Thursday, July 1, 2010

Captain Speak

Another great start on an old rickety delta 767...

Aircraft started pushback and suddenly all the lights and air conditioning go out, then emergency lights come on. Captain comes on PA and says "folks, while we were pushing back, our APU fell off-line, we should be able to fix it shortly" - a very technical announcement, that caused all the other hiccups that followed...

Before we proceed with that, couple of quick explanations.

1. The APU or auxillary power unit is like a power generator on the aircraft - this runs everything while on ground and not connected to ground power. Once airborne, usually most power is taken from the engines.

2. This flight is from the middle east, to the USA, and the passenger mix is at least 50% "cautious" US citizens (as they tend to be in this part of the world)

So back to live action - a moment of complete darkness, then silence - as air conditioning stopped, and then dim emergency lighting comes on. This is followed by a hurried announcement from the captain that something important (as three letter acronyms make them sound) fell off !

Everyone still had a brave face on. Some folks were calling the flight attendants to check what went wrong.

We get towed back to the gate. The inside of the plane feels like an oven by now. The human body does generate a lot of heat!

Once connected to ground power, the lights and AC are back. Maintenance folks come on board, and with them are some of the border security forces. Seeing the security forces, there is some real panic visible.

Maybe the flight attendants asked the captain to do some damage control, so he comes on PA again. "Folks, we do not have any problem. This aircraft has a third engine, which is a small engine, which we do not need for flying, and that's what turned off. I would bring my family on board this flight - the security is just part of the procedure".

Explanation #3 - this is a security cleared internatinal flight which pushed back from gate - as good as a mechanic going out of the country to work - which is why the security escort was required.

The captain did manage to turn this fact around rather beautifully. And thanks to the captain again - the original problem being discussed between passengers becomes:

"did an engine fall off??"

Flight attendant call buttons ring furiously. Someone actually reported sick so they could get off the flight, and that took another 15 minutes to get the passenger off. I hear someone behind me go "This is too much sh*t man, Am not paid well enough for this. Am gonna get a job back home"

One passenger gone, cabin doors closed again, and OFF goes the lights and AC, and a moment od complete darkness, and on come the emergency lighting. This is followed by the captain on PA "folks, they pulled our plug too soon from the ground, just a moment and we will get our apu running".

"They pulled our plug"??

Same drill - flight attendant call buttons. Now the lead flight attendant gives the "arrival check" call followed by "we have another passenger who reported sick, folks, if any others are not feeling well, let me know RIGHT now. I am not gonna open the doors another time. I have to get back home and do my weekend grocery shopping and other errands. We do not have any problem with the flight - it is just like your car stalls on start!"

Ah, great analogy maam, a car stalling compared to an aircraft stalling. I can picture it a lot better now. The stalled car rolling to its stop, and the stalled aircraft flying "all the way to the scene of the crash" as Ron White once said.

Thankfully that was our last sick passenger and our last power failure.

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