None of us is getting out alive !
by Paul McKellips
Do you remember your first trip on a
I remember being 9 years old and
walking up the leaning aisle to my seat on
a North Central Airlines DC-3 propeller
flight from Minneapolis to Oshkosh on
September 9, 1968. The event was so special
that all 21 of us passengers were dressed in
our Sunday best.
Aviation unleashed my imagination,
and the world as I knew it no longer had
boundaries. Anything was possible.
In 1978, a ‘jumbo’ jet took me over
the Atlantic Ocean for the first time, and
picture books came to life as I experienced
the magic of France. Throughout my
college years, I often spent hours at the
local airport, moving from gate to gate,
just watching people come and go. With an
airplane parked outside but no ticket in my
hand, I dreamed of the day when my career
would take off and an airplane would take
me to unknown destinations.
But July of 1981 opened my eyes
to a different level of experience with
aviation. I stood at the arrival gate sobbing
uncontrollably, buried deep in a group hug
with my brothers and sister, completely
unable to comprehend that my daddy had
died unexpectedly in my arms the night
before. I was the guilty 22-year-old son
who couldn’t save his own father with CPR.
I remember landing at Chicago’s O’Hare
airport and watching the baggage handlers
tenderly remove my father’s casket, fully
aware that I was in the window watching
through the tears.
Since that July day in 1981, I look at
airports and airplanes differently now. I see
tearful reunions at baggage claim and I now
understand what’s going on.
I now see far-too-young women with
hairless heads and pink ribbons. I see small
children anchored by the faces of worried
parents as they board an ‘exciting’ flight
to see yet another specialist at a different
hospital. And I often see scientists and
researchers traveling around the world,
heading off to a conference or seminar in
their relentless quest through miles, time,
blood, sweat and tears to find the elusive
cure and the impossible breakthrough.
Illness, disease, injury and
misfortune are like the
dreaded middle seats with no
leg room. You may not get
it today, but you will; we all
I no longer board an airplane with the
wide-eyed wonder of a boy but rather with
the grizzled temperament of a seasoned
‘air warrior,’ constantly fretting about the
availability of space in the overhead bin,
the possibility of a middle seat and the
realization that my knees will enter my
chest cavity as soon as the guy in front of me
reclines. The boundary-free dreams of my
youth have been replaced by TSA security
lines, expectations of delays and the fear of
system-wide gridlock if O’Hare gets fog.
But no matter how busy I am, or how
stressed my airline connection is, my
emotions immediately snap back to 1981
when I see the familiar tears, when I notice
the bald heads and when I watch those little
pediatric wonders board early.
The airlines see them, too.
Great airlines—historical icons like
American, United, Continental, Air
Canada and Lufthansa—all do their part
to make life—and sometimes dying—just a
little bit easier for those of us in need.
I’ve seen airlines move terminal cancer
patients up to first class seats in an effort to
create a special moment as a husband and
wife check off another adventure on the
bucket list before time runs out.
I’ve seen airlines provide free “Make a
Wish” flights to pediatric patients and their
families so that a short life can enjoy a big
event at the happiest place on earth.
I’ve seen frequent mileage programs
redesigned so that air-weary travelers can
donate their miles to families who need to
travel to a Ronald McDonald House or out
to Walter Reed National Military Medical
Center to be with a loved one during a time
of illness or trauma.
Yes, the airlines run a business, but
they see the same faces we do. Every CEO
at every airline and every pilot in every
cockpit is no different than the rest of us.
They see the faces, and they know all too
well that none of us is getting out of this
Illness, disease, injury and misfortune
are like the dreaded middle seats with no
leg room. You may not get it today, but you
will; we all will…eventually.
Yet a conundrum exists that I simply
can’t reconcile. The airlines that carry
those faces, the patients with the diseases
and their families that buckle up tightly
with hopes for a miracle, refuse to transport
the non-human primates for disease and
trauma research that might possibly hold
the future for cures and breakthroughs.
The seats are filled with mothers and
fathers and children facing the end of their
days, while the cargo compartment below
remains empty of the non-human primates
that might give those up above a new ticket
No, none of us is getting out alive. But
maybe we don’t have to go today.
If airlines better understood the faces
looking out their windows, they might also
see young scientists and researchers with
unleashed imaginations who now face
a world where aviation may be creating
some of the boundaries between hope and
despair, life and death.
McKellips is an Author and Executive Vice President of
the Foundation for Biomedical Research in
Reproduced with kind permission of LAB Animal Europe
To view the original article follow this link in April Lab Animal Europe and flip to page 38.
36 Volume 13, No. 4 | APRIL 2013 www.labanimaleurope.com