This is what it is like when you are in the air and your plane gets hit by lightning:
Pop! Bang! A flash of light shrieks through the windows. There is a hard physical burst, like a crash without impact.
When the nanosecond is over, you and the other passengers, all snugly fitted in your seats like eggs in a carton, look at each other as if to say, “Did you see that?” even though you all know you all just did.
A few minutes later, the senior-most flight attendant, her voice now steady enough, makes an announcement saying the pilot is too busy to explain but will do so shortly, and in the meantime, please remain seated.
The pilot, sounding folksy and relaxed (they must teach them to speak like that at airline pilot school), finally comes on to say that there was a little static electricity, nothing to worry about and we’ll be landing in Juneau just fine.
Static electricity: I used to make that by rubbing my head with a balloon so I could give my little sister shocks. It was kind of fun. But my grown-up brain takes over and reminds me that lightning is static electricity. Really big static electricity.
We land in Juneau, a scheduled short stopover on the way to Seattle: we are told to disembark and take our belongings with us. At the gate we hunker down and hunt for outlets and vending machines while the airline plays the “we-won’t-admit-it” game and tell us our plane has to be inspected before they know if it is safe to fly. But really, since it has scorch marks on the outside, none of us think getting back on is an option.
A couple of hours later, the gate agent announces we will be boarding a different plane. And a couple of hours after that, we do.
We have the same flight crew as before. A pretty young flight attendant brings around the drink cart and asks what I’d like. She pours wine right to the brim of my plastic cup and tells me there is no charge and she can’t believe how nice all the passengers are being and that her instructor in flight school told her about how when it happened to him, a crew mate’s hair stood straight up in the air. She pats her shiny brown hair to remind herself she is okay, smiles, and pushes the cart to the next row. I wonder if she will look for a new job. After a while, another flight attendant starts to top off my half-full glass and I say, “I’m okay, thanks—well, okay, just a little”, as he pours it to the very top of the cup anyway and I think he just wishes it was his.
Hours later as I drag my luggage through the endless maze of airport hotel corridors to get in bed for three hours before my connecting flight, I experience a strange euphoria. I am protected now because everyone knows lightening doesn’t strike twice.