A lot of people write about their flights from hell — the service was bad, the food was crappy, or the flight was late.
I’ve flown about 2.5 million “butt in seat” miles in my life, and for that matter am also a private pilot, so it takes quite a bit to scare me. So if you don’t want to believe what I say or think I’m just crazy or exaggerating, I respect that. Though given that this isn’t my first rodeo, I do ask you give me the benefit of the doubt on this one.
With that out of the way, my Royal Jordanian flight today was the first one ever that literally brought me to tears. I’m now sitting in the The Wing (Cathay Pacific’s first class lounge in Hong Kong) and feel like I have a new chance at life. I’m feeling mighty thankful, and am trying my best to suppress my feelings of anger towards the pilots… though I realize perhaps I owe them a bit of gratitude as well.
Where do I start? I flew Royal Jordanian from Bangkok to Hong Kong today. The goal was to fly a new airline, and Bangkok to Hong Kong is one of those markets that’s served by a bunch of random airlines, like Emirates, Ethiopian, Kenya Airways, and Royal Jordanian, just to name a few. On the flight I was actually jotting down my thoughts about how horrible the flight was — the service was indifferent and I was disgusted more than anything else by how the male flight attendants sat in the galley doing nothing the whole flight, while the foreign female flight attendants were doing all the work.
But food, service, etc., really don’t matter in the grand scheme of things. Safety matters.
Back to the actual flight (ignoring the “service”). About 45 minutes out of Hong Kong I was working on my laptop. The flight attendant abruptly told me to put it away. We were 45 minutes out, so I really didn’t know why, and was almost a bit miffed given that we were barely halfway through the flight. About 30 minutes out of Hong Kong the flight attendant gets on the PA to inform us that we will be circling for about 30 minutes in Hong Kong due to heavy traffic. At the time I didn’t think anything of it, assuming there was just evening congestion, as is common in Hong Kong. The lady seated across from us flipped a $*&^, and told the flight attendant that the pilot should negotiate for a five minute hold instead.
We continued our descent and held at what must have been a pretty low altitude, because we were right in the thick of the clouds and rain. We saw the occasional lightning strike. My friend and I have both seen just about every episode of Air Crash Investigation, and we both thought the same thing at the same time — this is starting to feel a bit like an episode of Air Crash Investigation. We weren’t entirely serious since it wasn’t horrible yet, but it was starting to get bad.
There aren’t words that can describe the next 30 minutes. The aircraft had more up and down movement than I’ve ever experienced before. That doesn’t scare me in the slightest, though. What scared me a little bit was that we were in the middle of lightning storm that was so much more severe than anything I’ve ever experienced before. The cabin lit up from the left, and the cabin lit up from the right. We got struck by lightning at least once, if not twice (I’ve been on two flights before that have been struck by lightning, and it made the same loud “thump” noise as then). At one point, the hail hitting the aircraft was so loud I couldn’t hear what my friend was trying to tell me. There are no words that can do justice to how the situation felt. So I won’t even try to describe it, other than saying again that I’ve flown 2.5 million miles and have never experienced anything even half this bad.
I’ve never before been on a flight that I actually thought was going to crash. This was the first. The regret and hopelessness that runs through your head is truly indescribable. I put my passport in my pocket, and immediately felt regret for not sending my family my itinerary. I turned my phone off airplane mode and waited for a signal so I could text my family and tell them which flight I was on and that I loved them.
And more than anything else I felt regret. Regret for flying Royal Jordanian. Why? Because in the entire 45 minutes that we seemed to be in “doom” neither of the pilots made a single announcement. Interestingly the Jordanian men kept their cool, but everyone else was crying or praying. Here’s the thing — pilots making soothing announcements serves two purposes. It’s not just to soothe the passengers, but it shows a level of professionalism and competence that you want from the captain of a heavy aircraft. The captain didn’t make a single announcement the entire time we were in the air, and the message that sends to passengers is either a) that he doesn’t care enough that passengers are obviously hysterical given the situation or b) that he wasn’t proficient enough to make a single announcement in addition to flying the plane, or for that matter wasn’t proficient in delegating the duties between the two pilots. We were circling for 45 minutes, so surely the captain or first officer could have taken 30 seconds to make an announcement and explain the situation. Not only would it have reassured all the crying passengers, but it would have shown a level of competence that wasn’t otherwise displayed.
Anyway, words can’t describe the situation, and while I limited my expression of fear for the entirety of the turbulence to sweaty palms, when the landing gear was extended and runway in sight I literally started crying. And when we touched down most passengers in the cabin clapped.
When we made it to the gate I was angry and thankful — thankful we made it safely, but angry by the unprofessionalism shown by the pilots. On the way out I asked the macho male flight attendants what they thought of the flight, and they both said it was the worst of their lives. As the cabin door was about to open one of the female flight attendants emerged from the cockpit with her makeup smeared all over her face from crying, and she said she was in the cockpit the entire approach as the pilots “needed her help.” She also passed on that the captain said he was going to retire after that flight.
So anyway, I’m sure y’all are enjoying a leisurely Saturday morning and think I’m crazy, but I’ll simply say I’m thankful to be alive. This flight really put our whole little hobby into perspective for me. While I’ll continue to fly, I will make a couple of changes:
— I’ll always make sure my family knows which flights I’m on. While flying is still the safest mode of transportation out there, you don’t have the ability to pick up your phone mid-flight and call your family if something goes wrong. When I was young my oldest brother passed away, and the last thing I’d ever want is for something to happen to me (for the sake of my parents), only for them not to know whether I was actually on a flight or not.
— I’m going to think twice about which airlines I fly. For one, I’ll never fly Royal Jordanian again. Any airline which has pilots that display such a high level of unprofessionalism and don’t even make a single announcement aren’t worth flying. Not even when we were safely on the ground did either of the pilots make a single announcement. Almost everyone in the cabin was crying. How disconnected from reality can a pilot be if they can’t even make an announcement in such a situation explaining what’s going on? Captain, here’s a tip — if the flight attendant that was in the cockpit during the entire approach is crying, chances are the folks in the back are as well.
When we landed, the flight attendant made a brief announcement welcoming us to Hong Kong and saying he hopes to see us again on Royal Jordanian, like nothing even happened. Of course, he was the one who said it was the worst flight of his life when asked.
Again, I probably seem crazy, but I’m breathing easier than I ever have before. Life is good.