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Even when the intercom squawks to life, I barely stir from my pre-flight nap. Of course, I’m expecting to hear the customary pronouncements about flight safety to which no one but first-time travelers pays the least bit of attention. Surprisingly, the flight attendant — apparently a Rodney Dangerfield “wannabe” — veers away from the usual dull delivery:

“Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. Welcome to Delta flight 615 to Atlanta. Delta is proud to have some of the greatest commercial pilots in the world but they’re not with us today. Instead, Capt. John Merriam pilots today’s flight. Capt. Merriam came to Delta after losing his job as an engineer on Disney World’s monorail because he kept getting lost!

“Your flight attendants today include Tina and Gene. Tina is single, a Pisces, and enjoys long walks on secluded beaches. Tina also moonlights as a lounge singer and is selling some of her CDs in the aft lounge during the flight.

“Gene is on a work release program from the Wayne County Correctional Institute. So, it would be appreciated if you don’t get him upset.

“The FAA requires me to instruct you on the use of seat belts. However, if you don’t know how to do this by now, then you really shouldn’t be allowed in public unsupervised.

“In the event of a sudden loss of air pressure, oxygen masks will tumble out of the ceiling in front of you. Please place the mask over your own face before helping others. If you’re traveling with more than one child, then you may have to make a hard choice.

Shortly after take-off, we’ll be dimming the cabin lights in order to enhance the image of the flight attendants.”

“Rodney” completed his monologue to raucous applause from coach. First class passengers seemed mildly annoyed that his stand-up act had briefly delayed the service of their pre-flight cordial. It’s funny that many people’s greatest fear is public speaking, while there are others that never met a microphone they didn’t like. Oh, and Tina was the recipient of a lot more clumsy male attention than she probably desired during the two-hour flight to Atlanta.

Soon, Capt. Merriam introduced himself over the intercom. I have no idea why they do this either. Do the flight crews think that we make note of this information? (“Oh no, not another John Merriam flight I was hoping to get Jim Agnew, he always does a barrel roll before landing.”) The captain informs us that the ceiling in Atlanta is very low, with zero visibility until we get to about 1,500 feet or so. Again, this is more data than I need. I assume that he wants us to have a greater appreciation for the challenge he’s going to have in landing this 767, as in, “Don’t worry folks I can land this puppy blind-folded!”

A short while later, we begin our “initial approach” (which is a secret code to the flight attendants to make all the passengers give up the half-consumed edibles and victuals that they were just served) into Hartsfield International Airport. Outside my window, I could see nothing but the dense, cottony-white cloud cover that Capt. Merriam had promised. As we slowed and finally dropped below the ceiling, I noticed that the roofs of buildings could be made out.

Gradually we reached a point where our altitude could probably be measured in hundreds rather than thousands of feet. Suddenly, the engines spooled up and the plane abruptly lifted back up into the clouds. We passengers all exchanged worried glances and figured that Merriam must have found landing in zero visibility to be just a bit harder than his braggadocio had allowed him to admit. But, I could equally imagine the first officer suddenly exclaiming, “Holy Moley, Captain! We screwed up! This looks like Des Moines!”

A few minutes later “Rodney Dangerfield” took the mike again. “Um, folks we’re going to circle around and try that landing again. It turns out that we would have had trouble fitting onto the runway, since there was already a plane there.” Apparently, this was too tough for even our captain.

I can’t help thinking that Jim Agnew could have pulled it off, though.

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