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Flying With Wine, A Cautionary Tale

We flew to Sunriver a few weeks ago. Somewhere about thirty minutes into the flight, the Pilot said to me, “Why do I smell wine?” After I repressed my initial panic at the idea that the Pilot was having olfactory hallucinations, I realized that he was right. It did indeed smell like wine in the airplane. “That bottle of wine in the grocery bag must have tipped over,” he said.

We flew for a few more minutes, the smell getting stronger, visions of red wine all over the luggage compartment flickering, I am sure, through both of our heads. So finally I offered to go back and fix it.

The inside of a Cessna Cardinal is not very large. The front seat reminds me a bit of the old Volkswagen Beetle I had in college. Only smaller. I have figured out how to contain myself and my necessities—my reading material, possibly a crossword puzzle book, my bottle of diet Coke, my blanket, the dog—but as a rule I try to keep any movement to a minimum. If I stick my feet out too far, for example, there are these pedals. I’m not sure what they do, exactly. But if I push on one, the Pilot tends to react. There is also a yoke about two feet in front of me. This is so I can steer the airplane, too, if I should ever, say, totally lose my mind. I really try very hard to avoid the yoke. The Pilot definitely reacts to that.

So…going back to check on the spilled wine? This is a complicated maneuver.

First of all, I have to do something with the dog. Who does not enjoy flying and who is a bit stressed out. I have to unwrap him because for some reason on this flight he has decided that he needs to be on my lap, under the blanket. I try putting him on the floor, but when the dog is stressed he wants to be on a lap, not on the floor, on a lap, a lap. I briefly attempt to pass him back over the seats, thinking I will put him on the back seat. And I am heading that way myself so at least he will be with me. But, no, no, you crazy woman, there is no lap back there! I am not getting in the back seat!

Finally I give the dog to the Pilot. I don’t really like it when the Pilot is encumbered with things like, say, dogs when he is supposed to be flying, but a panicking dog is not going to be a good thing either. I then have to stuff the blanket back over my shoulder onto the back seat and then unfasten my seat belt. Which also has a shoulder harness. And somehow, as usual, I have managed to tangle the cords to my headphones in the belts. I don’t know how I always manage to do this although I think it has something to do with trying to put on my headphones while juggling a dog. However I do realize that I also have to take off my headphones and stow them on the…what is that thing?…surely it’s not a dashboard…up there near the windshield.

Unencumbered, I stand up, stretch, and walk down the aisle.

Ha-ha. That is a little little airplane humor. No. I kind of crouch on my seat and wedge myself between my seat and the Pilot’s seat and wiggle my way onto the back seat. I try to do this very carefully and gracefully because it feels a bit unstable up there. It feels as if I can throw the whole plane over on its side if I’m not careful about how I distribute my weight. It is a bit like moving from one seat to another in a canoe. I know this is silly. I know that, yes, the plane might waggle a tiny bit, if say I fell into the back seat, and I know the Pilot would be able to deal with that waggling. Even with a dog in his lap. But you know, at 10,000 feet above the ground, you get many silly ideas.

At least the back seat is empty. We are not carrying a cooler or a computer monitor or a large box of books back there. Things that are often found on the back seat of that airplane. Once we even had an entire bicycle wedged across the back seat into the luggage compartment. It is amazing what you can get into a little airplane if you are determined.

Once in the back seat I realize that, hey. The back seat is bigger than the front seat! Especially when it is empty. And there is no yoke. No pedals. No Pilot right next to me to inadvertently jostle with my elbow. I briefly consider just staying back there. But I have ridden in the back seat and I know that you actually feel the turbulence more. You get this kind of shaking back and forth on top of the bumping up and down. Plus the Pilot seems to enjoy having company in the front seat. I suspect the Pilot has abandonment issues.

I am able to lean over the back seat into the luggage compartment. And yes. The wine has tipped over and because it is wine that has been opened, even though the cork was put back in, it is leaking. Yet another argument for screw-tops. And wine is spilling on the suitcase, the cloth book bag with my books, saved undone crossword puzzles and a birthday card intended for Son #2. Also onto the rug. Which frankly I can’t get too worked up about. For some reason my bathing suit is sticking up out of a plastic crate of computer parts. I use it to wipe up as much wine as I can, I prop the wine bottle upright, I take a deep breath, and I repeat my journey, only in reverse, and being very, very careful about my feet when I clamber over my seat and sit back down, nearly catching my right foot in the yoke and managing once again to tangle myself in the headphone cords.

“Good job,” the Pilot says, and hands me the dog who gives me a baleful look before he burrows back under the blankets. I realize I should have just brought the bottle of wine back with me. There seems to be no beverage service on this flight.

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