Blame It On The Brussels Sprouts
Flying|March 2017

A bad way to end a good flight.

Les Abend


As is my normal custom on a two-man crew, I offer to perform the walk-around inspection when it’s the copilot’s leg. I enjoy the stroll, fresh air, and re-engagement with the parts and pieces of the airplane — a reminder of just how big the machine is that I fly.

On this particular occasion, performing the walk-around was not an exercise of sound judgment for an experienced captain. The sky had unleashed an annoying drizzle over London Heathrow Airport. Sadly, I was aware of the forecast before leaving JFK the morning prior. Certain that I wouldn’t melt (although I didn’t share the same confidence with the new uniform material), my walk-around of our 777-300 progressed without issues.

An enthusiastic crew chief intercepted me as I scanned the intricacies of a GE 90-115B jet engine. He thrust a printout of the restricted-articles form into my hand. Nothing unusual. Just some dry ice.

The crew chief’s expression held a wry grin. With a thumb pointing at a cargo pallet containing green plastic bags sitting atop a loader at the aft end of the airplane, he asked, “You know what that is, captain?”

I smiled and shook my head.

“Brussels sprouts,” the crew chief responded with British flair. “Hate the damn things.”

“I love Brussels sprouts. Can you grab me a bag?” I asked.

The crew chief’s grin broadened. He said, “They’re yours when you get to New York.” He turned and walked away toward the cargo loader.

As fate would have it, the Brussels sprouts became problematic at departure time. Shortly after my copilot, Carl, requested a pushback clearance, the ground crewman attempted to communicate the need to reopen the aft cargo compartment. Despite repeated inquiries, I found it difficult to understand the reason for the reopening. To be polite, the words being used by the man on the intercom weren’t quite cohesive. The axiom of two countries separated by a common language seemed applicable.

Continue reading your story on the app

Continue reading your story in the magazine