Give Me Altitude

Better to be on the ground, wishing you were in the air? You can say that again


Many wags love to toss around cliches as if theyre the clever soul who invented them. Theres a grain of truth to most of them, of course, but, gosh, it gets tiring explaining the mystery and the dynamic environment of flight with such cookie-cutter phrases.

While we all might dust off a cliche from time to time, there are times when you might live one and wish you hadnt. Thats when it becomes crystal clear just why the cliche has emerged from the fermenting stew of language.

However, recently I turned a cliche on its tail and discovered a kernel of wisdom there, as well. Its better to be on the ground wishing you were in the air than in the air and wishing you were on the ground. Now typically thats used as a wrapup for someone who has scared the dickens out of themselves by flying through bad weather or with mechanical problems that should have kept them on the ground. For me, it wasnt quite that way.

Id been battling a head cold for several weeks, and it spawned a full-blown ear infection. One ear sounded underwater and the other one was well on its way there.

I had a flight that I reckoned I just had to make. I knew it would be iffy. I even joked about it to the right-seater as we climbed into the Seneca. I figured to stay at a fairly low altitude and make gradual descents. Been there; done that.

To make a long story short. I was wrong. It was a bad call.

By the time we climbed to 4,500 feet, the pressure in my ears was nearly bad enough to make me turn over the airplane to the other pilot. But then a few swallows put things more or less right. Close enough, anyway.

Coming down was another story. After we landed, the controllers voice in my ear was agony, even though the volume control on my headset was nearly all the way down. Every head movement made me feel like a particularly unpopular POW.

Did I say I was wrong?

Conversation on the ground as we tied down the airplane was forced. I guess I talked to him, but I dont have a clue what he was saying. I wallowed in my misery. I was on the ground, and I really, really wanted to be back in the air. Maybe another flight with a 50 fpm descent would do it. I gave passing thought to giving it a shot.

But this story has a happy ending. As I was walking to my car, I got a squealing earful that equalized the pressure enough to restore my self esteem. And for the first time in a week, my ears came up from underwater.

I drove straight to the doctor for some long-overdue antibiotics.

A week later, things are more or less fine, the Florida winter has set in, driving away the clouds and humidity. And tomorrow I think Ill indulge that desire to be in the air.

Yessir. Indulge it with a vengeance.

-Ken Ibold


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