I first met her in a BB group we were both part of (See “Unfinished Business“).
The last time we saw, I lost one half of a molar (See “Murphy’s Law“). After that meet I promised myself a rematch, and since then I have, on different occasions fixed to return to Portharcourt where she is based. Every single time my plans have been scuttled – usually by work.
Then recently the same work handed me Portharcourt on what would appear to be a platter.
My airline started lay over flights to PHC, what was more, I was on the first one. I was ecstatic!
The night before, I went to bed early because it was going to be a long day the next day. My day was to start with flights to PHC and back, then I would continue from Lagos to Enugu then Abuja before returning to Portharcourt – no matter, the thoughts of a night in PHC made the day bearable.
Next morning we reported bright and early, we even got the flight out of Lagos on time and arrived in Portharcourt ahead of schedule. With the aircraft fuelled I called for boarding, and as though answering a call to arms, I was slammed by a wave of human bodies. Good stuff. It meant boarding was completed in almost record time. The aircraft door was shut with eight minutes to spare and all I could think of was an early return to Portharcourt. I called for the doors to be put in automatic mode and waited for confirmation.
This simply meant engaging the escape slides fixed to each door so that in an emergency, when the doors are opened the slides inflate and, passengers and crew can slide down to safety – if the aircraft doesn’t scatter into a million fragments; or in the event of a ditching where we land in water, people can hold onto the slides and use as floatation devices. These are the only times you want the slides inflated. At any other time, they can seriously injure people or damage the aircraft and other structures around.
So, we armed the doors and I got confirmation from my crew. I was walking to the rear of the aircraft for the Manual Demonstration PA when I saw a colleague in animated conversation with an elderly woman. I stepped in and was told the woman claimed she was supposed to be on an Abuja bound flight! My initial reaction was “Mehn, I just messed up,” thinking I had not checked her boarding pass properly. It turned out her boarding pass and ticket were for Lagos, but she insisted her destination was Abuja.
I went in and had a word with the Captain. He initially wanted us to take the woman to Lagos where she would then be re-routed on any of our numerous Abuja services. Problem with that option was the ‘minor inconvenience’ of who would pay the difference in her fare, plus there was the not so minor case of ‘kidnap’ if we insisted on taking her where she did not want to go against her will.. He called for the stairs to be re-attached so the woman could disembark.
Between the irritation of having had that little argument with the Captain’s ego, the delay to the service, the woman standing there looking morose, and some other things I cannot now remember, as soon as I heard the ground staff knock on the door to signal that the stairs were properly positioned, I looked outside to confirm this and then turned the handle counter clockwise to open the door.
Then, everything happened in slow-mo…
My Arms: Let’s get this over and done with (turning handle, twisting and pushing door out);
My Head: Something doesn’t feel right (doing a playback of everything while co-ordinating door opening);
My Eyes: I saw Ijay the ground staff, but something cut accros my vision of her (pondering this anomally);
My Head: OMG!!! The thing accross my vision was the red strap accros the viewing window indicating the door was still armed. OMG!!! The door is still armed! Hands stop! STOP!!!
My Ears: But I heard her knock. She shouldn’t have knocked with that strap across.
My Arms: NO!
(Then everything moved in real time and at normal speed.)
The bustle housing of the slide flew open, the slide pack dropped out of its recess and onto my right foot. I abandoned the door handle and reached for the slide pack as it bounced off my shoe, wanting to catch it before it hit the floor and inflate, all the time thinking “Dude you just killed yourself! This slide will inflate, bounce off the steps and knock it backward injuring the people standing there as it does, then slam against this door, pushing it forcefully against the body of the aircraft and maybe causing further structural damage. If you are unlucky to catch it you will be hurled out headfirst by the force of it, and if you miss, the bounce back will catch your face – broken jaw or neck, pick your choice. Dude you just killed yourself!!”
I caught the pack while waiting to hear the tell-tale hissing sound. Nothing. Mercifully, with the stairs so high up against the door sill, there was insufficient drop to trigger the pin that would puncture the gas canister to activate inflation.
With the help of a colleague, still kneeling, I disengaged the slide and opened the door for the woman to get off.
I have heard of sweating bullets and always wondered what it would feel like. I still do not know what it feels like, it happened too fast for me for the feeling to register. My white shirt was soaked through.
I reported to the captain who assured me it was safe to shut the door while marking it unuseable for emergency. Door shut, I announced to passengers on board what had just happened while reassuring them we were safe. Most of them had no idea what had happened, as far as they were concerned, a passenger had boarded the wrong plane and it was getting dealt with by the staff.
I do not know where I found the calm throughout all of these. It was not until after take off and the slide had yet to inflate that I allowed myself breathe easy. I went into the galley, removing myself from the view of passengers before giving in to the shakes.
Even if there was no loss of life, had the slide deployed, the aircraft would have been grounded in Portharcourt till engineers got flown in to sort it out. There were passengers whose day I would have turned on its ear, then there was the airline; I would have thrown a massive wrench in the works. And talking about work, I would have been out of a job. The horror! I just stood there and waited for the shakes to come. Nothing happened.
In Lagos, passengers safely delivered to their destinations, engineers came on and re-packed the slide.
Ready for the rest of the trips, we were boarding passengers to Enugu when word came from Operations department that another one of our aircrafts had developed a technical problem in Sokoto. I was still thinking how lucky I was earlier because this would have been mega when the Captain informed us that we would be flying to Enugu then go from Enugu with passengers for Abuja through Sokoto – to rescue that flight – before going from Abuja to Portharcourt.
With each word he uttered, I saw all my Portharcourt plans receed till they were no more than something faded in the far distance of my horizon.
At the end of that day, we arrived in Portharcourt after 9pm. I was still making calls and pinging contacts to see what fun could be had when five minutes later we were dropped off at the hotel. What?! Just around the corner from the airport, but miles away from town – and this was Portharcourt not Lagos or Abuja.
Let us just say none of my friends thought I was worth the travel time, and risk, it entailed.
Two days later I got called out of standby for a Portharcourt lay over. It was with mixed feelings that I accepted. Again, there was drama. We were delayed because the original aircraft scheduled to operate it was stuck somewhere. We got another aircraft, and when we arrived at Enugu our first port of call, we were told the aircraft was needed back in Lagos that night for routine maintenance. In Abuja we were informed the night stop was still on, though we might be stuck in Portharcourt because NLC was going to embark on a nationwide strike the next day.
We arrived PHC late again, and stayed at the same far, faraway hotel. Labour called off the strike at midnight and I could not leave the town soon enough.
When I saw my schedule for this month, I saw I had two days off back to back, so I made plans and booked a ticket for PHC for the period. Although my enthusiasm is not mirrored by my PHC based friends, I intend for this trip to happen. This thing hanging around my neck smells like unreliability, and though recent happenings have not helped my case, I plan to take life by the scruff of the neck and take back my credibility.
PS: Last week I asked what you, my family, wanted to read and you told me. I have tried here to meet your request(s): AIRtiquette with a touch of relationSHEEP, a hybrid I hear it is called. As for you Lorlah, there was a Wednesday post and this is a Friday post, so yes, two posts this week too.
PPS: I heard too late that it was Uk’s birthday last week Saturday. Here’s wishing you a happy belated birthday and reminding you I will have my slice of cake – even if I have to travel to Uyo for it.