Seven quick takes about seeing the Pope, and why a terrifying emergency landing was one of my better travel experiences

October 2, 2015 | 12 comments

Seven years ago today, I wrote my first “Seven Quick Takes” post. The idea was that it would be a way to share a few stories that were too short to warrant individual blog posts, but too long for social media.

I ended up writing a Seven Quick Takes pretty much every Friday after that, and invited other bloggers to join me. Late last year I turned the blog party over to capable keyboard of Kelly Mantoan at This Ain’t the Lyceum, and I’ve loved following along with her posts.

To celebrate the seven year anniversary of 7 Quick Takes, I’m jumping back in with my own post! Here it goes!

— 1 —

I spent all of last week in New York and Philadelphia to cover the Pope’s visit for my radio show. I knew it would be good when my first day at work started with seeing this…


and ended with hanging out with Jeannie Gaffigan


(With Dominican friar Fr. John Devaney, my fabulous co-host for the week.)

It was hard to be away that long, and I’m pretty sure that I won’t be caught up on everything until, oh, April, but it was as amazing as I thought it would be.

— 2 —

My son came out with us for part of the trip. It was fascinating to live family life in New York. Every aspect of life was different than that of our normal life in the suburbs — the way we got around, what we did to relax, what we ate.


We even got my son to try escargot at a Swiss restaurant next to our hotel…which he gave a resounding thumbs down:


Fellow homeschoolers, how many boxes do you think I can check with this one? I’m thinking: “Geography Unit Study: New York City”, “Social Studies: The Vast and Startling Diversity of the New York Subway System, ” and “Biology Field Trip: What Do Snails Taste Like?”

— 3 —

I was mostly broadcasting from the SiriusXM studios in Manhattan, and by the time the weekend rolled around I thought I wasn’t going to end up seeing the Pope in person.

I finally got my chance on Sunday. I was in the media risers at the Mass in Philadelphia when one of the other hosts, Fr. Dave Dwyer, gave me the heads up that the Pope was about to pass by. I kicked off my heels and sprinted over to the street, ruining my panty hose in the process, and I made it just in time to see Pope Francis just a few feet away:


As cool as that was, the best part of that day was watching priests, walking under yellow umbrellas, wade into the masses to bring the Eucharist to over a million people:


— 4 —

Before we left New York for Philadelphia, the staff got a blessing from my co-host, Fr. John:


A lot of things fell into place to make everything work in the chaos of Philadelphia, and I give that blessing full credit.

— 5 —

It’s good that this trip was so amazing, as I am never getting on a plane again.

On my Austin to Houston flight on the way out for the Pope’s visit, the plane had to make an emergency landing. The pilot made the announcement that a flap wasn’t working, which means they wouldn’t be able to slow the plane down for landing.

The flight attendants, who were visibly stressed, came through and trained us to get in the crash position. They said that we would hear emergency bells, which was our signal to do that head-on-the-knees maneuver you see in the brochures you never look at in the seat pocket in front of you.

People were turning on their phones, texting loved ones, and praying. It tells you how intense it was that the guy next to me and I clung to each other’s arms (while in the crash position) as we landed — I am someone who normally considers direct eye contact to be waaaay too much interaction with the person next to me.

The landing ended up being uneventful, and when the plane rolled safely to a stop, the cabin erupted with thunderous applause and shouts of joy. (I guess the flap started working, but I don’t know — we did not ask for a lot of details about why the plane was not in pieces on the runway.)

Even though it ended well, it was one of the most intense experiences of my life.

— 6 —

…And that flight was a pleasure compared to my recent experiences on a certain other airline. I will call this airline “Schmelta” (not its real name). When I went out to Charleston for the Edel Gathering site visit, I got stuck overnight in Atlanta. When I went to South Dakota to speak at a diocesan festival, I got stuck in Sioux Falls. Neither time did they offer me any kind of compensation at all — not the cost of the hotel room, no food, no travel voucher — nothing.

When yet another flight was delayed by hours on my way back home from the South Dakota trip, I got out my laptop and began chronicling the voyage in a series of emails I sent to Joe:


Just to recap, [Schmelta] has offered me *zero* compensation. I told the customer service agents that I also got stuck overnight in May, and they acted like I was spinning stories about my Mee-Maw’s apple pie recipe. No one has ever cared less about anything.

When I shared my displeasure with them when I first arrived in Minneapolis seven hours ago, the one thing they offered was that I would be “first on the list” to receive one of the two premium coach seats that’s still left. This is not really offering me anything since I PAID for such a seat on my original flight, but whatever. One takes what one can get with this airline.


I FINALLY got to talk to the gate agent, a Wizard of Oz sort of figure whom I’ve been hearing about all day who is evidently the sole person in the world who can assign seats on this flight. She managed to be both hostile and disinterested, and looked at me with bemused disgust when I mentioned that I am at the “top of the list” for a premium seat. There is, evidently, no such list. I asked her to give one of those seats to me first — which would make sense since I was the first in line since I’d been standing there for 20 minutes — and she said she had no intention of doing that since she needed to seat families and a variety of other folk first.

It is a 15-hour drive from Sioux Falls to Austin. It would have been vastly more pleasant to drive home.


They’re on the PA system again — which I’m pretty sure is one of those distortion megaphones from Toys R Us — explaining why the flight is delayed. As usual, it is never their fault. They’re so earnest as they talk about “the flight crew is delayed” or “we’re waiting for the other plane to come in, ” always speaking of these things as if they are sea captains talking about the tide.

