After airline passengers have boarded the plane and stowed their washing machines in the overhead bins, an interesting phenomenon occurs. The purser asks for everyone’s attention during the safety instructions, but almost everyone ignores them. While flight attendants are pointing out the over-wing exits, passengers practically put their fingers in their ears and chant “La-la-la-la”.
Apparently the idea is that if you don’t hear the safety instructions, you won’t need them. Which, I’ll admit, proves to be true almost every time. Once in a while, though, something doesn’t quite go according to plan. That’s how we wound up in Labrador.
The American Airlines flight was conveying us from Rome to Chicago; the first indication that something might be amiss was when a flight attendant made an announcement, in Italian, that included the word medico. My Italian vocabulary isn’t extensive, but I knew that meant doctor, and inferred that they were hoping one was on board.
It turned out that a passenger was having a miscarriage, and the doctor determined that due to dangerous complications, she needed to be in a hospital as soon as possible. Not long thereafter, the plane’s captain announced that we had a medical emergency and our flight was being diverted.
Since we were over the Atlantic Ocean, the closest place that could handle a commercial aircraft was Happy Valley-Goose Bay. As mentioned earlier, it is located in Newfoundland and Labrador, the easternmost province of Canada.
If the name Happy Valley conjures up images of blue skies and sunflowers and picnics on the grass, well… you’re thinking of a different Happy Valley. This one was a bleak landscape of ice and snow as far as the eye could see.
It’s possible the Canadian Happy Valley-Goose Bay is lovely during its few weeks of summer, but this was April, when the average high temperature is 38° F. It did not seem like a place I’d like to live, but then, I’m not in a witness relocation program.
Anyway, moments after the plane touched down, a pickup truck came out to meet us with a sign reading “Follow Me” (see photo). Eventually we came to a stop while still on the runway, where an ambulance met the plane.
The woman who was having the emergency happened to be traveling with two children. Without hesitation, a flight attendant grabbed her overnight bag and escorted them off the plane. Bless her heart, she was going to spend the night taking care of those kids while their mommy was in the hospital.
Meanwhile, the pilot had to get a new flight plan, refuel, and have the wings de-iced. None of the passengers were allowed to get off the plane due to a health emergency of a different kind: Crew members who briefly disembarked had to stand on a pad with disinfectant on it. It seems that Canadian officials were concerned about an outbreak of hoof-and-mouth disease, and they didn’t want the local caribou to catch it. No, really.
While preparations were being made for our departure, Sally and I chatted for a few minutes with the captain. He said unscheduled stops like this happen more often than one might think.
Unless it’s your choice, I hope you never have to go to Happy Valley-Goose Bay. But it’s nice to know that it’s there if you need it.