60-minute Discomfort In The Air
AS the door of the departure hall of Sam Mbakwe International Airport swung open, the traveler was confronted by a strategically placed signboard that announced loudly that the Airline was one year old. The significance of this tender age of the airline gave some hope that potential customer should expect equally young aircrafts in its fleet. As the day of Saturday, October 31, 2015 grew older, travelers trickled into the departure lounge to board either flight 7109 or 7153 scheduled for the late afternoon flights. The sign that the day would be momentous came earlier than expected as the two aircrafts that were scheduled to take off forty minutes apart arrived simultaneously with both heading to Lagos. To compound the problem, the check-in procedures became very rowdy as it was obvious that the shoddy manner in which the queue was being handled could lead to the two aircrafts-swapping passengers and it did happen.
Another pre-flight incident worthy of note was the conversation between a passenger and a crewmember. While walking through the isle, a young female crew member had assured a complainant “If there is a problem with the aircraft, we wouldn’t have allowed you to board”. The passenger nodded in agreement but added “I shouldn’t notice such a thing without raising an alarm but my mind is at rest because your Oga had assured me that it is normal with aircrafts and that this is noticeable because the plane is small”. None of the other passengers was privy to the content of this discussion, particularly, what prompted the woman’s protest.
As the aircraft taxied, one could hear some discomforting noise from the engine as if it was struggling to gather itself together for the journey.
With everybody seated, flight 7153 took-off with the Pilot routinely welcoming everybody aboard tingling it with a cautionary note that there could be a minor tempest en-route. Further, he comforted the passengers that the storm was nothing to stir the mind. Interestingly, the take-off was unduly long as it took almost a third of the journey before the crew could commence entertainment. The initial noise noticed at take off became more pronounced.
As the trolley was being wheeled through the aisle, the aircraft jerked and galloped like a car on an untarred bumpy road struggling to maintain a balance. You could read fear on the faces of passengers. The young woman sitting next to me had anxiety painted all over her beautiful face and I had the most unpleasant assignment of comforting her for calm. The voice of the Captain confounded the problem when it came on air “Ladies and Gentlemen, we are experiencing a bit of rough weather. Kindly fasten your seat-belt and remain seated but… it is nothing to worry about”. He suddenly stopped. The mind pondered, “but what?”. He continued “For those who speak French “Madame et Monsieur…”. To most of us seated in the aircraft, the Captain may have been hiding vital information
Ominous silence descended on the aircraft as passengers quietly and expectantly waited for the next event. Even, a baby that had cried uncontrollably through the journey suddenly became mute.
About 35 minutes into the flight and in the midst of the turbulence, the Captain came on air again. “Ladies and gentlemen, we are about to commence our descent into Lagos. Please, remain seated with your seat-belt fastened. Thank you for choosing this airline. Good evening.” This announcement, which was followed by murmuring across the aircraft seemed to have brought some peace into the mind of the disturbed passengers.
Another ten minutes passed, then the Captain again: “Ladies and gentlemen, we are number five on the landing queue; therefore we have to wait for another two to three minutes before landing.” The passengers chorused “ Haaaaaaa!”.
Some passengers went into wild jubilation while others talk in hush tones when the plane finally landed. It seems everybody was grateful to God for safe landing. There is peace at last.
This experience brings to fore a number of questions about air transport operations in Nigeria in particular and the world in general. The wife of the Pilot of the Russian aircraft that crashed two weeks back in Egypt was quoted to have reported that the husband had been complaining about the deplorable state of the aeroplane. Does this suggest that there is connivance on the side of regulators and air travel operators to compromise air safety? Otherwise, while would a pilot agree to fly a plane that is unfit for flight?
While the situation in many countries may be bad, the Nigerian problems are severe. The Federal Airport Authority of Nigeria, an organ saddled with the responsibility of regulating activities at the airport seems to be inept and indolent. Otherwise, an aircraft ought not to have escaped into the air when it is unfit to do a journey.
•Prof. Rasheed Kola Ojikutu is of the Faculty of Business Administration, University of Lagos.