One wants to scream, “Who do you think controls the schedules of the flight crews and the other planes?! YOUR &^%!* COMPANY!!!!”

On the plus side, this is the one gate I’ve ever seen where you can have glasses of wine brought to your seat at the gate by waiters from a nearby wine bar. Truly, the Lord does not give us more than we can handle.

Like I said: it’ll be a wonder if I ever fly again.

— 7 —

Joe and I celebrate our 12th anniversary this weekend, which will probably mean pizza on paper plates on the deck (which there has been a lot of this week).

I’m so grateful to have had the opportunity to cover the Pope’s visit, but there is nothing in the world better than being home.


To read other people’s Seven Quick Takes posts, go see Kelly at This Ain’t the Lyceum!


  1. Emily

    I’m so glad you started seven quick takes so many years ago! I’ve been reading them for so long, I finally decided to start my own blog. Hope to meet you at SLS!

  2. Jessica

    I thought the grace with which the priests distributed the Eucharist was the most beautiful part of the Mass too! We waited for more than four hours in a security line with four children and got stuck by the port-o-potties because it was the best sight line left when we finally made it to the parkway. My husband said the experience of getting into the mass was his biggest test of faith ever and I would put it in my top ten. But when the priests and deacons streamed down the parkway and that huge crowd peacefully formed lines and made way so that all could receive I cried and it was all worth it. I am glad that you were able to be there too and made it safely home!

  3. Polly

    Oh, the Schmelta emails are classic. You had me rolling.

    I also hate flying. Was once on a plane where the engine blew up. I didn’t even get a free drink voucher!

    I love the vision of the cheering, though. Not at all in the same vein of “preparing for a crash landing,” but involving a truly joyful landing: my grandmother loved to tell the story of flying home from Germany on a flight full of US servicemen (back before there were servicewomen), all of whom had not been home in many, many months…if not longer. The flight started with much jolly laughter, joking, talking and exuberance. As they got closer to the United States the plane became quiet, until it was so silent that you could hear a pin drop. My grandmother had no idea what to think of this. As they prepared for landing it was utterly silent. But as soon as the wheels hit the runway, an enormous cheer arose from all those guys and they were hugging each other, hugging her, and whooping and hollering…what an image! She said it was something she would never forget. She cried every time she told the story.

    SO glad your plane landed safely!

    • Jennifer Fulwiler

      I LOVE that story. Thank you for sharing!

  4. Annie

    We are all very glad you lived but have to ask: the luggage- did Joe take your bags? Did you talk him into it? Inquiring minds want to know.

    • Jennifer Fulwiler

      Oh, yes, I meant to update about that. HE DID! (Though he was not thrilled about it.) 🙂

      • Tara Sz

        Huzzah for Joe! I was waiting for that update. Good job being the E:5 husband. 🙂

  5. Becky

    I am so glad everything worked out alright! I would have been peeing in my pants! How scary! When my invention of motorized bubble balls come out, you will be the first to drive one. If you accidentally bump into someone, it’s ok, because you just bounce right over them and keep rolling. I will keep you informed. 😉

    And yep, I see you in the picture with your heels sitting right next to you while you’re taking a picture of the Pope! Very cool!

  6. Bill Burns

    Actually, the people being escorted with the umbrellas weren’t priests but deacons. I was one of them. We were attending mass in the basilica and stepped out with our ciboria after the Eucharistic prayers. I believe the consecrated the hosts we carried at mass the day before, but I’m not certain. Some of the deacons went down to city hall to distribute communion there as well.

  7. Sarah

    Oh man. I hear you on “Schmelta”. Their scheduling snafu between planes stuck my whole family overnight in Atlanta two years back, two adults, toddler and baby, and they offered us nada…nothing….zero to accommodate us for the night. No hotel room, no taxi service, no meal vouchers. Blank faces and “we have nothing to offer you” at midnight after being in line for hours. We paid for it all ourselves and drove miles out of town by taxi to find a bed as all were full near the airport.
    I did write and get compensation months later.
    On the other hand, my Mom had a delay of 8 hours or more to fly from the European Union to the US and according to their guidelines, recovered almost $800 easily according to her rights there.
    Glad to hear about your time covering the Popes visit!

  8. Mary @ Parenthood

    I too recently had an “adventure” flying but mine related to getting to the airport. And the airline actually got us on the flight despite everything (we checked in a mere 15 minutes before scheduled takeoff!). So I say fly Porter if you ever have a choice. I did blog about it and I’m told it’s a very funny post but I am not yet at the point of finding it funny…

    But also, while surly service etc is inexcusable, having done quite a bit of work for a now defunct airline back in the day I can tell you that the airline actually has less control over their schedules than you might think, particularly if something goes wrong and they miss their flight slot. It’s the airport authorities and traffic control that really pulls the strings. I mean, the airline contributes to the problem by flying a smaller plane out of a busy airport but given the situation once you miss your take off slot the airline has very little control over what happens next (Read one of Patrick Smith’s great rants about airplane scheduling and traffic congestion at the airport for proper details)

  9. sarah isis (@disisd)

    So so grateful you are safe! i saw your post on instagram and prayed and prayed — although it was after the event.

    The pope’s visit is just amazing. 🙂 Glad you were there to cover it. and Happy 7QT anniversary. My favorite linkup ever!

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