. . . August, 1995, I was on my way from Atlanta to Johnston Atoll, Pacific Ocean [~800 miles SW of Hawaii] via Delta Airlines. The flight from Atlanta to Honolulu was to be nine long hours. A chemist friend of mine at CDC, Robert Jones, and I had planned to take the next day off and rent a small plane to fly around the island of Oahu. On the following day, we would fly Air Micronesia to lovely Johnston Atoll, garden spot of the Pacific! There we would meet with Army officials to discuss quality assurance issues.
After an uneventful takeoff, we were 30 minutes or so into the flight, when the attendants began to serve lunch. This was said to be aromatic roast chicken, the most common fare of airline travel these days. This meal compares best with warmed-over hot dogs on day-old buns! I was looking at a book and not really noticing the attendants, when all of sudden, I felt a tremendous burning sensation on my lap and my chest. It occurred so quickly that I didn't realize what had happened, only that I had to get out of the hot-seat fast — I seemed to be on fire! I next realized that the attendant had dumped two complete chicken dinners in my lap — and — these dinners had just been reheated! I tore out of my seat into the aisle, then realized that I was covered in a fragrant mixture of hot chicken fat, green beans, and mashed potatoes! I really needed to get out of my clothes, but obviously couldn't in full view of several hundred people on the airplane, notwithstanding that my clothes were in the baggage compartment!
Attendants rushed back with cold towels to try to cool me down. The seat I had been in was totally ruined so they took me to another seat and brought me a couple of stout drinks! They were quite concerned about whether I had been injured but I said "No, I was O.K." The poor attendant who had erred was extremely apologetic — I think she was afraid of being fired, once we landed in Honolulu!
After a few minutes, an attendant took me to the first class section for the remainder of the flight. Arriving there, I was the object of a few funny stares because I had been in the back of the L1011 and the first class bourgeois did not know what had happened. I sat across from a beautiful woman but said nothing, being totally embarrassed! But at least I had steak and champagne! Later, I walked back to the now lowly tourist class where Robert was seated and asked him if he had been served his steak and champagne yet! I stressed the superior nature of first class travel as elegantly as possible: Don't they use cloth napkins in your section? Why is your seat so narrow? Did you see that article in the Wall Street Journal? Oh, you didn't get your copy of the journal yet!
As the remaining hours passed during the long flight, I suspected that I was smelling like a dead or perhaps a dying bird. My clothes were a complete mess, and I was sure they would be a total loss — and, I needed them for the remainder of the one-week trip. The attendants brought me some Delta Airlines forms to sign, basically stating that I was not seriously injured, so I signed these. I began to dread getting OFF the plane and walking through the airport, looking like a derelict and smelling like one also! Finally, we landed in Honolulu and I strode quickly through the airport, trying to remain incognito and avoid any sneering stares from the only two classes of people there: tourists or tourist guides! After retrieving the luggage, we grabbed a taxi, and finally I burst into my room in the hotel at Waikiki. The first thing I did was to toss my clothes overboard* and take a hot shower!
The next day, Robert and I chartered a four-person airplane and took off from Honolulu International Airport! We flew over Diamond Head, then to the northeastern tip of Oahu, then west past the steep mountains with waterfalls, and finally, down the center of Oahu over the plantations. This, by the way, was the route that the Japanese took to bomb Pearl Harbor in 1941. Finally, we did a touch and go on famous Ford Island in Pearl Harbor. Afterwards, it was on to Johnston Atoll and a lot of work! But what at way to get there!
*--- Actually, the accountants at Delta Airlines needed my clothes as proof that they had truly been ruined. I suspected that they would eventually examine them under a microscope to verify that "airplane food," not "fast food" was the culprit. However, I was not about to take them off in the airport terminal bathroom after deplaning and walk to baggage claim in my underwear! So, at the hotel, I sent them for overnight dry cleaning. They arrived the next day, freshly laundered but covered with many greasy spots -- a remarkedly similar effect to gray polka dots! I've often wondered what the dry cleaners must have thought! I carried these "fresh clothes" nearly 1,000 miles to Johnston Atoll, then 1,000 miles back to Honolulu, and finally another 5,000+ miles to Atlanta, where I delivered them happily to the Delta refund desk. There, I presented the ruined, but nicely laundered clothes and finally got a refund -- but only after they argued about the cost!
Jay Smith, Atlanta, GA, June, 1996
Dedicated to B.Katona/PA