CHICAGO–Air traveler Lynn Paschal feels physically and mentally ready to fulfill the duties of an exit-row passenger should tragedy strike United Airlines Flight 234 en route to Atlanta's Hartsfield International Airport, sources close to the 34-year-old confirmed Monday.
"The last thing anyone wants is an emergency landing," said Paschal, limbering up his forearms and checking his reach to the door handle. "But in case we do, I'll do everything in my power to make sure everyone gets out quickly and safely."
In the unlikely event of an emergency landing, Paschal may be called upon to open the escape door with the help of the O'Hare-based United flight crew.
"I certainly hope there will be at least one crew member left alive to help me, but there's no guarantee of that," Paschal said. "I have to prepare for the possibility that I'm the surviving passengers' only hope." Paschal noted that if need be, he could probably throw the door open himself, either by applying all his strength to the handle or by wrapping a seatbelt strap around it for leverage.
In addition to opening the exit-row door, Paschal's emergency duties would include helping his fellow passengers exit the plane and slide down the inflatable chute.
"That's the price you pay for having a little extra leg room here in the exit row," said Paschal, who stowed his carry-on bag in the overhead compartment so it wouldn't tangle the legs of escaping passengers. "Right now, it's leg room, but when the plane is engulfed in flames or sinking like a stone 30,000 feet above central Tennessee, it could be the path to life. And that's a path I want clear."
"Don't worry," said Paschal, turning to the woman seated next to him. "You're going to see your family again."
Paschal first learned of his exit-row responsibilities during the standard pre-flight safety video shown to passengers as Flight 234 prepared for takeoff. Paschal paid strict attention to the presentation, well aware that he could be unexpectedly called into service.
"When [chief flight attendant] Melinda [Garnock] directed my attention to the exit sign above my head, I was glad I made damn sure I had the procedure down," said Paschal, scanning the plane for any elderly passengers who might need special assistance. "Now, I'm basically a member of the crew. Until this plane lands, I'm no longer a civilian."
In addition to familiarizing himself with the large, clearly marked lever, Paschal made other preparations. After introducing himself to everyone in the immediate vicinity of seat 15E, he tucked the aircraft's crash card into the underside of his tray table for easy access. He also fixed his seat in its most upright position.
"Can't afford to relax on this flight," Paschal said. "No coffee, no soda. Got to stay ready. I might have to make my way around this bird in total darkness or even underwater."
Paschal's zeal has not gone unnoticed by United personnel.
"I asked him about six times to stop removing his seat cushion," Garnock said. "He said he was practicing using it as a flotation device. He only stopped when I assured him we wouldn't be crossing any oceans from Chicago to Atlanta. He kept looking over at me and giving me the thumbs-up."
"He took me aside earlier and said he was pretty sure he could get everyone out himself, that if it came to it, I should save myself," flight attendant Yvette Sanchez said. "It took me a while to realize he was talking about helping people out of the plane in an emergency."
Added Sanchez: "Apparently, the guy doesn't realize that in the unlikely event of a crash, we're all fucking dead."