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The invisible cleaner

Stuffing my ear plugs in securely, I peered out of the open jetbridge as the Boeing 767 slowly turned onto the ramp, following the centreline precisely as it slowly advanced onto the stand.

I waved to the captain as he majestically coasted past me, and he nodded in return, still focusing on steering the jet to the correct position so that the jetbridge could be aligned around the aircraft door.

The howl of the engines died, and I caught a lungful of burnt kerosene as the engines spooled down; a smell as familiar to me after fifteen years of aviation as my own aftershave.

The beacon stopped flashing, the jetbridge was attached and it was now safe for me to open the aircraft door.

Following the published procedure, I rapped hard on the door three times, and then checked through the porthole, waiting to see a thumbs up from the cabin attendant – the signal that the emergency evacualtion slide had been disarmed, and that there were no personnel standing near the door activation lever.

I saw Sherry-Ann one of the regulars smiling back through the porthole, giving me the signal, so I grasped the cold door release handle, pulling it upwards and away from the fuselage. The door moved gently inwards, and I then pushed the small switch inside the panel, and the door was electrically lifted up into a recess over the door aperture.

A colleague opens the B767-200 Passenger Door…

Pulling the PA Handset from its cradle by the cabin attendants jump seat, I smoothly announced

“Good Morning Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome to London’s Stansted Airport, where the local time is 1040. Please follow the yellow overhead signs to the arrivals hall. Will Mr. Dan Billings please make himself known to Special Services at the aircraft door.”

Stansted – my wonderful work environment.

When I took on the role of Special Services Manager in Spring 1992, AA had just opened up the route and my job at the time was to look after Commercially Important Passengers, and VIPs. This included not only stars of screen and stage, but singers, politicans, religious leaders, sports personalities and senior executives in commerce or industry.

Dan Billings was one of the first passengers out. His hat arrived first, a simply huge white Stetson, curled at the brim. The rest of him followed a little later, looking all the world like a walking advert for Levi Strauss clothing. Peering out from a sea of blue denim was a leathery tanned face, a bootlace tie dangling from his throat.

So, this was the world famous Dan Billings.

Proffering my hand, to welcome him, he silently shoved his small valise at me, and started to move off up the jetbridge. Surprised, it took me a second or so to react.

Catching him up, I asked “So, welcome to London Mr. Billings, did you have a good flight?”

“Yup”

“Do you have checked baggage?” I persisted

“Nope”

Ah. So Mr. Billings conserved his affability to use it on stage, in front of his fans, rather than waste it on an airport flunkey.

I didn’t mind; after doing this job for a few years, I had swiftly realised that it was nothing personal. I am sure it must be exhausting to be your screen or stage persona constantly.

“Do you have a car waiting Mr. Billings?” I enquired, reaching for my mobile radio.

“Nope”

“Oh” I said, “Do you need a cab?”

“Nope”

We stopped at the baggage carousel, and I looked him in the eye, determined this time to get more than a monsyllabic response.

“How are you getting to London Mr. Billings?”

“Train”

Heaving his bag off the carousel, He turned to me and shoved a gnarled hand at me.

“Thanks. Y’all have a nice day now”

With that, he abruptly turned, and walked swiftly out through customs, heading efficiently towards the coach and bus stops.

I sighed. I had enjoyed being the Special Services Manager for American Airlines at Stansted Airport in the UK. I had met a great number of influential people, and seen through a great deal of the Hollywood tinsel and glitter.

An internationally famous female singer spotted two children travelling unaccompanied on her flight, so she invited them up to first class, and looked after them all the way from Chicago. What a lovely lady.

A celebrated British songstress who wanted no fuss or recognition – and who gave up her seat in first class, unbidden, to an elderly lady who looked worn out. That never got reported in the media.

Members of a heavy rock band with a hell raising image, who were polite, helpful and courteous – nothing like how they are reported.

A famous comic who spoke to me as an equal, and was still, despite his age a true man of the people, yet so sadly misunderstood.

The all-male dancing group that cheered up the entire gate lounge by performing an impromptu routine, and then going round signing autographs for no reason other than they were trying to spread some happiness and maybe make a difference.

I had to deal with the mean and the downright nasty as well. I well remember the very senior British business man whom I upgraded to First Class who, once in his seat, was then incredibly rude and agressive to the young cabin crew member who was trying to offer him champagne.

Having witnessed this, I took my career in my hands, and confronted this arrogant bully. Leaning down close to him, I explained very bluntly that I could, and would have no hesitation in very quickly and efficiently putting him back in coach class, right next to the toilets where he belonged.

