Member Login



Auto-login for future visits

Join or Renew Today!

Membership Benefits:

Close Button


The Parrot Diaries - Fear of Flying

Mira Tweti | Jul 15, 2007


I remember staring out the window of my Rockefeller Center office at Warner Bros in New York dreaming about doing feature film publicity on location, instead of being tied to a desk as I had been for years. I looked forward to being out of an office - permanently. And to working on great locations, hanging out on the set of movies, what could be a better job? What could be more fun?  But that was before I got a parrot...

Once I got my sweetie, Mango, a Rainbow Lory, the guilt of leaving him behind for the 8-10 weeks I would be away was terrible. He would be alone all the time but for twice a day when a caretaker came to change food bowls and cage paper and I always missed him more than I could bear.

Getting him a friend seemed the obvious way for him to be happy when I was away. So for several years, between my travels, there was a parade of lories in and out of the apartment - all possible companions for Mango. They came from pet shops, from breeders, you name it. All the birds he liked, I didn't, and vice versa. The ones that didn't work out didn't stay - I found homes for them or brought them back to the breeders after a week or so. At the time, it never dawned on me for a moment that all this shuttling around might be traumatic to the birds. They were young and didn't seem to mind the excitement of a new place, a new playmate even if it was temporary.  I was naïve about parrots then in a number of ways.

There was Big Boy who was so big, he was like a Lory Baby Huey. Big Boy wasn't in the house five minutes before he found everything to get into that Mango hadn't in more than a year of living there.  And of course Mango was fascinated with all the new discoveries, so he followed Big Boy wherever he led. There was Mini (short for mini-Mango because she was smaller and followed him everywhere) there was Kiwi, who sang entire operettas before she lunged to bite you—hard. And when I had finally given up, there was a call from the breeder to say that he had a bird for me. I wasn't thrilled about the timing - I'd just gotten a call from Universal Pictures to work on a film shooting back east through Christmas.  It was short notice,  I would be leaving in a week and for the first time, I was planning to take Mango with me on location.

I was still thinking it over, when the next day the breeder called to say he was on his way to a bird mart and would stop by. I figured I could decide when I saw the lory. But his truck full of birds was double-parked downstairs so he stayed only a few minutes, just long enough to drop off the tiniest bird I'd ever seen.  Chutney (I thought Mango/Chutney would be cute names for a companion pair) was much younger than I'd pictured him. I tried to refuse but the breeder said he couldn't take him - he had another 6 hours drive ahead of him and Chutney had been in the car for 3 hours already.

Chutney needed much more attention than the caretaker could give him and it would be unfair to impose a bird this young on friends (I was a little steamed at being left with a bird so young myself!) so there was only one choice: take them both with me.

I planned everything I had a good carrier for Mango. Canvas, with a shoulder strap and handles. I'd had it customized with perches made from dowels for $1.50 at the local hardware store while I waited.  Mango could walk back and forth inside it and play with his toys. His food dish hung fine on the nylon mesh and I got a screw-on hamster water bottle so water wouldn't spill if I had to run for a plane. An important factor because as organized as I am, I'm always late—especially for flights.

I made sure to get Mango his own plane ticket (it was my stipulation to Universal for me to go on short notice that they fly my bird too) so he would be flying in the cabin with me—I would never let a small bird go in cargo. Plus, a ticket insured that there wouldn't be any problems bringing Mango on board, or so I thought...

Getting your bird a ticket doesn't buy them a seat. It allows you to keep them under the seat in front of you or on the seat next to you if it is empty.  I had specifically asked for reservations on the emptiest flight out, which also turned out to be the latest, which was fine with me. I was pleased when I was told the plane was only 30% full. I requested a seat at the back of the plane, which I was told would be no problem since there were so many open seats. The reservationist even said she was sure I'd end up with two seats so Mango would likely be on the seat next to me the whole way.

When Chutney arrived I called the airline to add him. I was lucky: there are only two pets allowed per flight on most airlines, and I got both spots. Plus I reconfirmed that the plane was not fully booked and was told it was still "empty."

I did everything right but it all went wrong and I could never have predicted the series of events about to unfold at the airport...

On travel day I was proud of myself for getting to the airport in plenty of time and all went well at the ticket counter. There wasn't a long line, they had the reservations for both birds, there was no problem checking all my luggage (remember, I was to be away for two months and two season changes, one that included sweaters, boots, overcoat, etc) and the enormous box that housed Mango's "travel cage." It was a 2' x 3' flight which I'd filled with his toys, bowls, food, and all of Chutney's newly acquired things (she was still sleeping in a box, not fledged to a cage yet).  I didn't want to take any chances even though were going to Atlanta, Georgia, a major city. I had no idea how far the nearest well-stocked pet store would be or when I'd get a chance to get to it.  And finding lory food and other items isn't always easy.

