Dublin: I have been travelling to Ireland from the U.S. since about 1980 but never experienced a flight like the one of Christmas 2013 when I landed in the teeth of an incredible storm in Ireland.
I was aboard Delta flight 0411 approaching Dublin early Friday morning and the term white-knuckle flight was never more appropriate.
Wind gusts of up to 100 miles an hour had led to what some were calling the worst Christmas storm in decades across Ireland and here we were dropping down from 35,000 feet and experiencing the worst buffeting I have ever experienced.
How bad was the storm? Waves up to 20 feet high were crashing ashore in Waterford, Cork and Kerry. Winds reached hurricane force in Galway harbor. What the Irish Independent called “howling gales” elsewhere were reaching over 100 miles an hour. Thousands lost electricity; several coastal towns were flooded.
Almost every other U.S-based airline flight we learned later had diverted to Manchester or London and the pilot later made it clear he was making one effort at Dublin and pulling up and heading to Britain if it didn’t work.
Usually when you are on a turbulent flight it begins soon after take off, but the flight from New York to the Irish coastline was smooth as silk.
Indeed I had begun to believe the storm I had been reading about was all hype but the next 30 minutes as we descended into the near hurricane gusts was like nothing I had ever experienced on a plane flight – or want to again.
The plane pitched and yawed like a drunken sailor, leveled out and pitched again. Each time it fell there were screams throughout the cabin. We seemed in the grip of a dervish-like wind, throwing us about at will.
I now know what the term white-knuckle flight refers to, as my hands gripped the seat with the hold of a drowning man. Around me grim-faced passengers were also clinging on for dear life.
Call it turbulence, call it wind gusts, call it hurricane-like conditions, but the feeling of dropping, lurching, rising, shaking doing it all over again was petrifying.
Eventually we could see the airport coming up straight ahead, the good news the pilot was clearly intent on making the Dublin landing, the bad news was the plane was now performing an even more crazy Riverdance and shaking and rattling like an old junkyard car.
There were regular screams coming from all around and then the sound of rubber hitting tarmac was never more welcome. Still even on the ground the plane appeared to lurch left and then right before finally we slowed to a stop.
“Worst ever” said the very frequent flyer behind me, so I wasn’t exaggerating. The applause for the pilot was deafening and we appreciated more than ever what landing on terra firma feels like.
The winds when I drove from the airport to the city were scattering debris in every direction, the traffic lights were swaying like salsa dancers, and the streets were deserted. The storm had done its worse but all souls were safe and that was all that mattered.
Well done anonymous Delta pilots, rarely do we get to understand just how skilled such men and women are.
As for me, a sea voyage back to America looks good right now!