Having made the statement, I decided that if I were to go out, I would go out with a bang, so I added that I expected him to make a full apology to the young stewardess if he wanted to remain on board at all.

I stalked off the aircraft, telling the cabin attendant what I had done,

Just before pushback, I boarded again, and she told me that the passenger had offered her a sincere apology.

I closed the aircraft door, and the flight duly departed.

A few days later, I received a letter from the business man offering me a full apology for his boorish behaviour. Maybe a lesson learnt?

Despite the daily flight performing reasonably well, after just over a year of operating, the company had decided to cancel the Chicago – Stansted service.

I walked slowly back to my office and small special services lounge for the last time. I filed my reports, and then signed off the system, wishing my opposite numbers in Dallas and Chicago all the best.

I picked up my briefcase, and walked out slowly through arrivals, stopping on numerous occassions to say final goodbyes to my friends and colleagues; The girls who manned the small cafe just down from my office; The lads and lasses from the security checkpoints that littered my journey into and out of work.

They all wished me well, and told me they would miss us.

Once landside, I dropped by the general office, and said goodbye to the check in and gates staff, many of whom were in tears as their short careers had come to an end.

I walked out of Stansted, not looking back, wondering how things would be on Monday morning.

A Typical Cleaning Crew – Without their Cleaning Kits Which Normally Arrive on the High Lift on the other side of the aircraft.

It was 0550. I sat across the desk from Jim Shortling. He smiled wanly at me, saying “I know its not much, but at least you keep your management pay and grade”

I knew that I had been offered a lifeline – but it didnt reduce the feeling of abandonment. Not one other single department had offered help. The other managers with whom I worked at Stansted had all been found alternative management roles in passenger services – either at Heathrow or at the corporate head office in Hounslow.

So here I was, sitting in the dismal office of the aircraft cleaning department. Oh, the irony.

On Friday last week, I was rubbing shoulders with the wealthy and influential, and on Monday, I was rubbing shoulders with the lowly paid, souls with no influence over their future.

I had two choices. I could either accept it, and get on with it, or leave.

So, in the words of one of my more camp US based colleagues, I would have to “Suck it up Cupcake!”

Having managed people before, I was told that I would run a cleaning team, which consisted of a a crew of ten. Additionally, I would be trained to drive a ten tonne truck, fitted with a high lift body.

A typical High Lift truck.

I soon became adept at weaving my truck in and out of the congested stands and service roads around Terminal 3.

I came to know two things within a few days of completing my training.

I swiftly realised that my team were a truly ecclectic group. Sukhi was an educated young sikh, with a degree in mathematics. Well-read and urbane, I really used to enjoy my daily conversations with him.

Hard work – with less than an hour to fully clean, re-stock and cater a Boeing 767

Bizarre in its own way – working my way down the aisle with Sukhi, between the seats, cleaning up rubbish, and servicing seat pockets whilst discussing anti-matter drives and the paradox of time travel.

It was only my team that made life bearable – being confronted with the debris that passengers dump when they leave their aircraft sometimes made the bile rise in my throat – used syringes left in seatback pockets. Used condoms dumped in the same place. Rubbish of all kinds just thoughtlessly left for the invisible ones to pick up.

Just Another Day at Work…

Suk became my right hand man. Once he discovered my love of Indian food, he invited me to his local gymkhana where I was the only non-indian present. I was made hugely welcome and met many members of his family, and sampled the wonderfully spicy home cooked foods provided. Thank you Suk!

Pete, an ex Warrant Officer in the UK Special Forces, came out of the military with PTSD, and fell by chance into working for an airline. Previously a passenger services agent, he frequently (and bluntly) defended the weaker members of staff against bullying from their supervisors. This made him unpopular with the junior management in the terminal, so he was redeployed to aircraft cleaning. A few months prior to this, he was totally responsible for the welfare of up to 120 soldiers.

I doubt that any of his managers knew this, or even bothered to find out.

Harri, a middle aged Indian lady, with a degree in sociology, had been unable to get into an airline in any other capacity, so despite the costs of childcare, and the hardship of her daily commute by bus and underground, she still pitched up every day, and worked hard for the duration of the shift.

Jill, who had been widowed a year previously, and wanted a job that involved no thinking. I was convinced that she was finishing off un-used spirits from discarded minature bottles, as by about 1200 she normally had a glassy look, and emanated a faint odour of polo mints. She toughed it out though. Sometimes she would shyly joke with me as we cleaned the galleys, or serviced the toilets.

