Tuesday, August 26, 2008

A spanair in the works

I recently discovered that my father has kept - for over twenty years - a Swissair ticket in his old work briefcase. It pertains to the flight where there was a sudden loss of cabin pressure, the masks came down and the 'plane descended 20,000ft in the space of a few minutes.

Ryanair's Michael O'Leary was on the Today programme this morning answering allegations by polar explorer Pen Hadow whose family had just suffered a very similar upset on a flight from Bristol to Barcelona.

O'Leary explained that the crew can't make announcements in this situation as they too have to don oxygen masks. However, when the same thing happened to my father in the 80s, they immediately broadcast a recorded message over the PA system, which repeated the standard pre-flight instructions on how to get the oxygen flowing and generally explained what was happening...exactly what Hadow felt was missing during the mid-air emergency yesterday.

What with the Madrid crash last week, the burning 'plane in Munich yesterday and now this near miss with Ryanair, our collective fear of flying is very much headline news again. Spain went into three days of national mourning for the 150 or so victims of the Spanair disaster. That these might be the only Spaniards to die this way all year when thousands in fact perish on the country's roads didn't come up in the media coverage.

The circumstances of that crash last week would appear to have been somewhat similar to the crisis that struck my AA flight from Miami to Guate a few years back. That plane was also one of the old-style designs with two engines attached to the rear of the fuselage. When one of the engines caught fire on take off - after V1 - the pilot had no choice but to switch it off while continuing the initial ascent. This is clearly a very tricky situation, as we both banked sharply and slid downwards to the port side for several terrifying seconds until he was able to regain control of the aircraft manually. As with the Ryanair flight yesterday, communication from the cockpit and on the ground afterwards was minimal...which can indeed be highly agitating for customers who are already in a state of shock.

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