• Friday, July 19, 2024
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Memoirs of a decompressed journey 1


Flight Nigeria 247 was boarding. It was a warm morning in December and the crew had been informed it was a full flight to Owerri, the capital city of Imo state in the eastern part of Nigeria. It was the end of the year. A number of couples were heading to their hometowns to tie the knots. As lead crew, I loved getting to meet my passengers whilst boarding.

On this day, I walked through the cabin looking for passengers who needed help with securing luggages, reseating or getting a drink of water. Whilst I walked through the cabin, I made a few stops to assist passengers and asked for passengers seated at the exit row to go though their drills to ensure they could handle the exit doors in the event of an emergency. This is not always fun! Typically on short and long haul flights, crew do not enjoy this as passengers don’t like the short exams we give them, hence they become hostile.

They only love the seat because of the extra legroom the area offers. A typical conversation, almost always ensues and today was not an exception.   “Sir, kindly go through the safety card in front of you, I will come back to ask you a few questions in order to ascertain you are fit to occupy this seat for the flight,” I said. “ What do you mean?” “I flew in from Cape Town yesterday, it was safe, nothing can happen on this short flight from Lagos to Owerri.” For a moment I thought, a little bit of reasoning, people! Another said, “I flew thirteen hours straight from Houston, definitely, noting can happen on the trip now that am in Lagos heading to Owerri, just 45minutes away, round the corner, biko, no joke o.” Stop joking and get real!                                                                                                                                 They finally complied with all instructions when they realized there were people waiting to take his seats in exchange if otherwise. A young lady had a wedding cake she wanted me to allow her keep on an empty seat in business class if the seat was not taken. Of course, I refused. And guess what? I was abused and tagged not nice, too strict, too Nigerian by her co-passengers. I smiled through it all. With the cabin secured, I went to the front of the cabin. I could hear the flight crew go through their drills:

Aircraft (Nigeria 247) calls, “State Tower, this is Nigeria 247

State Tower responds, “Nigeria 247, this is State Tower, Go ahead.”

Nigeria 247, “Request Start up, destination Owerri, Flight level 320.”

“Boarding completed,” I called out as the lead crew to the others in the cabin. The aircraft powered up, pushed back from the hangar and commenced its slow taxi towards the runway. Gently bouncing on its wheels, this is the softer part of flying we all love. This is also the time passengers make last minute phone calls to inform their loved ones the flight was about taking off. 

After a tough time of securing our well travelled passengers, majority of whom were completing the last leg of their long hours of flying from Europe or the United States of America, most of them were giving last instructions to loved ones who were awaiting their arrival. “We gonna take off now,” bounced off the cabin walls on all sides. For well trained crew, by now, you know your passengers to an extent (its called profiling your customers to determine how best to relate with them; what languages and other relational skills you might need to employ in case an argument ensues between two of them over a seat, how many times you might have to repeat an announcement in the event of an emergency, etc.). Trust me, this role requires you having an alter ego to succeed.

The pre-take off time is tough-it is the time to get the passengers to listen to the onboard welcome addresses and the crucial flight safety information from the crew, secure the cabin and pass the checks to the flight crew so they can take off. With so much to do in a short while, this is when your passengers conclude you are professional to be trusted or not, even though they have not totally complied with your instructions as crew-onboard. The irony is that you have to smile through the counter-arguments raised. If you are lucky, others around will join you and scold the difficult passenger still hanging on to a bag that should have been stowed in the overhead bin.

On this particular day, I was already unlucky to have had issues with securing and ensuring the safety of my passengers. So, I chose to tread carefully and not agitate anyone further by walking through the cabin a second time. I requested that another crew do the final cabin check.

The drill is familiar. Once the aircraft turned off the apron and headed for the runway. I picked up the PA system “Good morning, ladies and gentlemen.“ “Welcome on board flight 247……” With the welcome on board address completed, I called out for the safety demonstration. “Cabin crew, demo positions, Please” The crew took their demo positions, one right in front of the business class passengers and two others down the long aisle, splitting the economy cabin of the Boeing 737 aircraft into halves. Safety demo completed, I informed the flight crew and a few minutes later, we were flying over Oshodi, heading out of the Lagos airspace. I marvel at the sheer lack of regard for information, much more, information that is crucial to state of well being of a human. The call to watch demo videos often fall on deaf ears. Is this a case of all is well that ends well? Do we all just assume that each time we fly? Unconsciously, I think we do. Except for people with aviophobia, once the plane is safely in the air, it’s party time after the seat belt signs are turned off. Today was no exception.

The crew is happy when the passengers are happy too.  The service time is a good time to laugh and crack some jokes if your passengers are happy. Being a festive period, we were all happy. Ten minutes into the flight, I felt faint. I saw the yellow mask suddenly dropped through out the cabin! It was a slow decompression………………..I walked to the front of the cabin to grab the PA system whilst shouting out the commands, “Grab your oxygen mask, pull it down,  breathe,” at the same time pulling alternate masks for my breathing as I walked along. I could hear the screams from the passengers, I was feeling dizzy, we were falling down…………………………………..

Mojereola Mustapha