I hobbled along towards the gate with laptop and handbag on one shoulder, Mango's case strapped on the other and Chutney in hand in a small clear plexi-box with a hatch lid so I could feed her en route.

I didn't rush because I was carrying several fragile, and important, items and of course I was early. I took my time and talked to both of the sweeties all the way down the long terminal to keep them reassured. Mango was good but he wasn't so thrilled with the change in scenery. He didn't see frenetic airport with its loud noises, endless crowds of unfamiliar people, fast trams, security checks,  and other alienating features an improvement to home. Regardless of what I said to comfort him he kept repeating his common refrain when he thinks he's done something wrong, "I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm so sorry," in his high pitched, sweet, cartoon-character voice. To which I responded over and over, "no sweetie, it's fine, you didn't do anything wrong" eliciting strange stares from passersby.

When I got to the gate I was relieved to see there wasn't a soul in sight but for the smiling flight attendant waiting to take my ticket. As I handed it to her, I got a glimpse of the horror to come. "Gee, you're just making it," she said, "we were about to take off." I was stunned. The plane wasn't supposed to leave for another 15 minutes. She said I was getting the "last seat" on what was now a packed flight!  All the earlier flights to Atlanta had been canceled due to bad weather and all the passengers were rescheduled on the last one out—MINE.  Most of the passengers had spent the last seven hours in the airport waiting to leave,  she told me as she took my boarding pass.

Entering the plane was like going into a horror hotel.  A hundred hungry, angry, and tired people glared at me, my two birds and an armful of stuff as I bumped into every arm, hit every foot, winding my way down the too narrow aisle. But I didn't have far to go. My seat was up front - fourth row, aisle! I stopped dead when I saw it. The flight attendant, desperate to get me seated and the plane on the runway came over instantly.  I explained that I was supposed to be way, way in the back, and at a window. She looked at my boarding pass. That's not what it said as she handed it back to me. I looked down at it - she was right. I hadn't even checked it because I had an assigned seat; apparently it had been given away.

You could hear a pin drop as I tried to persuade her to let me go in the back and check for an empty seat.  "They're all FILLED," she growled back. I could feel all the eyes in all the filled seats staring at me. I sat straight down my arms full of birds and bags and tried to get settled with no space to move.

Mango's case went under the seat in front of me taking up all the leg room. He started whistling in a little louder voice at the new developments. I had to find some space I stood up and eyed the closed upper storage bins to yells of "there's no room in those!" from other passengers. Finally, with my laptop and bag on my lap and Chutney piled on top, I buckled my seatbelt and settled in for the most uncomfortable flight of my life. Mango had gone back to apologizing a soft voice and I was now whispering to him down on the floor.

I breathed a sigh of relief when I heard the captain begin the take off announcements.  But then the woman sitting in the seat in front of me motioned for the flight attendant. As if I couldn't hear her she started to complain about Mango! "That thing under my seat is making noise. It isn't going to stay there for the whole flight is it?!"  she said annoyed.

The flight attendant, one of several I got to know well in just a matter of the next few minutes, asked me to make him quiet or get off the plane.  I showed her his ticket and explained that he was supposed to be on the flight.

"We can't take off if he's making noise," she said.  "I can make noise, but he can't?!" a logical response which I thought would terminate this concerning new discussion.

"The plane has to be quiet for takeoff" she said losing the little composure she had. All eyes were now on us again and I could feel the other passengers' blood boiling as each second passed like the mercury in a thermometer stuck in boiling water.  People in back started saying, "What is going on! We're not leaving!? What's the hold up?!" Others closer to the action were unhappily filling them in on the details.

Another flight attendant joined the first one. I explained to both of them, that he was a bird, he was barely mumbling and there was no reason the plane couldn't take off. I tried to impress them with the fact that we were both expected on the set of a Universal Pictures film the next morning and we had to be on that flight. This was Los Angeles after all, I figured it should count for something that we were "in the business" but they were nonplussed.

They said I had to get off the plane if the bird wouldn't be quiet. I refused. Two more fight attendants were called over. There was now a mob of flight attendants surrounding us. I pointed out that there was an infant just a few rows behind me. I said "you think that baby's going to stay quiet for the next five hours? Are you going to ask its mother to take it off the plane?" Picking on a baby might not have been my best course of action I realized too late.

