You'd think it would be hard to get lost on an airplane.
About an hour short of Heathrow Airport on our most recent trip abroad, I was beginning to think my wife had accomplished it.
I'd walked the inside of the big wide-body jet looking for her and was starting to wonder whether it was time to panic when one of the flight attendants approached.
"Sir," she said. "Your traveling companion? Isn't she the blond lady with the frosted hair?"
"My wife, right."
"Well, sir," she said, leaning forward and whispering. "I'm afraid she's locked in the loo."
Door Jammed Shut
I followed her back to the restroom, where two other female flight attendants and their male counterpart were quietly trying to pry a door open.
"Joyce?" I called out. "Are you in there?"
"Boy, am I ever!" her muffled voice came back.
"One of the stewardesses said a blond lady with frosted hair had locked herself in the bathroom. Figured it was you."
"I didn't lock myself in. I've been trying to tell them that. The dumb door broke."
The cabin crew was embarrassed. I was assured that such a thing had never, ever happened before.
A man introduced himself as chief flight attendant Lyle Jameson. Then, with his face close to the door, he called out in a kind of a stage whisper: "Madam, can you brace yourself and push from the inside?"
"I'll give it a try," she said. The door bulged slightly and snapped back. That was followed almost immediately with raucous laughter from inside.
"She's hysterical," said one of the attendants.
"No," Joyce said. "I just caught a shot of myself in the mirror, trying to brace myself against every fixture in here and pushing on this dumb door with my feet."
Another flight attendant, who was beginning to sound a little panicky herself, told Joyce not to panic. Joyce said she'd been known to panic on being locked out of a bathroom, but never from being locked in one.
There was a little snickering from the passengers in the area. If the cabin crew had had any hopes of keeping the whole business a secret, those hopes were evaporating.
Jameson and I forced the base of the door open enough to slip a small prying tool to my wife so she could work from the inside.
"More to keep her busy than anything else," he said. "Not much she can do from in there."
Both he and I were sitting on the floor trying to work another crowbar into the crack at the edge of the door.
An elderly man pushed his way between the female flight attendants. "Pardon me," he said. "I have to get in there."
"Sorry, sir," one of them said. "It's not available."
"You don't understand," he said. "I absolutely have to get in there. This is an emergency."
"Well, I'm sorry, sir," said the other female attendant. "It's in use at the moment."
"No it isn't," he countered. "The occupied sign is out. And did you know you've misspelled the word on the sign. You've got it as occupeed ."
"That is occupied in French, sir, and I assure you this toilet is occupeed . . . pied. In fact, it's the most occupied toilet on this aircraft."
The other female attendant said: "It's full up, as a matter of fact. You might use one of the others."
With some grousing, the old man moved back the way he'd come, muttering about the insensitivity of today's airline personnel and how some people had a lot to learn about emergencies.
Moisture was beginning to show through the back of Jameson's shirt. "If we seem ill-prepared for this, sir, it's because it simply never happens, you know. Never."
I managed to get the edge of my crowbar under the lip of the door knob and gave a push. It shot off, narrowly missing one of the attendants.
"Hey," Joyce called from inside. "I don't know what I did, but my doorknob fell off in here. Does the captain know about this?"
"Yes, madam," Jameson said. "He knows. Believe me, he knows."
A voice trying to sound assured and friendly came on the public address system announcing that there might be a brief delay before the plane would enter the landing pattern at Heathrow due to a technical difficulty.
Jameson levered an opening at the bottom of the door and I got my fingers in next to it and started pulling.
"Hey," Joyce called. "I know those fingers. Bob, you be careful. Two of those are your typing fingers." I pulled my hand out. The door was too springy anyway.
"As a matter of fact," Jameson said, "I do know of one other lady being trapped in the loo . . . my mother."
For a moment we forced the blade of the crowbar into the crack of the door. We both gave it a mighty push and it popped right out again. The two female flight attendants both said, "Oh," with disappointment.
"It must have been 20 years ago, maybe longer," Jameson said. "My mother was on one of the old Viscounts. There was a strict regulation about flushing the commodes on those aircraft unless you were standing up, if you follow me." One of the female flight attendants was trying to suppress a giggle. Jameson looked up at her.