In a desperate attempt to cut costs, Meridian Airlines has given up on any pretense of customer service. The passengers on Meridian Flight Six from Boston to Cape Town are fed up with hours-long delays, uncomfortable cabin conditions, and rude airline personnel. But Brian Logan is more than a disgruntled passenger: He believes Meridian killed his wife and he’s about to take revenge by lighting the fuse of disaster.
When Capt. Phil Knight makes a forced landing in a hotbed of insurgents in Nigeria, he’s facing more than a rebel firefight. Violence erupts inside the cabin as Logan leads the passengers in a revolt. But with the loss of radio contact, the civilians don’t realize that NATO and the CIA believe their plane has been hijacked by terrorists and must be taken down.
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By John J. Nance
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 2002 John J. Nance
All rights reserved.
FAA AIR TRAFFIC CONTROL TOWER
CHICAGO O'HARE AIRPORT, ILLINOIS
11:30 a.m. CDT
"This is nuts!"
Shift Supervisor Jake Kostowitz shook his head in pure exasperation as he muttered vague epithets to himself. The day was going to hell already.
Again he felt the deep craving for a cigarette, the fallout of quitting after twenty years. The FAA's no-smoking policy inside control towers was unshakable, and he still felt a pang of resentment every time the urge became too strong to bat down without a surrogate stick of gum.
He hated gum. But he dug into his right pants pocket anyway now to find some.
All around him — spread out for three hundred sixty degrees and some two hundred feet below the new, glassed-in, air-conditioned O'Hare FAA control tower — the gridlock of overheated, delayed airliners inched forward along crowded taxiways past jammed intersections, baked by the relentless glare of the summer sun.
What was that figure he'd heard? Jake mused. Was it fifty, or sixty flights that were scheduled to depart O'Hare at precisely the same time every day? Whatever the figure, at least the system was fully recovered from the nationwide passenger panic following the loss of the World Trade Center. Jake shook his head slightly, a gesture no one else noticed. Never did he ever want to see his airport looking like a ghost town again, but the endless flow of airliners was now back to ridiculous, and the airlines refused to change it.
The aroma of hot cinnamon reached his nose, and Jake turned toward the stairwell to see one of his off-duty controllers munching on a huge roll and grinning. Jake shook his head in mock disapproval. The controller was at least eighty pounds overweight and a walking heart attack. He climbed the last few steps licking his fingers and stood beside Jake, surveying the intense action in the tower cab.
"Well, you think they'll do it, boss?"
Jake turned to glance at him, trying to read his meaning. "Sorry?"
"That's a good word for them. Sorry. I'm talking about America's most dysfunctional airline. Dear old Meridian Air, or as a pilot friend of mine who works there calls 'em: 'Comedian Air, where service is a joke.'"
Jake shook his head. "I sure hope they don't walk. They've got twenty-six percent of this market now. That's a lot of delayed passengers."
"How would they know the difference?" The overweight controller laughed. "Besides, that would also mean twenty-six percent fewer flights for us to sort out."
Jake chuckled and shook his head. "Yeah, right. As if United and American wouldn't pick up the slack. We'd be just as stressed." Jake pointed to the half-eaten sweet roll. "Any more of those in the break room?"
"Yeah. I bought a box. Have at 'em," the man said, watching Jake slip past him down the stairway.
A TV was droning away in the corner of the break room as Jake swung through the door and headed for the box of Cinnabons, the mention of air traffic control catching his attention.
The set had been tuned to C-Span, and a congressional hearing was in progress. Jake recalled reading something about it the day before. Some congressman had seized on the latest air rage incidents to justify a hearing.
Another useless exercise in political grandstanding, Jake thought, his curiosity piqued by the sight of an Air Force officer sitting alone at the witness table in a hearing about the civilian airline industry. The officer wore the silver eagle emblem of a colonel.
"Mr. Chairman," the senior officer was saying, "every day we have hundreds, if not thousands, of enraged passengers flying this airline system and just barely containing their fury. While excess liquor consumption often makes things worse, the underlying causes are a combination of massive overcrowding and poor passenger treatment, not enhanced security procedures."
A gallery of still photographers was sitting on the floor in front of the witness table, and the click-whirr of their constant shooting formed a strange audible backdrop to the televised image.
"So how do we fix it, Colonel?" the chairman was asking. "Is your task force ready with recommendations?"
Jake absently picked out an outrageously caloric Cinnabon and began munching it as he watched. There was a small sign on the witness table, and it identified the officer as U.S. Air Force Colonel David Byrd of the FAA.
Ah! An Air Force liaison officer, Jake thought. He had fond memories of working with a Navy liaison captain assigned to air traffic control several years back.