Finally, the hatch was opened and a supervisor was summoned from the terminal by phone.  We all waited, impatiently, for him to arrive.  He weighed 400 pounds and was none too happy to have to wind his way down the narrow aisle and confront this hostile audience either. I figured it was all over.  I was by now visibly distraught - my mind fluctuating in concern between having to do this again tomorrow or being lynched by the mob around me tonight.  I told him I was promised an empty flight and a seat in back. He asked the flight attendant why she didn't move me to the rear. There were no seats she told him.

I thought it that was it, but this guy turned out to be an angel. "Ask someone in the last row if they want to move up front, to the fourth row and an aisle seat," he told her. She refused, saying it would further delay the plane unnecessarily. He insisted.  In retaliation, she pointed out that Mango was making noise. He looked at me, "he's just nervous, he'll quiet in moment" I said and prayed. He nodded and directed his stare back to the attendant. Reluctantly, she headed back. When she made the request you could hear an uproar: passengers in the rear, desperate to be the first off the plane, almost started a riot to have my seat.

As I got to my new row, my arms full of birds and bags, I saw that I was now sitting next to an elderly, sweet-looking Chinese man. I knew instantly he wouldn't mind the birds.

I raised Mango's carrier to get to my cherished window seat. As I climbed past him he and Mango locked eyes.
"Beautiful bird," he said,  "does he talk?"
"Yes, his name is Mango."
"Hello Mango," he said.
"I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm so sorry," Mango replied, really meaning it.

The rear flight attendant took pity on me and all my stuff, and moved her belongings - which were taking up the aisle seat—so we could have it. The Chinese man moved there without being asked and promptly fell asleep leaving me with two seats and peace.

As soon as the plane started its ascent into the night sky the infant burst out crying at a decibel level so loud it was shattering eardrums in the front of the plane. Its mom walked it up and down the aisle to quiet it, but that only insured everyone on board got their fair share of the incessant screaming. The infant didn't quiet until we touched down in Atlanta five hours later. Since it was dark under the seat, Mango was quiet for the duration only ringing his bell toy every once in a while.

Chutney slept through most of the flight and when he woke I tried to feed him but was informed it wasn't allowed to have pets out of carriers on planes (I found out later about birds who'd gotten out and ran up and down aisles biting ankles until they were caught.) I sneaked him out anyway and kept him hidden under my jacket.

Chutney, who turned out to be a she (a fact that would later cause me more problems than this trip, but that's for another diary entry) traveled in her plexi-box with me to the production every day so I could care for her.  She loved it so much, as she got older she'd squeal with joy when I put her in and got her ready to go.  Her first wing clipping came right after she popped her head out the top of the plexi-box and started flying around the inside of the car while I was trying to drive home in a rainstorm during rush hour and I knew that could never happen again.  It broke my heart to clip her wings and I drove home in tears from the vet's office, her very first feathers wrapped in my pocket. (continued below…)


When the production moved to Wilmington, North Carolina just before Christmas, I got an anxiety attack just imagining the plane trip and refused to fly. Instead the production company cashed in my tickets, gave me the cash and I drove the rental car the 7+ hours from Atlanta.  Stopping was hard because I was alone and as soon as Mango was left alone in the car he started squawking, loud.  So there weren't a lot of bathroom breaks. I was so hungry by the time I got to Wilmington, as soon as I saw a decent restaurant, I pulled into the parking lot, called them on my cell phone and ordered food. I had them bring it to me in the parking lot and gave them my credit card.

Having the birds there when I came home at night and with me through the holidays (on this film no one was flown home, the shooting schedule was so tight) was well worth the hassles of our arrival.  But I was so terrified flying again, I toyed with the idea of driving cross country to get us back to Los Angeles, though it didn't seem a much better alternative.

When I bit the bullet, I made sure that I had a confirmed seat, the window in the last row. And I checked it twice before I left for the airport. This time the plane was half full as promised and the birds were the hit of the flight. Everyone came back to see and coo at them and tell me how beautiful they were. Chutney was now fully interactive and had plenty to say. The flight attendant even let me take her out of her plexi case since I assured her she was clipped. Chutney was so happy, she let everyone pet her.

Our return flight restored my faith in humanity, for a short time anyway, and got me over my fear of flying.  Now I wouldn't hesitate to do it again but not without an absolutely confirmed seat in the back.