six and Other Stories (thanks to last month’s Humble eBook Bundle).
Right while I was in the middle of the titular story of the latter collection, about the breakdown of a technological world, there was a loud clunk and then all the non-essential systems went off: the entertainment system, the air conditioning, and half the lights. We all sat in the quiet for a few minutes. I’ve been on planes before where the power went out and they needed to reboot the system. After a few minutes a flight attendant came on the speakers and hurriedly told us that we were headed into some turbulence and we should fasten our seat-belts. That’s when I knew something was going on, because the fasten seat belt sign hadn’t been turned on and it wasn’t bumpy at all. Fortunately, the pilot came on soon after and was straight with us.
“One of our engines has failed and so we’re redirecting to Gander, Newfoundland. The rest of the flight will be a normal flight.”
It was an interesting hour before we landed in Gander. The pilot had sounded so confident that I wasn’t really nervous. But, you know, I thought a little bit about what would happen if we went down. And I had to shake off a little feeling, left over from Pump Six, that this was how the decline of technology started. Maybe I read a little too much dystopian scifi.
The pilot made another similar announcement, just before we landed, that the landing would normal. And indeed, it was uneventful. And then we were walking across a tarmac into a small, mostly empty airport.
At first they said that we would be there for 3-4 hours while United flew another plane in for us. So Shaun and I set out to conquer the Gander Airport for the length of our stay. We had scoped out the whole place in a quick survey and when they gave us a voucher for a meal at the restaurant we swooped in and got the last two “specials” of the day. Yum… shepherd’s pie.
But our conquering was for naught as they soon told us we’d be staying overnight in a hotel. As they processed us through passport control and loaded us onto a bus, we learned that Gander was good at this. Gander is a city that exists primarily because of trans-Atlantic flight and every week they deal with two or three “re-directed” flights. At every step of the way, there were people who had been called in: passport control, hotel workers, etc. The Gander Hotel, for example, is not a four-star facility, but they fed an unexpected 150 of us dinner on a few hours notice.
The town’s biggest week was right after September 11, 2001. When American airspace was shut down, the 10,000 people of Gander got an extra 6,000 people for a week. There’s a book about it, The Day the World Came to Town: 9/11 in Gander, Newfoundland, which I’ve now read (I’m a little obsessed).
Our experience in Gander was not quite so extreme. After an everyone-gets-the-same-thing chicken dinner, a few of us hung out in the hotel bar to watch Monday Night Football. We got up in the morning and got on a new plane and then we were back in Chicago in just a few hours.
Erica’s pointed out that I was talking a lot more about Gander than Istanbul when I got back, and now I’ve blogged about three times as many words about it. I think it’s because Istanbul, as exciting and exotic as it was, fit into an expected mold: sights, tourist geegaws, people trying to sell us stuff. But Gander was unexpected. And everyone was so nice!