"No, sir," Colonel Byrd was saying. "We're not ready to issue the final report as yet, but I can tell you this from my own research: Tougher criminal laws won't do it, because people don't plan to get angry and out of control. In other words, we can't adequately change human nature by criminalizing it, and these incidents reflect the predictable responses of humans under great stress. You pack overheated people into overcrowded airports and airplanes and treat them like dirt, lie to them, manipulate them, and price-gouge them, and the numbers of rage incidents are, by definition, going to increase. Mr. Chairman, this is a ticking bomb."
The committee chairman raised his gavel to call for a recess and the next witness and Jake headed toward the stairway to climb back to the tower cab, the muffled roar from a departing 727 catching his attention as he stepped back on the top step. He tracked the departing jetliner for a few seconds, wondering how long that particular crew had had to wait at the end of the runway.
It was, indeed, a ticking bomb, Jake thought, because the delays and the crowding were worsening all the time, and it was already a typical day: there would be no on-time takeoffs the rest of the afternoon, yet the airlines would keep on shoving their jam-packed airplanes back from the gates to join the hour-long taxi delays while recording each push-back as an "on-time" departure. Only when the air traffic control system ordered them to stay at the gate would they do so, and even then, too often the airplanes were shoved out of the gate to make room for an inbound flight. The "penalty box" — as the ramp designated for waiting airliners was called — was usually full these days, and the airlines usually knew precisely which flights would be late. The passengers, of course, weren't supposed to know.
What a scam! And we get blamed. It's always the FAA's fault.
The same thing happened every day with depressing predictability, and today the rapid approach of a line of heavy thunderstorms now beating up Springfield, Illinois, to the west was poised to make the daily air traffic snarl even worse. When the storm finally moved over O'Hare, everything would come to a halt and stay that way until it passed.
Jake looked to the west, catching the glint of lightning a hundred miles out. Hanging in the western sky between the black thunderstorms and O'Hare was a seemingly endless procession of expensive aluminum moving steadily toward the airport with landing lights sparkling against the dark clouds beyond. Their pilots, Jake knew, were struggling to comply with the precise airspeeds ordered by the harried men and women of Chicago Approach Control, located several floors below the quiet tower cab in a windowless room. Airliners as big as office buildings traveling at two hundred miles per hour were reduced to electronic blips on radar screens monitored by air traffic controllers who snapped off continual speed changes as they tried to keep the minimum legal distance between them.
"American Seventy-five, slow to one forty. You're overrunning the Eagle flight ahead. United Three Twenty-six, I said maintain one eighty, sir."
Pilots who flew too fast, or slowed too late, ended up in pilot hell: vectored around for a half hour by unforgiving controllers who would eventually have to squeeze them back into the traffic flow for another try at landing — while the passengers checked their watches and fumed. On the ground, heat undulated in great waves from the blazing-hot metallic skin of the queues of idling Boeing and Airbus products interlaced with smaller regional jets and turboprops to form billion-dollar waiting lines stretching toward the horizon of O'Hare's real estate.
Jake caught the eye of one of his controllers across the room and rolled his eyes in shared agony. The man smiled and nodded.
The background din of strained pilot voices always grated on Jake's nerves, especially when aircrews became testy in response to the staccato instructions of his ground controllers, who usually talked about as fast as human speech allowed.
"All right, United Two Thirteen, O'Hare Ground, I SEE you, and I told you to hold your position. Meridian One One Eight, stop it right there, give way to the Eagle ATR Seventy-two on your right. Lufthansa Twelve, speed it up, sir, I need you out of that alley NOW Delta Two Seventeen, are you on the frequency?"
"Ah ... Delta Two Seventeen is with you."
"Roger, Delta, follow the Meridian Triple-Seven on your left. Air France Twelve, change to tower frequency and wait for him to call YOU."
Diane Jensen, Jake's favorite controller for mostly sexist reasons, appeared at his side from the break room below, adjusting her headset as she prepared to pick up the rhythm and take over for one of the male controllers. She ruffled her short-cropped, honey blond hair and smiled at him. "And now is the season of their discontent," she intoned with mock severity.
"Ours, too," he replied. "Herndon's slowing the inbounds already," he said, his eyes on the distant traffic as he invoked the name of the FAA's Air Traffic Control System Command Center near D.C., "and we're running out of ramp space."
"And I've got a short-tempered brother in that mess down there trying to get to Dallas. I just dropped him off. You'd think he was preparing for battle."
"He was," Jake remarked.
"I suggested Amtrak," she said, moving forward to plug in next to the man she was preparing to relieve. "But he wouldn't listen."
The tie-line from Approach Control was ringing again, and as Jake reached for the receiver, his eyes caught a bright glint of sunlight from a distant car in the clogged traffic outside. He was glad he didn't have to be down there among all those flaring tempers.