Then there were Phil and Bugsy. Both late teenagers, they were only doing the job as it was easy money, and gave them time to work on their music careers.

What do all of these people have in common?

Well, despite their qualifications, experience, knowledge and skills, they had all, like me, unwittingly assumed a cloak of invisibility.

It was an interesting exercise for me, as I was only on temprary attachment in the department, awaiting a suitable vacancy elsewhere in the company.

Having served two years in the terminals before being promoted, I had worked with most of the ground staff at one time or another.

I learned about people. Many of those that professed they were my friends, and who would have sat with me in the canteen, and chatted during work, now looked through me when they saw me disembarking from an aircraft, carrying bags of rubbish, covered in sweat and dust.

To them , I had become invisible, sinking into the uderclass and detritus of forgotten people who perform more fundamental and mundane tasks,

Others still greeted me warmly, and shook my hand, regardless of my appearance. Some would find the time to sit with me, and share a cigarette. These were the people for whom I have great respect. Some of them I am still in touch with. You know who you are.

In due course, I was redeployed, and spent the rest of my aviation career working in various parts of Flight Operations.

Over the years, I have been promoted, and moved into several different organisations, and was shocked to see that despite their claimed intellectual or cultural work ethics their cleaners were still all invisible.

Some years ago, I was walking down a corridor at work with a senior manager. We passed several cleaners, all of whom I greeted by name, and all of whom greeted me in the same way.

My senior colleague asked me “Why do you keep talking to the cleaners?”

I was, in common parlance, gobsmacked. This was a senior and ostensibly well-educated man, who was questioning whether I should acknowledge a fellow human being.

I responded by saying that if he had to ask the question, then he wouldnt have understood the answer. I heard that he has happily retired now, and is probably being an ignorant git on his own time.

Subsequently I have always remembered the feelings of being invisible.

I still know the names of all of the cleaners with whom I work, and still greet them by name.

It doesn’t take much to stop people becoming invisible.

The invisible cleaner. You only notice them when they are not there…

Go Well…

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Aircew Airport Flight pilots Society Transport Travel Uncategorized

Cabin Crew Hero!

The water dripped sullenly off my jacket, creating audible “plops” as the droplets hit the polished wooden floor, where they co-operatively coalesced into a minor puddle.

I smiled at the barista, as she cheerfully passed my coffee across to me, proudly announcing “Caffe Latte Medio”, as if she were conferring a knighthood upon me.

I walked to an empty corner table, and sat down, shoving my rucksack into the corner.

Pulling my battered laptop computer out of its cover, I set up; the battery was full, my mug was full, and so I settled down.

I have had a life-long interest – a passion for aviation that has spanned fifty years. My early schoolboy heroes were the wartime pilots from both the Great War, and World War Two. In my teens, the trailblazing pilots of the 1920s and 1930s caught my imagination, and I read almost everything about the early fliers that I could lay my hands on.

By the age of thirteen or fourteen, I was familiar with the great pioneers – Amy Johnson, Amelia Earhart, Jean Batten, Sir Alan Cobham, Neville Norway, Elrey Jeppesen and Wiley Post.

Over the years, I became familiar with the names of hero pilots, Al Haynes, and his flight deck colleagues who heroically flew their stricken DC-10 jet to its infamous crash landing at Sioux City.

Captain Bob Pearson and First Officer Maurice Quintal whose aircraft ran out of fuel over the wastes of the Canadian prairies, and who successfully glided to a safe landing at Gimli, a former Royal Canadian Air Force base.

More recently Captain Chesley Sullenberger was hailed a hero after ditching his fully laden Airbus A320 into the River Hudson after a bird strike critically damaged both of its engines shortly after take-off.

All these accounts tend to stick in the minds of the public, due to the courage and swift decision making of the flight crew.

Little is said about their cabin crew colleagues, despite many of them having been instrumental in saving lives – and sometimes dying in the course of their duties, and the spotlight tends to focus on the pilots.

This imbalance is probably not deliberate, but needs to be corrected, so after a little digging around, I found some accounts of very brave and courageous cabin crew.

Take the case of Barbara Harrison. She joined British Overseas Airways Corporation in May 1966, at the age of twenty one as a Flight Attendant (or Air Stewardess as they were known at the time).

Screenshot 2019-12-29 at 12.53.54

On the 8th April 1968 she was rostered to operate BOAC’s Flight 712WE to Sydney. This long-haul flight was flown by a Boeing 707 –  long and tiring, routing via Zurich, Tel Aviv, Tehran, Mumbai, Singapore and Perth.

