When I posted on twitter that I was leaving for Dakar recently, I had more tweetfam teasing me about the possibility of a Senegalese massage than those wishing me a safe trip. Thinking about it now, I think only two people wished me cool runnings.
When I reported for duty and checked the passenger figures, I prepared myself for an easy flight and a really long night as the figures were not that high.
We were off to a good start when the aircraft door was shut five minutes before the scheduled time of departure (STD), and although traffic was heavy that night we got ‘start up’ clearance a mere five minutes after STD.
Now the flight was routed from Lagos through Cotonou (COO) to Dakar (DKR) and since the flight time to Cotonou was only twenty minutes, we ran the service on ground so that the passengers could at least get some rest during cruise – this was usually aided by the darkness in the cabin on such flights as it was a requirement to dim the lights for take off and landing during hours of darkness.
In Cotonou some passengers disembarked and during security checks, a requirement on transit flights to ensure nobody got off and left any bags or items on board, it was discovered that a passenger’s Motorola Symbian phone was missing.
My colleagues initiated a search of the area: seat pockets, under seat area, against the fuselage, they pulled out the seat cushions and even checked some hard to reach areas of the seat; someone knelt and checked under the seats from back to front on both sides – just in case the phone fell and slid either way during landing. Nothing!
I made an announcement saying a phone was missing and anyone who had accidentally seen it should kindly return it to the crew. I knew I was talking to myself, but I had to make the announcement anyway. Nothing.
I then discussed with the Captain and, between us, we agreed it was a tricky situation. If it had been found out before passengers got off in COO, we would have had security come on board to conduct a search of EVERYBODY on board. Insisting on a search of the passengers remaining on board could amount to wrongly embarrassing them.
Then there was the dynamic of responsibility. My responsibility was/is to get passengers from one point to the other SAFELY and maybe comfortably; the passengers’ responsibility was/is to ensure compliance with the airline’s regulations regarding conduct, and the safe keeping of any valuables they had with them. A tad unfortunate, but true.
So with these I approached the gentleman. I called him away from the scene as there was already a heated argument going on between him and three women seated just behind him. I explained all of these to him and was making our apologies to him when he cut me off. “Can you listen to me?” He asked. “Huh?” I said, surprised at being cut short.
“Can you listen to me? All this English you are speaking is time wasting. I know those women took my phone,” My surprise was evidenced by the “Ehn?” that escaped my lips.
“Ehn.” He said. Then he proceeded to make me the Watson to his Sherlock. “See, I called my wife before the aircraft door was closed and then I switched off because of your announcement and put the phone on my seat. I used my book to wedge it and put my reading glasses on the book. When you put the light off and we took off, I slept a little but I woke up when we landed. During the flight nobody was moving about, and the people that came down here none of them was from around our ‘aizul’.”
This he said with an expansive gesture towards his seating area and aisle. “So I know it is one of the women behind me that put her hand from behind to take the phone.” In other words: They saw my phone, knew it was expensive, waited for me to be careless with it, waited with bated breath for me to fall asleep then either contorted their limbs around the seat or further slimmed down their already slim fingers and passed them through the really narrow gap between the seats to take my phone. All these taking advantage of the darkness in the cabin.
A well put together piece of investigative deduction, and plausible too, but it flawed from the start with Sherlock Holmes here committing the ultimate crime: a lacking in environmental and situational awareness. In other words: Bros you were responsible for your phone and you failed yourself so suck it up and move on.
What I told him however was: “I understand everything you have just said and I appreciate your candour, but it will be unfair to these women to be singled out from the thirty-nine people on board for a search. Plus my airline does not have the jurisdiction, more so since some passengers had already gotten off.”
“So are you saying I should forget about my phone? Ooooooo! Just give me permission I wil sarch(search) them myself.”
His race was obvious from his accent so thick one would need a cleaver to cut through it, but still I asked “Bia, i bu nwa afuo igbo? (Are you ibo?)” He smiled at this and said “Ehn, abu’m onye igbo. Amarom na ibu di nwa nna. (Yes, I am ibo. I didn’t even know that you are a brother)”.
Confirming to him that I am a “brother” with those words, I cut him there, having got his attention. “See, I have a job to do and you are keeping me from it. As a brother, I know how painful it can be losing a phone. Not because of the phone itself, but the contacts and other information contained therein. So I will suggest you either accept the loss, rapu ya n’aka Olisa, (leave it in God’s hands); or if you still strongly believe one of those women stole it, when you get off in Dakar report them to the airport secutiry. For now though, I need to get back to work and earn ego garri for me and my baby on the way.”
“Your madam is expecting? Nwoke ko nwanyi? (Boy or girl?) Congrats o. Okay, I know what to do.” And with that he returned to his seat.
In Dakar, walking through immigration, I saw ‘my brother’ with the women talking animatedly to a Policeman at the airport. I caught his eye and he mouthed the words “Daalu. Thank you” I simply smiled and waved.
We had shut the aircraft door on this particular flight from Port Harcourt. Manual demonstration was done too, and my crew and I were doing the cabin secure checks when this woman got up and said she forgot her laptop at the screening point.