RAYBURN HOUSE OFFICE BUILDING
Colonel David Byrd picked up the papers he'd spread out on the witness table and shoved them in his briefcase before turning to take the outstretched hand of Julian Best, chief of the Aviation Subcommittee staff.
"Nicely done, Colonel," Best said, a grin creasing his craggy features.
"Thanks," David Byrd replied as the insistent chirping of a cell phone began somewhere in the room.
Colonel Byrd tapped the surface of his briefcase. "By the way, Julian, I'm not exaggerating," he said, a dead-serious expression on his angular face. "While we've pretty much solved the terrorist threats, the air rage threat is becoming critical. The summer's just beginning, and this isn't FAA posturing."
Best was smiling. "I know you're not blowing smoke, Colonel. I know your record. Anyone who commanded a special ops squadron, has a row of ribbons that impressive, and handled the things you've handled is too tough to send to Capitol Hill on a B.S. mission."
The chirp of a cell phone interrupted them and Byrd shrugged as he gestured to the phone.
"No problem, Colonel. I'll be in touch," Julian said as he turned to go.
Byrd opened the phone and turned toward the nearest wall to concentrate on the call, momentarily puzzled by angry words on the other end.
"This is Lieutenant General Overmeyer, Colonel. What in holy hell do you think you're doing testifying to Congress without my approval or a Pentagon handler? I just saw your ugly mug on television in uniform! Who gave you authority to go on C-Span in uniform and make policy statements?"
Colonel Byrd pulled up a mental image of General Overmeyer, the Air Force deputy chief of staff, a man known to most of his subordinates as "General Overreactor." The general was powerful and dangerous to the career of any officer who crossed him. Even a full colonel.
"General," the colonel began, "you put me directly under the command of the FAA administrator, and I was testifying at her direction."
"Byrd, you're not there to be a civilian lapdog to be trotted out at the administrator's discretion to chase pet issues up a tree anytime it pleases her."
"General, I take offense at that. I'm hardly a lapdog, I ..."
"I want you in my office in thirty minutes, Byrd. Is that understood?"
"Yes, sir. If you insist."
"Apparently I just did. That's a goddamned order. Oh. In case you've forgotten your roots, Colonel, do you need any help finding it? The Pentagon, I mean? It's a big structure near Reagan National."
"General, sarcasm isn't necessary."
"GET YOUR ASS IN HERE!"
The general hung up, leaving David Byrd off-balance, as he calculated the fastest way across the Potomac.CHAPTER 2
CHICAGO O'HARE AIRPORT, ILLINOIS
11:30 A.M. CDT
The windy city awakened to the usual traffic mess of a weekday June morning with temperatures hitting the mid-seventies by eight. By noon, the thermometers were pushing ninety and rising at roughly the same rate as the tempers of many of those converging on O'Hare by bus, van, taxi, and car through the medium of hopelessly jammed freeways.
The airport itself was in a state of meltdown. O'Hare was Overcrowded, overheated, and overused, with no relief in sight from the constant pressure to add more flights and more passengers, and keeping the intricate airport machine balanced, oiled, and running was a daily battle. There was little margin for error, and any outside disruption could cause a cascade of delayed and canceled flights, the effects of which would ripple back through the airline system to create gate holds, delays, and more cancellations across the United States.
And disrupting the Meridian system was precisely what the infuriated flight attendants of Meridian Airlines were determined to do on this hot summer morning.
As passengers alighted at the Meridian check-in area at O'Hare, they were immediately sucked into a tornado of angry flight attendants brandishing picket signs. "We're not on strike yet!" the signs proclaimed. "But Meridian's being UNFAIR!" A handful of passengers gave them thumbs up, but most brushed past the pickets, pretending they weren't there.
Among the melee, hundreds of pounds of bags clunked, plunked, and thudded their way onto the sidewalk as a tide of passengers lined up for the skycaps running curbside check-in. Other passengers struggled through the sweltering heat and crowded confusion of the sidewalk to get to the ticket counters inside, which were grossly undermanned and defined by unending lines. Movable stanchions marshaled the supplicant passengers into a back-and-forth line that provided only the vaguest of promises that one would actually reach an agent before departure time. It was a depressing game understood by most. Agents cost money, and Meridian wanted as few of them as possible.
A Meridian Airlines customer-service agent in a wrinkled blazer and badly stained tie turned from his latest close encounter with a furious customer and checked his watch, disappointed to see it was only fifteen minutes past twelve. He could see a frazzled-looking couple approaching from the right, their eyes locked on his red coat, but he raised his eyes instead to the driveway outside, his attention snagged by a stretch limo. Who, he wondered, would emerge from the long, black Cadillac? It could be Madonna, who was in town, or some political superstar. But most likely it was just some unknown fool with too much money. In any event, it gave him an excuse to ignore the obviously unhappy couple a few seconds longer.
