Greetings! I was going to write about my trip to the Taj Mahal but that’s going to have to wait due to this week’s incredible news. First, there was the miraculous splash landing in the Hudson River and then there was the inauguration of President Obama, making him the most powerful person in the world. No, I wasn’t at the inauguration or on that flight but I watched both of them live on television. When I received the CNN breaking news alert about the plane crash, my heart started to race and my stomach turned. It’s a horrendous subject for anyone but even more so for frequent fliers. When I turned on the television, the plane was almost completely submerged. There were no signs of passengers and I feared the worst. I’m not sure if the news agencies were just trying to suck more viewers in or what … but for the first 20 minutes or so, they didn’t mention anything about passengers disembarking safely. So when Katie Couric eventually stated that everyone had gotten out alive, my eyes welled with tears of joy.

What an amazing job the pilot(s), flight attendants, emergency workers, ferry operators and passengers did to get everyone out alive. Like most of the country and much of the world, I gravitated toward this incredible story and my favorite quote, after watching all the coverage, was from a Boston guy who said that as a Red Sox fan, he’d never been more excited to see Yankees fans in his whole life. Funny and fitting! In a time of crisisy, everyone instantly seems to bond. I bet many of the seatmates aboard that flight hadn’t even acknowledged one another and now, they will probably be friends for life. Something to think about the next time you take your assigned seat.

I’ve been in two emergency (not crash) landings. Both were on the same round-trip ticket and were just eight days apart — what are the odds of that?! The first one was from Los Angeles (LAX) to Fort Lauderdale (FLL), when several passengers and flight attendants smelled smoke in the cabin about an hour into the flight. We ended up landing in Tucson smoothly and we were greeted and escorted by eight fire trucks. Landing was completely civilized and we didn’t have to go down the chute. When I returned home a week later, we ingested a bird on takeoff (just 1 engine) and had to divert to Miami International. It was a similar experience as the first time but in both of those moments of the unknown, hearts dropped and passengers became silent as they hoped (and prayed) for the best. It’s an eerie feeling.

Interestingly, American Airlines credited my AAdvantage account with an unsolicited 6,000 bonus miles for the first emergency landing and 5,000 for the second one. It was a nice gesture and I guess the difference was that the first was a little hairier. I wonder what, if anything, US Airways will give the passengers of flight 1549? The gift of life is certainly enough but passengers may have just gotten 1,000,000 bonus miles!

UPDATE: US Airways to give each flier on ditched jet $5,000.

Seeing the wreckage brings out the fear in all of us — especially me and I had to fly that very night. I don’t know if you know this but I used to be afraid to fly (from the time I was 18 til I was 21). It took me a long time to realize that flying is safer than driving and I learned this by interviewing people and doing my research. Anxious times call for reminding your brain about the safety of flying. DID YOU KNOW? The odds of being killed in a commercial airline crash are 52 million to 1, while the odds of perishing in a road accident are 1 in 8,000.

Just a couple of weeks ago, a USAToday report came out stating that for the first time since the beginning of the jet age, two consecutive years have passed without a single airline passenger death in a U.S. carrier crash. And commercial airliners carried almost 1.5 billion passengers in that year period. Obviously, flying is way safer than driving. Besides fear, I think what that US Airways crash reminds us of is the importance of safety and hope. If there happens to be a water crash — God forbid — passengers now know that they can all survive. Below, I’ve included some tips on how to be better prepared if this should ever (hopefully not) happen again.

Watch the safety demonstration each time you fly. I know it seems monotonous and even a chore after you’ve just met your cool new seatmate … but it’s important. Before I dated a flight attendant, I used to read the newspaper, write in my journal or chat it up during the in-flight safety demo. Now I make a conscious effort to pay attention. To give you an idea how imperative it is keep re-familiarizing yourself with the safety checks, the next time you fly take a look around the plane and see if you notice any crew members flying as passengers. Chances are you will and I bet they will be giving the safety video their undivided attention. If these people who fly more than anyone and even went through an eight-week intensive safety-training course are watching it – don’t you think you should spend four minutes and watch it, too? I know, I know … it would be better if more airlines took the approach that Delta did when they introduced the sexy Deltalina.

The safety video should have prompted you to locate your safety vest (or cushion), count the number of rows to the nearest exit and learn how to put on your oxygen mask … but there are some things it doesn’t teach passengers. One is that passengers shouldn’t take their shoes off for takeoff (or landing). If something goes wrong, you need to be ready to move, not locating your shoes and trying to squeeze them back on to your swollen feet. I would rather be spending that time listening to the flight attendants’ instructions and/or sending text messages. And don’t wear flip-flops; they provide no protection for your feet.

I always keep my cell phone either on me or in the seat pocket in front of me and all small valuables (passport, money, credit cards, jewelry…) in my pants or jacket pocket. If you need to make an emergency exit, at least you will have your essentials.

Don’t even think about trying to grab your bag(s) to take them with you. The flight attendants won’t allow you to bring them anyway and you could really be holding yourself and other passengers up in an emergency situation. Most planes have two minutes to evacuate so everyone needs to MOVE. (Remember the 2005 Air France crash in Toronto?) Of course, it would suck to lose your laptop but that’s why you should back your files up before you travel anyhow.

Another thing I don’t think people think about is dressing for the elements. I was in the Edinburgh airport a few years ago and I learned to always have something warm, no matter where you are going or coming from. It was late March and Scotland was having a rare snowstorm but when the alarm sounded and everyone (thousands of people) was escorted out the doors, I felt terrible for the folks (even babies) who were in shorts, sandals, and T-shirts (they must’ve been flying to the Caribbean). Thank goodness I was flying to cold New York City so I was better prepared for the 30 minutes we stood out on the tarmac. But I was still freezing, even with my winter jacket and hat on.

I’m sure you have your own travel tips and advice, so if you have any, please send them to us for inclusion in next week’s newsletter!

It would have been great to be in Washington D.C. for the inauguration even though it looked awfully cold. But I was there in spirit watching it on CNN, thousands of miles away (in an undisclosed location — stay tuned to find out in the coming weeks). I think it’s evident to the world that America is on its way back and all the Americans and foreigners I was around, were very excited! I personally have never been more pumped or proud to be an American.

I leave you with these two quotes:

“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” — Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968)

“Let us mark this day with remembrance, of who we are and how far we traveled.” — President Barrack Hussein Obama (1961 – )

Next week we visit one of India’s most impressive and iconic symbols: The Taj Mahal.

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