Plane in the neck

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Ever since mythical aviation enthusiast Icarus glued on feathers and jumped off a cliff, man has been trying to answer the quintessential question of ages – Is man meant to fly? And if he is, who should keep track of the frequent flyer miles? It has been one of the most common dreams through the history of man, resulting in an abundance of crimson stains underneath popular cliffs.

We have come a long way from Icarus’ wax wings. Today, if we have to travel from, say, UK to Bangalore, we can – thanks to the magical wonders of modern technology – browse the internet from the airport lobby while listening to flight delay announcements.

I had always believed that aviation has progressed over the ages, but if my recent flight experience is any standard to judge by, this blind faith may need to be re-evaluated.

I am not going to name the particular aircraft. This is primarily because of two reasons.

  1. It’s probably not the fault of one single airline, and it’s possible I just experienced this particular one on a rare bad day…
  2. I don’t want to be tracked down by a team of rabid lawyers and sued off my last button before being kicked incessantly by the airline staff.

Yes, it’s mostly 2.

Not that it was a complete disaster from the word go, you know. As a matter of fact, things were fine enough until the word go. We were all herded in, seated, given the obligatory training on seatbelt usage (Seatbelt 101 – “This thingy goes in here“), and we had even started taxiing to the runway, when suddenly, without warning, the plane took a U turn, heading back to base.

It was confusing. No answers were given, leaving the passengers to speculate… Did they miscalculate the mileage and spend the entire fuel load on that short trip to the runway? Did the pilot get on the wrong plane? (“Ok, boys, we’re off to… Bangalore??? Krap!!!”) Did they find a ninja terrorist hiding in one of the overhead luggage compartments? Did the pilot suffer from ADD and suddenly think he had already reached Bangalore? Was the plane suddenly recalled by the manufacturer? It was impossible to say at the moment, but I was rooting for the ninja theory, because… well, come on, it’s a ninja terrorist. In the luggage compartment. Admit it, you were rooting for him too.

This one.

But save a few of us who had already started visualizing ninja battles in the front half of the airplane, a majority of the passengers were understandably upset over the matter. Whatever the reason was, the captain should have at least made an announcement of some kind. Leaving them hanging without a word of explanation was quite an uncaptainly thing to do. Halfway to the terminal, the pilot finally gave an announcement – “Ladies and gentlemen. I am sorry for the inconvenience, but we’ve been instructed by the control tower to return to base to tighten the engine.

All of a sudden, leaving the passengers without a word of explanation started to look oh-so good.

I don’t know if pilots are given sensitivity training… If they are, then this particular pilot sure went to a lousy training camp. “Tighten the engine? The engine is loose?? You mean the one that’s supposed to hold up this 180 ton metallic coffin? Why didn’t you say so before?” And apparently, it was so loose that the control tower was able to see it while it taxied the runway.

And this was followed by an hour long wait, while, I imagine, ground technicians with monster-size screwdrivers ‘tightened’ the engine. During this while, the passengers were not allowed to disembark, the AC was turned off to save power for the journey, and the hostesses were patrolling the aisle asking passengers what they need, just to get a kick out of saying “I’m sorry, but we can’t help you at this time“. Even the entertainment system was inactive, keeping us vulnerable to the slow wails of boredom from the rest of the passengers.

But all’s well that ends well, right? After about an hour which seemed like roughly 2.4 years, we finally took off. Bangalore, here we come! Woo hoo. I smiled and looked around the cabin… All’s well. The lights dimmed, the passengers dozing, kids tugging at the parent’s chin, the roof leaking, seats reclining, trolleys ro… wha??? roof leaking?? That can’t be right.

Apparently, it can. There was a thin, but steady trail of water leaking from the roof. I didn’t even know airplanes could leak. It wasn’t even raining outside, and even if it was, we were ABOVE the clouds… And even if it were raining, AND we were below the clouds… we were inside a plane, dammit! I could see one passenger pointing to the leak and talking to an air hostess, who appeared calm and confident… I wasn’t able to hear the conversation, but I’m willing to bet it went something along these lines.

“What do you mean calm down? It’s a leak. On the plane!”

“Do not be alarmed, madam. Kindly remain seated.”

“Seated? You didn’t hear me? It’s a friggin leak in a plane. Leak. Plane. You-me-flying. Leak, dammit!”