He hated the customers. He hated Meridian. And he hated his job. More than anything else, he hated the fact that he'd worked for Meridian too long to quit, and had too much invested not to care about being fired — something he and most of the contract employees were threatened with weekly.
The driver of the limo came around and opened the rear door, and the supervisor watched a young Asian couple unfold themselves from the rear seat. The man and woman stood on the curb, trying to come to grips with the confusion.
It's nobody, the supervisor said to himself. Just a couple of overgrown children with too much money. He turned to other oncoming customers instead.
At the curb, Jason Lao pulled his briefcase from the interior of the ostentatious limo and nodded uncomfortably to the driver. He'd signed the invoice and paid a reasonable tip before getting out, and now all he wanted was distance from the car before someone recognized him.
Excerpted from Turbulence by John J. Nance. Copyright © 2002 John J. Nance. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Nance never disappoints. Not his best but worth the money.
I gave up on this book a few chapters in. The author so clearly has an axe to grind with the airline industry that the story was lost in the telling.
The thing about Nance is that his characters are credible. They are smart and they do things smart people do--even under tremendous stress. In Turbulence, tired, cranky, and abused airline passengers try to seize control of the plane, certain that to do otherwise would be suicidal. Interesting premise that keeps moving.
Liked every Nance book I have read.Dependable author for a good read.Wouldn't call this an outstanding book, but was worth the time and kept me wondering what would happen next.
This book was very exciting. Some might find it unrealistic but it is fiction! I just wanted to slap the government officials (what's new) and couldn't wait to see what happened aboard the plane. Excellent read! --K--
I have read all of John Nance's novels and several of his nonfiction books. This is my favorite novel by Nance. Like all his novels I was unable to put it down. I have learned to set aside and entire day to reading one of his books. In this book Nance not only did his normal incredible job of making you feel like you are actually in the cockpit, but he also did a wonderful job of showing how bad some airlines are treating the flying public. Nance is an airline captain for a major airline and I applaud his clear descriptions of how badly the flying consumer is often treated. While this book is fiction it deals with a real problem - air rage. Air rage is a real and frightening problem that is only going to increase as the airlines continue to overcrowd us and hire poorly training personnel. In this exciting story Nance shows us a realistic portrayal of humans caught in a failing greedy corporate system. As a human factors professional, private pilot, and a person that loves a good story based on facts I highly recommend this book.
I stumbled into this book on my library's 7-day express checkout, hoping, to find a new author now that I¿ve ready everything by Stuart Woods. The basic story is good if far-fetched, but the disjointed introduction of characters, lack of character development, and painfully repetitive nature of the storytelling, had me ¿speed reading¿ after 200 pages just to see how if all ends. A what a disappointment--a string of happy endings! The only part I really enjoyed was putting the book back in my library¿s return box. Maybe I started with the wrong book, but if all of the author¿s previous works are similar, keep looking.
This is an exciting and well done book. I could not place it down. Mr. Nance does an excellent job of depicting what a possible riot on a flight might look like. There has been customer service problems and promblems with air rage. Maybe this a precautionary warning to airlines executives to change their ways. A lot of things are happening in the industry and they are forgetting where the money comes from and there will have to be some changes. This book shows that. Mr. Nance is very good on the details and in writing the atmoshere on board the international flight. I would recommend it
In the years following September Eleventh attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, the United States warred on terrorism. For the most part, they wiped out the leading terrorist organizations and bailed out the aircraft industry. People are flying again, but the service has deteriorated to the point that customers are angry, frustrated and fed up with the cavalier mistreatment by the airlines on its¿ passengers and crew. The worst offender is Meridian Airways who treat the people like cattle and are more interested in the bottom line than caring for its crews or passengers. The service on Meridian Flight Six is so terrible and frightening that the passengers are ready to mutiny. The pilot is paranoid and afraid because he¿s a newcomer to international flying. Add to the mix that the spooks at Langley mistakenly believe through a ridiculous set of circumstances, that terrorists control Meridian Flight Six and you have a scenario for tragedy. Just about everyone has seen a road rage incident, but few have observed an air rage occurrence. TURBULENCE provides such a happening and the subsequent overreaction of the passengers, crew and the CIA as a consequence of the lessons learned by the September Eleventh tragedy. John Lance is to aviation thrillers what John Grisham is to legal thrillers with this novel being his most disturbing yet best work by far. The plot projects the effects of future actions that are caused by the horrific events of the last few months. This story line mesmerizes readers who will not put down the thriller until the last page is turned. Harriet Klausner