This by itself is not a strange occurrence, so it was with a sense of ‘one of those things’ that I went to her and explained how, if she went on to Lagos, we could get the ground staff to send the laptop through on the next flight out of Port Harcourt.
“What do you mean you can’t return? What if there was an emergency on board, would you not go back?” Valid as her question was, it was not enough reason for the aircraft to be turned around. Not wanting to be quoted out of context, I handed her over to the purser who told her the exact same thing I just explained.
Next thing we knew she was out of her seat and in the aisle, with her hands on her hips.. Straight away it was clear she was spoiling for a fight. The purser called the captain – in typical pass-on-the-buck fashion – and the captain reached a decision to return to the ramp. He also decided that in order to minimize the delay, the lady would not be continuing with us, but would join the next flight.
Passengers were informed of what was happening, and advised that a security check and cabin baggage identification would be carried out. To my surprise, no one complained. Instead they were pointing me in directions they felt I should go, including the cargo hold – in case she had checked in a bag that went undeclared! An almost impossibility, but I had to indulge my ‘security conscious’ passengers. A few passengers however expressed concerns about the extent of the search as no one could say for sure where and where on the aircraft she went to. They instead insisted that she retrieve the laptop and continue with us.
At the ramp, we pursued two courses of action: have a security personnel check the screening area for the laptop, and continue with the security checks on board – just in case she ‘suddenly’ remembered she forgot the laptop at home. It has been known to happen.
Fortunately the laptop was found and returned to her, and passengers applauded as she walked back to her seat apologizing to people as she passed them.
“That’s better!” A passenger exclaimed.
“At least it’s clear now that her hands are clean.” Said another.
I just smiled as I carried out the rest of my duties, but throughout the flight I had this *niggling thought at the back of my mind: Suppose she was a suicide bomber, would it make a difference that she remained on board? And suppose she was a suicide bomber with the explosive device secreted in the laptop, and she only made us return so we could pick up the object of our doom
Feel free to accuse me of an over active imagination, of being a conspiracy theorist, but it’s just in my nature to come up with alternative scenarios. One which begs the question: what really are we afraid of?
#In the line of Duty
“Frank, what happened on your flight yesterday? There is a mail here asking me to query you. Why didn’t you call when you got in to say something of this magnitude happened on your flight?” I took the phone from my ears to look at the caller ID again. “You’ve gotta be kidding me.” I muttered under my breath before returning the phone to my right ear. “Maybe you should come into the office tomorrow to get this all sorted.
I was there by myself when she approached. Standing by the galley I smiled at those before her. Only one thought on my mind: After this, there was just the next sector and I was done. It had been an unusually long day, what with the delays and canceled flights.
From the moment we got to the airport, we were fielding questions like it was Bill Clinton vs The Press Corps.
I was drained before I even boarded the aircraft. There had been a series of disruptions for reasons ranging from difficulty getting fuel to an aircraft getting grounded out in Monrovia. Then there was the closure of the airport earlier due to Operational reasons aka VIP movement. A classic case of when it rains it pours. Passengers were upset, Customer Service Agents were run ragged and it was into this situation that we walked, my crew and I.
So when she stopped at the first row of seats, looked into the hat rack on the left then the one on the right, her actions did not register with me as odd. When she asked me “Where is my bag? I can’t find my bag.” My response, still with a smile was “Did you check it in ma’am? In that case you will pick it up from the arrival hall.” She was already shaking her head so I said “If it was taken from you at the door of the aircraft in Lagos, you can pick it up at the foot of the stairs.”
“Your colleague took it from me on board. The other guy.” Seeing her alarm, I called Jide on the inter phone. “Dude, did you bring any passenger’s bag forward?”
“Yes, I don forget sef. E dey above 2D.”
“Bros abeg come o, bag no dey here.” I said and hung up. I quickly ran off the aircraft to report to airport security on the tarmac. “Can you please ask that passengers from this flight not leave the terminal building?”
“I don’t have a radio.” He said. To be fair to him, he sprinted off but traveled only a few feet before it occurred to him he had no idea what he was looking for. In the time it took to get a description from the lady then decide to go with her through the terminal building to the car park, the bag was long gone. Co-ordination: Zero.
I handed over to the Duty Manager in Abuja, documented the entire incident in my report, made sure I filed my report that night – no mean feat considering we eventually arrived Lagos just before midnight, then went home to my bed.
The next morning I called Abuja and was told the Lady had filled out some paperwork and that Abuja was on top of it. I got to the office and made a verbal report to my Line Managers – ok, not a report report, but I mentioned it to them.
So please forgive my confusion at the phone call with talks of a query.
I answered the query and that was the last I was personally officially asked about it. Jide was not so lucky. He got taken off his flights ‘pending investigations’, was called into Abuja to ‘assist the police’ with a statement, we even heard a Duty Manager (not the one from the night of the incident) got picked up by our Men in Black.
Long story short, the bag was never found – as far as we know. All concerned still have their jobs, but we learnt a valuable lesson in ‘customer service’: Never touch a passenger’s bag.
So the next time you travel and the crew refuse to help you stow your bag, or they refuse to assist a passenger on your flight, do not be too quick to judge them.