“Keep your seat upright and fasten your seat belts. Thank you.”

I don’t know if the air hostess was trying to be calm and reassuring, but if she was, then she probably attended the same sensitivity training camp as the pilot. It seems that the liquid was not water after all, and that it was not really a problem for the flight at all. But when your flight springs a leak while you’re cruising at 30,000 feet, either explain why it’s not a big deal, or at least pretend to be surprised at the event. (“Oh, my God. That’s never happened before!“) Acting like the aircraft faces overhead leakage every Sunday is probably not the best course of action.

The grueling neverending flight finally seemed like it was coming to an end (yeah, neverending flight coming to an end – I get the irony), but it was not so. We hovered over Bangalore for an extra hour and a half because of the fog. The pilot was quick to announce that if weather continued this way, he may drop us in Chennai or Mumbai, where things appear less foggy. And he said it like most of the passengers jog from Mumbai to Bangalore on a daily basis; like if he dropped us in Mumbai, we’d just have to hop over a fence to get to Bangalore. If he actually didn’t realize that the distance between Mumbai and Bangalore was nearly 800 miles, then I wouldn’t be surprised if he learned geography from the same place he got his sensitivity training. I think pilots should be trained on how best to deliver bad news…

By the time we landed in Bangalore, I felt like I had aged considerably more than I had planned to. All things considered, we had around 3 hours of delay to account for. I would have expected irate businessmen to storm out complaining and asking for pilot necks to strangle. But no, not a single passenger complained. In fact, they all wore happy smiles, thanking their lucky stars that they weren’t dumped off in Mumbai. That possibility was so strong that merely coming in a few hours late seemed like an extravagant blessing.

Hmm… Maybe the pilots ARE trained on delivering bad news after all.

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6 Responses

  1. Bharath says:

    Well, this happened to me when I went from Cairo to Lagos through Addis Ababa. The flight left Addis and was half-way to Lagos when it turned back and landed. We didn’t know the flight had turned back and so when we landed, we were like “This is a dream – I could swear I was in that flight and it took off and flew for a while to Lagos”.

    Never mind, these stupid airlines never ever give a proper reason for delays. And all they say is “Sorry for the delay”. As if they are absolved of everything if they say “sorry”.

  2. faisal says:

    Boy, you missed all the fun. Loose engine and leaky roof usually comes with other surprises. You were too preoccupied with the leaky roof thing, you forgot to enjoy deep water aquatic life through the window. 😀

    BTW, I might have met this air hostess you are talking about, or her friend at the training camp.

  3. Profile photo of hammy hammy says:

    @bharath:
    When I took my driver’s licence for my two wheeler, the test was primarily comprised of taking an ‘8’ turn… It seemed quite pointless.. There was no real situation in life when I had to do that. So despite the fact that I aced the ‘8’ test, I do not flaunt that particular skill.

    On a similar note, the test for my four wheeler license involved me taking an ‘H’. Again, the transformation into real life was never a point of concern. I did my task, pocketed my license, and removed the H from my mind altogether. No ‘H’ driving in my day to day/ year to year life.

    The pilots should get that message. No matter how eager they are to flaunt their prowess and deftness in taking the U turn, they should rather be content using it as minimally as possible. But I guess temptation is just too strong for them.

    “Whoa. Look at me. U turn, baby, and look.. no hands.”

    @faisal:
    A-ha! So you were the one at their training camp. Explains quite a lot, actually. 😉

  4. dj says:

    pain in the neck? I’ve read similar reports about water leaks with Air India, although I’ve never traveled with that air line.

  5. Soumya says:

    I was right. Not only does your blog exhibit a strong influence of Dave Barry, you guys seem to share near similar experiences (he had a similar one – http://www.miamiherald.com/liv.....48082.html).

    But influence, or no influence, the subtlety of your humour is a joy to read…

  6. Profile photo of hammy hammy says:

    @soumya:

    Hey, thanks. I’m a big fan of Dave, and it’s great if you see his influence in my writing. From time to time, I’m sure you’ll be able to notice other influences as well… from authors to comedians to sitcom characters, and hopefully… a blend that I can call my own.

    I had missed this entry from Dave; thanks for pointing it out. Subtle or not, your compliment is much appreciated. 🙂

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