[I published this post several years ago, but felt it was worth revisiting.]

Ever have one of those “Alfred Hitchcock moments” where everything seems totally normal but later turns weird? Such a moment happened to me when flying from Illinois to Phoenix, Arizona.

My trip began on the Thursday of Halloween weekend, and I intended to fly back home on Monday. Fast trip to see the grandchildren and their costumes and then head home. I had been told Halloween was a huge deal in the neighborhoods where my three children live, and they wanted me to see the extravaganza. So I bought the tickets, packed my bag, and now was boarding the plane. Nothing unusual … not yet.

Yes, this is a true story. Honest. I wouldn’t dissemble.


After buckling my seat belt, I settled back to read a book during the three-hour flight. But first I looked around at the other passengers. In front of me was a teenager reading Great Expectations, probably for his school English class. To my right, and over two seats, was a nun dressed in modern habit. This, of course, was a good sign. Surely God would not let a plane with a nun go down over Nebraska. A young family was two rows up on the right, the father talking quietly to his little girl. Just in front of them was a lady about my age reading a magazine. It was orderly and quiet, the bags stowed away, and everyone was anticipating take-off. Phones turned off. Last-minute search for gum in my carry-on. Ah, yes, ready to go.

The captain’s voice filled the cabin, announcing our time of arrival at the Phoenix/Mesa airport, and then we felt the plane

photo by Suhyeon Choi for Unsplash.com

begin to slowly taxi to the gate. Just as we reached our turn onto the runway, someone in the back shouted, “A woman back here has fainted!” I saw a stewardess at the front of the plane say something quickly into a hand-held walkie-talkie—evidently to the pilot—and then two stewardesses ran to the back. One came forward again, spoke to the captain, and then his voice came over the loudspeaker. “Ladies and gentlemen, we are going to have to go back because we have to allow a passenger to disembark. Then we’ll add some fuel and be on our way.”

No problem. They helped a blond, middle-aged lady down the aisle and off the plane, refueled, and we were on our way.

Now what, you may ask, is Alfred Hitchcockian about that? Simple. Normal. Not a big deal. And you would be correct. It wasn’t weird until the following Monday when I boarded another plane to go back to Illinois.

Exactly the same smiling stewardesses, same captain, totally same flight crew. Déjà vu. I sat down in the same seat I had occupied on the way to Arizona, settled in, found my book to read, and looked around.

photo from unsplash.com


That is when things got weird.

Hitchcockian weird.


In front of me was the same teenager reading Great Expectations. He hadn’t made much progress. To my right, and over two seats, was the same nun. I hoped God was still noticing. The same young family was two rows up, the father talking to his daughter. Just in front of them was the same lady, once again reading a magazine. “Whoa,” I thought to myself. “This is just too weird. What are the chances the same people would be in the same places? Or is this like “Groundhog Day”?

And it would become stranger.

The captain readied us for take-off, the stewardesses did one more pass through the cabin before settling down at the front, and we taxied out to the runway gate. Then, suddenly, a voice from the back of the cabin shouted, “Hey, there’s a lady back here who is sick!”

I think an audible gasp went up from the passengers who had been here before.

Two stewardesses ran back once again and checked. Sure enough, we had to coast back to the beginning of the trip, refuel, and take the passenger off the plane. We were idling in the same spot for some time. People were feeling a little tense.

It was very quiet, with a feeling of expectations rising from the bewildered passengers. Then, out of the calm, silent interior, the

little girl, two seats up with her family, shouted loud and clear in an excited voice, “Are we there, Dad?”

Everyone laughed, and the spell was broken.

This year I went to Arizona in early October. Guess you know why.