Departing Barcelona Minutes Apart from a Flight with a Different Fate

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Yesterday my daughter, mom, and I woke up pre-dawn in an overcast and dreary Barcelona to head to the airport in order to start our long journey home after spending six great days in Spain. We checked out of the hotel, took a cab to the Barcelona airport, waited in the normal security and immigration lines with other travelers, grumbled about the lack of decent food in the part of the airport our flight was departing from, and uneventfully boarded our United flight slated for an on-time 9:40AM departure.

We were looking forward to getting home, but not necessarily to the 9 hour + TransAtlantic flight ahead of us, followed by another three hour domestic flight before we would land in Houston Tuesday night.

My daughter was unimpressed by having to walk past the BusinessFirst seats to her coach seat as she hadn’t noticed them on the outbound when we also flew in coach since we didn’t board through the front door, but now she was acutely aware that we were not in the “good seats”. We talked about how it wasn’t our turn to sit and those seats and that was more or less the end of it (well, after I posted her happy face/grumpy face pre-departure photo on my personal Facebook page). That small discussion about seats was the biggest issue we faced on our flight.


We then flew across the Atlantic for most of Tuesday. The plane had no WiFi, so I binge watched chick flicks until we landed in Newark early Tuesday afternoon. I didn’t have time to get online after we landed before heading through immigration and customs, so we were already at the boarding gate for our next flight when I heard the news both from my husband on the phone, as well as by overhearing my mom talking to my dad on her phone.

A flight leaving Barcelona within minutes of ours on Tuesday morning had crashed. There were no survivors.

Germanwings LogoOf course, as you undoubtedly know this flight was GermanWings Flight 9525, a low-cost Lufthansa subsidiary, bound for Dusseldorf that was scheduled to depart at 9:35AM Tuesday morning, just five minutes before our flight. It ended up departing a little late at 10:01AM, just 21 minutes after us.

Hearing that any plane has crashed stops the heart and reels the stomach, especially for regular travelers and their loved ones. Hearing that one has crashed that departed the same airport so close to yours hit close to home. Knowing that you had seriously looked at re-routing options through Germany on Lufthansa that morning makes that an even more sobering feeling.

You see, when we checked in online for our flight home the night before, it showed as potentially overbooked. I wanted us to be able to get home on Tuesday, but like any travel deal hunter, I looked at other fight options that left around the same time as ours from Barcelona in case we had the opportunity to be re-booked and re-routed in exchange for compensation. Most of the viable options that left around the time of our flight and got us home the same day went through Germany via Lufthansa.

In the end, they didn’t need volunteers to get re-routed as our flight went out with a few empty seats, I’m not 100% sure we would have taken the offer even if they had needed volunteers, and if they had agreed to re-routed us, it’s much more likely would have gone through Frankfurt, not Dusseldorf, if we did pick another way home.  Still, who knows.  I’m glad we didn’t change our flight at all in this case.  It was certainly the closest I have been, or ever want to be, to a deadly aviation disaster.

The travelers on that GermanWings plane were waking up in the same city, at roughly the same time, and heading to the same airport as we were for what they probably thought would be an ordinary flight across Europe. Only it heartbreakingly wasn’t.

Back home, my dad (who like a crazy person, sleeps with the TV set turned to a news channel), woke in the middle of the night and heard the spotty reports on the TV that a plane that had departed Barcelona around the time as our flight had crashed. As is the case with these sort of things, the information that first is reported is spotty and incomplete.

Of course ultimately he was able to check our flight information and status and learn that the flight was not the one carrying his wife, daughter, and grand-daughter.  Terribly, 150 other families weren’t that lucky yesterday.   I’m sure those moments of uncertainty for my dad were not ones he wants to repeat any time soon.  In fact, I will share what we he wrote about the event a bit later today.

When I learned of the crash while waiting at the boarding gate for our next flight it was frankly a little too much to process. Honestly, it still is kind of is for me. We still had to fly that day to get home, of course air travel is still statistically very safe, but we all know there is some risk. There is also that element of turning your life over to others who you have never met. There is still that fear that creeps in, at least for me, on every flight. I still hold my daughter’s hand on every takeoff and for the first 3-5 minutes of flight. If something were to happen then, I want to have her hand. It’s all I can do.

I fly a lot, but I still get uneasy for at least a few minutes on every flight. It doesn’t stop me from traveling, but it is always there in the back of my mind. I try to keep those feelings in the back of my mind.

This of course brings those thoughts to the forefront. I will still travel, but I will do my best to continue to remember that landing safely is the most important thing. Much more so than upgrades, mileage earned, in-flight entertainment, and delays. If at the end of your journey you are able to return to your home safely, it was a successful trip. Everything else is minor in the grand scheme.

We got to return home to our families last night and sleep in our own beds. We get to wake up the next day and continue on with our lives and journeys.  I wish with all my heart all the travelers yesterday could say the same.

Safe travels, friends.

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  1. I remember being at the Seattle airport and watching the news coverage on the Asiana plane crash in SFO. I even talked to a family who was supposed to be on that Asiana flight Seoul to SFO but got rerouted on Seoul to Seattle. Very unsettling to hear about a plane crash before getting on a flight.