Sadly, the flight was doomed from the start. It departed Heathrow Airport at about three thirty in the afternoon. During the initial climb out, the number two engine caught fire, and was so severely damaged that it fell from the aircraft, leaving the rest of the left wing ablaze.

The flight made an immediate emergency return back to Heathrow, where it made a safe landing. However, the fire on the port wing intensified to the point that the cabin windows were actually melting. Once the stricken aircraft touched down, the situation was so dire, that the cabin crew were beginning to start an immediate passenger evacuation.

Barbara’s crew position was at the rear of the aircraft, and her emergency duties were to assist the cabin attendant at the aft crew station in opening the appropriate passenger door, and help to inflate the escape slide, and then subsequently direct passengers to the door to make their escape.

The pair eventually managed to open the rear starboard door, furthest from the fire and fired the escape slide, however, during the deployment, the slide twisted, making it useless. Bravely, the steward climbed down the slide, and straightened it, leaving Barbara in the cabin to organise the evacuation.

She managed to evacuate six passengers before the slide was punctured, and deflated, but despite this she managed to evacuate a further five passengers through encouragement and in some cases forcibly ejecting them down the deflated slide.

She then moved to the port rear door, which was extremely close to the blazing left wing, but she still managed to evacuate a further five passengers before that slide was damaged by the intensity of the fire, and deflated.

21 year old Barbara Harrison was last seen in the doorway, looking as if she were preparing to jump.

She didn’t…

She disappeared back into the blazing cabin in a desperate attempt to save the four remaining passengers – including a disabled woman and an eight year old girl.

She was never seen alive again.

 

She was posthumously awarded the George Cross in recognition of her selfless gallantry that day – the only woman to have ever received the award in peacetime, and the youngest woman ever to hold the George Cross.

Screenshot 2019-12-29 at 12.38.58

Digging a bit further, I found out about Neerja Bhanot.

Neerja was a senior Cabin Attendant working with Pan American Airlines. She was just twenty-three when she was rostered to operate Pan Am Flight 73, scheduled to fly from Mumbai to New York on the 5th September 1986[1].

Screenshot 2019-12-29 at 12.59.38

The flight was to be operated by a Boeing 747-100 series aircraft, and departed from Chatrapati Shivaji Maharaj International carrying 394 passengers, 9 infants, and 13 Indian cabin crew.

Flight 73 was planned to land twice before getting to New York, with stops at Karachi, Pakistan, and Frankfurt in West Germany.

Arriving at Karachi at 04:30, Flight 73 had disembarked over a hundred passengers, and was in the process of boarding the first busload of passengers for the next leg of the trip, when the aircraft was violently taken over by four Palestinian hijackers.

The Hijackers identified themselves as belonging to the Abu Nidal terrorist group.

During the ensuing confusion, Neerja managed to contact the flight deck and give the alarm, and the flight deck crew, following corporate policy, immediately evacuated the flight deck, thus leaving the hijackers with no means of flying the aircraft away[2].

This escalated the tension, and a passenger was arbitrarily selected, and taken to the forward aircraft door, where he was brutally murdered – shot in the back of the head, and thrown onto the tarmac from the aircraft door.

As the Senior Purser on board, Neeraj maintained her professionalism, and kept the passengers calm in an effort to stabilise the situation.

She was ordered to collect all of the passenger passports, and give them to the lead hijacker.

Realising that holders of US passports would be at the highest risk, she briefed her colleagues to hide as many of the US passports as possible, and many were hidden under seats, and the rest thrown down a galley refuse chute.

Realising the situation could only get worse, Neerja removed the page detailing how to open an aircraft door from her cabin crew manual, and slipped it into a magazine. Passing down the cabin, she passed this to a male passenger sitting adjacent to the door, instructing him to read the magazine carefully and to refer to it again later if needed. The page contained full instructions on how to open the door safely, and how to deploy the evacuation slide.

As the hijack progressed, The aircraft ran out of fuel, resulting in the aircraft’s Auxiliary Power Unit (APU) shutting down.

The aircraft was now only lit with the emergency lights, and this obviously unnerved one of the gunmen standing by the forward aircraft door, who opened fire in the darkness, aiming at the suicide vest worn by another of the terrorists.

The shot was inaccurate, and the desired explosion didn’t happen, but the sudden gunfire acted as a catalyst, causing the remaining gunmen to detonate explosives and open fire indiscriminately in the passenger cabin injuring and killing many of those on board.

