COLUMBIA GORGE–In a cost-containment measure, Boeing 727’s, 747’s and DC-10’s have been taking advantage of ground-hugging air currents in the Columbia Gorge and flying at lower altitudes. While the practice significantly reduces fuel costs, it is not without risks. Passengers in window seats are now fitted with special “flip-up flaps,” to prevent ground debris caught in the plane’s slipstream from shooting up butt-cracks.
The policy faces vocal criticism from Bodie Parkhurst, a passenger on a recent flight from Portland, Oregon, to Walla Walla, Washington. Scheduling errors forced Parkhurst to make her “connection” in midflight, transferring from her Sea-Tac to LAX non-stop flight to the eastbound Walla Walla flight in mid-air. Though the mid-flight transfer was made without incident, she was startled to discover that the Walla Walla passenger list was composed of sports figures, politicos with wandering hands, a boy whose jacket hood she tore off in first grade, and former poopatroopers, one of whom took the time to explain the flip-up butt-crack protectors to Parkhurst while she swatted politicians’ wandering hands. The effort proved futile; Parkhurst was unable to find a correctly fitted seat before the 727 entered the Extremely Low Altitude portion of its flight.
When the plane encountered a maze of power wires on pylons near Bridge of the Gods, flight attendants issued an in-flight directive to passengers to belly-crawl through the rip-rap forming riverside dikes. The sports figures, television stars, and politicos refused to comply, remaining in their specially fitted seats. Parkhurst’s efforts to obey the directive met with near-tragedy when she was sucked through the whirling cloud of atomic particles composing the plane’s fusilage.
Though she belly-crawled as fast as she could, she was unable to keep pace with the plane, and when the pilot regained altitude after clearing the wires Parkhurst was left belly-crawling in rip-rap. She was able to seize a trailing line and pull herself up into the jetliner’s slip-stream. She remained there until the plane was over the desert just west of Boardman, Oregon, in defiance of the flight crew and other passengers’ demands that she release her hold on the lines, which were fouling the wing flaps and preventing optimum flight.
Parkhurst landed in the desert just north of the Naval Bombing Range and walked the remainder of the way to Walla Walla, where emergency crews waited to render first aid and perform emergency repairs on the flaps damaged by Parkhurst’s desperate effort to finish the flight with, if not within, the plane.
The airline’s low-altitude flight policy is under review. Parkhurst faces a number of lawsuits brought by the airline, the flight crew, and the other passengers.
IN OTHER NEWS: Parkhurst has issued a moratorium on the consumption of chicken teriyaki less than two hours before bedtime at her house.