  2. And this is why I would never send my kids as unaccompanied minors! I know a crash is very unlikely, but for my young child to be by themselves in this situation would be too much for me to live with.

  3. I was flying through PEK on the day the MH370 went missing en route to PEK. It was surreal watching CNN coverage at the ORD United Club, while the plane I will be boarding was literally behind me.

    The flight had an all women flight attendant crew, and they were missing 1 of their Chinese speaking FAs, so I offered to help in case they needed a tall stocky guy who speaks Chinese. As I chatted with the FAs during the break, that was the topic du jour, especially with the last bit of news was that a few passengers were traveling with passports that were declared stolen. Weird all around.

  4. Makes you think. My wife and I were on Pan Am 103 (on different days) in the week before it was blown up over Scotland.

    All you can do is realize that nothing is certain — including when you get in the car in the morning — and hug your loved ones and trust to statistics.

  5. It is really a surreal feeling when you are in the air and a crash happens. I was in air between SFO – NRT (UA) when the Asiana flight crashed at SFO. I learned about it in the lounge @ NRT. I had taken that same Asiana flight several times. It’s a very scary situation and takes a while to process the situation.

  6. My 3 yr. old daughter, 1 yr. old son and I were in SLC, heading for Phx on a mileage run oh so many years ago. Suddenly everyone in the boarding area was asked to step over to a room at the SLC airport, down the hall. No clues what was to come. In the secluded area they asked to separate those waiting for incoming passengers and those of us departing. At that time they proceeded to tell us the incoming Delta flight had crashed in DFW. So shaken, we skipped the SLC – PHX – SLC turn and just headed back to CO. Way too close for comfort. Fortunately kiddos were too young to understand any of it and were thrilled that on the flight home they got 2 “goodie bags” vs. the normal one. (Bags were bright colored paper bags filled with a juice box, stickers, markers, a new book or a tyco little toy and 1/4 or 1/2 pb &j)
    Back in the air within days, but very cognoscente of how fortunate we were.

  7. I had a similar experience earlier this year when Charlie Hebdo happened in Paris. Logged onto wifi on the second leg of our journey home to find my family freaking out about a terrorist attack. Comparing timelines against FlightAware, it looks like our plane was probably just barely into the air, if not still on the runway at Charles de Gaulle, when it all happened. While it’s unlikely that we’d ever have been anywhere near it during our trip, it’s still chilling to consider what might have happened if we’d stayed just a day longer. Near misses are definitely freaky things that make the heart skip a beat.

  8. It is a heart-wrenching, horrible tragedy. As a German living in the States it hit me very hard when I saw the news first thing in the morning. I am aching for the families of the 16 teenagers coming back from a Spain school trip. Just like you, I love travel but these first few minutes after take-off make me nervous. Glad you and your family arrived at home safely.

  9. On my daily school run, I drove over the exact same spot where the can got clipped by the crashing TransAsia flight in Taiwan about s month and a half ago about 5 minutes before it occurred. I saw the first rescue vehicles arrived on my return home, which prompted be to turn on the TV to find out what happened.

    I’m thankful for the rescue workers who worked tirelessly through a cold snap to recover all the bodies from the river, so that all the passengers could be reunited with their loved ones before the Lunar New Year holiday. I imagine having the remains would help with the grieving process.

    Apparently after 9-11, Mr Rogers was asked about how to talk to kids about what happened and he replied to look at the helpers.

  10. We just found out today that the 2 Americans that were on the flight were the wife and daughter of a gentleman that works here. Such saddening news… 🙁

  11. Yesterday I also flew around the same time he accident happened from Alicante, Spain to Paris, France. I found out about the news in a taxi through my little understanding of the French language. I am glad you and I both are fine. Needless to say, tomorrow my wife and I fly from Paris to Geneva. My life is in God’s hands.

  12. Definitely thought about you when I heard the news. Checked your blog constantly and there were no updates. I am glad you are safe and my heart goes out to the families who will need more strength than ever to get through this horrible tragedy.

  13. We were on a flight home from Oslo yesterday and didn’t hear about it until we were safely home. I’m never afraid of flying unless the turbulence is really bad, but that would have been hard to hear just before getting on a plane. Glad you are home safe too.

  14. a special and moving piece … thank you for your powerful reflection; helps us all not to take any moment for granted

  15. Very good, thoughtful post, Summer. I am very glad that you and your family were safe. It is something that certainly affects us a bit more when we are near such situations. A couple of years ago, I was picking up my marathon packet for the Jerusalem Marathon and a few minutes after I left, a bomb left near the bus at the entrance exploded.
    The truly scary part (as far as we were concerned) was for those friends and family members that heard about it and were unable to reach us immediately. It is such a comforting thing that we do have access to the communication modes that we have today to relieve such fears.

  16. Wow. Your post brought back so many feelings from the UA DEN-ORD crash in Souix City. My dad frequently commuted on that flight. I was off at college and had no idea his schedule that day. The time waiting to hear he wasn’t on the flight was excruciating. I feel for your dad. Always so sad for those who don’t get that relief.

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