Neeraj bravely opened doors, and assisted passengers in making their escape. Shot in the hip, and bleeding heavily, she was eventually evacuated to the local hospital, where she died of her wounds.

Screenshot 2019-12-29 at 13.06.18Screenshot 2019-12-29 at 13.05.26

Stories on the internet suggest that she was shot whilst shielding three children, one of whom was so inspired that he learned to fly, and subsequently became a captain with a major air carrier, although I have found no corroborative evidence for this, not even in documented interviews with the crew.

There is no doubt in my mind though, that Neeraj saved many lives with her selfless actions that terrible day in 1986.

More recently, on the 5th May 2019, Aeroflot Flight 1492 left Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport bound for Murmansk. Shortly after take-off, the Sukhoi Superjet was hit by lightning, sustaining damage to its fly-by-wire flight controls, autopilot and radios.

It returned to Moscow, where it made an emergency landing. During the landing, it bounced heavily, and burst into flames.

Screenshot 2019-12-29 at 13.12.55

Twenty-two year old Maxim Moiseev was positioned in the aft section of the cabin, where the intense fire struck first. Unable to open his exit door, he directed his passengers forwards, but died quickly in his valiant efforts to assist his passengers.

Screenshot 2019-12-29 at 13.19.44

His colleague, Tatyana Kasatkina stationed in the forward part of the fuselage managed to kick her door open, and forcibly ejected passengers down the escape slide, saving many lives as she did so. This was conducted whilst the cabin was filling with pungent, acrid smoke, and with intense fire. Temperatures in the cabin were so high that windows were melting.

In all of these cases, many passengers only survived as a result of the courage, selfless bravery and cool thinking of their cabin crew.

Screenshot 2019-12-29 at 13.20.15

Call them what you will – Flight Attendants, Cabin Crew, Stewards and Stewardesses, they have as much to be proud of in an emergency as their flight deck colleagues.

Next time you fly, show a little respect for the “hostie” or “trolley dolly” that is serving your meal, or bringing you another Gin and Tonic. Behind the uniform, or the make-up and smile, there will be a brave, highly trained and caring person – who could be the difference between life and death in an emergency.

Draining the last of my coffee, I closed the lid of my laptop, the article finished.

The result is here on my page.

Mark Charlwood©  December 2019

[1] One India news article     India Times article

[2] Boeing 747 Flight Crew Escape System

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Airport Flight Old Friends Poetry Romance Transport Travel Uncategorized

Night Departure

Tail lights vanishing into a darkening sky,

A symbol of your leaving,

An intermittent spark of fading cherry red,

Dwarfed, and made miniscule by the vastness of night,

The lonely silver disc of the moon, bathes the landscape with surreal intensity,

In it’s unfeeling spotlight, for an unknown reason, I feel desolate,

You, speeding across the roof of the world, chasing the eastern mystic dawn,

I gaze at the last seductive blink of light, yet distance and darkness conspire,

The universe wins, and defeated, I stand alone,

I trudge to the car park, wearing shoes of lead,

Having nowhere to go, yet no reason to stay,

Out! Out! onto the highway, My reality here,

Yet My spirit soars east, chasing, never catching,

Radio taunts, me, romantic songs,

I turn south, and briefly look up,

I see another, red, winking, vanishing into a darkening sky

Mark Charlwood© 1989

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Aircew Airport English Culture Flight Motorcycling Motoring pilots Society Transport Uncategorized

A Summer Fly-in at a Country Airfield

The sky was an azure bowl, and the scent of new-mown grass lay heavy in the mid-morning sunshine. The playful breeze toyed with the surrounding tents, causing them to billow and sway, like an insane troupe of Turkish Belly Dancers.

I wandered along, past ranks of parked aircraft, each one trembling slightly at each soft breath of wind. To the other side of the runway stood a mediaeval cluster of tents, gazebos and stalls, each accumulating untidy gaggles of pilots and aviation enthusiasts.

The subdued hubbub of conversation was suddenly overwhelmed with the electronic hiss of the public address system. The disembodied voice of the commentator rolled across the airfield, bouncing back from the surrounding hills, the echoes garbled and distorted.

The announcement was garbled, but I caught a few words and realised that a lost boy was being held at the First Aid tent. I wondered idly where his parents were. At the Burger Van? The Mobile Bar?  Or were they queuing to use the lavatories?

The murmuring was quiet at first – almost beneath the threshold of hearing, but it gradually became persistent, growing in volume and engorging with tone. Suddenly the day was split apart with the thunderous yet melodious note of three vintage aeroplanes flying in perfect formation – appearing low over the trees at the Eastern end of the airfield.

The staccato high-pitched whine of motor-driven cameras was just audible above the palpable growl of the engines. Every spectator looked skyward, envying the superb airmanship shown by the pilots.

The flight swooped majestically around the airfield, the sun glinting on the polished cowlings, refracting off wings as they looped and rolled above the South Downs. They were gone as suddenly as they arrived, and peace reigned once more.

As I continued my ramble towards the end of the runway, I heard the much softer note of another aircraft engine. I spotted a single light in the sky, which grew steadily until it metamorphosed into a small aircraft.

With its engine at idle, the aeroplane passed me, sighing softly as it touched down on the bumpy grass, its nose nodding up and down, affirming a good landing. As I watched, it slowed to walking pace, and taxied sedately towards the low Nissan Hut housing Air-Traffic Control.

A sallow youth wearing a very grubby High Visibility Tabard, stood glumly at the head of a vacant parking slot, and  began to unenthusiastically wave his arms at the pilot, marshalling him into the vacant position.

More incoherence from the Tannoy indicated something would soon be happening. Looking up, I faintly recognised the profile of an aeroplane, obviously at high altitude – a ghostly insect crawling across the window of the sky.

Suddenly, the blue fabric of the sky was cross-stitched with a web of pristine white trails, each creating patterns of gently expanding white.

Blossoming into multi-coloured parachutes, each action-man figure oscillated like a small pendulum, expanding as they approached the white cross laid on the grass.

With a graceful pull on their control lines, each man arrested his descent, landing as softly as thistledown. An appreciative crowd clapped, as the team collected their deflated chutes.

Shadows were lengthening as I drove out of the car park. A Spitfire suddenly howled overhead, just in front of my car, its wheels already tucking up into its belly, its sides bronzed and gilded by the setting sun. Disappearing into the heat shimmer, it left only the echoes of its engine to testify to its existence.

End

Mark Charlwood MRAeS MISTC)©

Categories
Airport Flight Science Transport Travel

Have a Safe(r) Flight!

So, you are going on holiday. Fabulous! You have packed your clothes for your two weeks away, you’ve bought your travel insurance, reserved a rental car, and still have a sore arm from getting the necessary inoculations and vaccinations.

But how much thought have you given to your personal safety on board the aeroplane?

If you answered “none” to this question, then you are part of the huge majority of air travellers who arrive at the airport blissfully ignorant of the potential risks attached to their chosen mode of travel.

Air travel is an extremely safe and efficient way of getting to distant places. Statistics seem to support this, including the oft-quoted “You are safer flying than you are driving in a car to the airport”  Whilst this may have a degree of accuracy, the fact still remains that aircraft accidents do still happen, some of which are serious. With a little care and forethought, you can reduce your exposure to these possible risks, by taking some simple steps yourself.

So, back to my question. How much thought have you given to your personal safety on board the aeroplane?  Or, to put it another way, when do you start thinking about your on-board safety?  A week before travelling? The day before? When you are sitting in your seat, waiting to take off?

Modern airliners are generally very reliable, but there are phases of flight that are more dangerous than others. Interestingly, more aircraft accidents occur during take off and landing than at any other time of flight. This is particularly true in some of the less developed countries around the globe, where flight safety is degraded as a result of under-investment.

In the highly unlikely event that the aircraft should suffer a serious in-flight problem, an emergency landing may be needed, and it may be necessary to “abandon ship” down the escape slides. There may be limited time for the cabin crew to prepare you for doing this, so you need to think a little about the slides.

The slides are made of a very tough neoprene, and are inflated automatically should a door be opened once the aircraft has left the gate. Naturally, you will have been requested to watch the safety demonstration, and refer to the safety card, but the vast majority of you will have been far too busy reading the newspaper, and listening to your iPods to have done so!

The reason that I mention this here, is that despite the instructions to remove high heeled shoes, and to leave bags behind during a slide evacuation, some individuals still place more value on their laptop computer and their bottle of duty free than on their own lives, or those of fellow passengers!

Amazingly, during a fairly recent evacuation of a Boeing 777 in Houston, passengers were observed jumping down the escape slides carrying their wheelie bags, bottles, and other bits of variegated hand baggage. Selfish and stupid in equal measures!

You may then have to walk across broken glass and damaged suitcases once you get off the slide.

For that reason, you should consider what you would wear on the flight. Stout, flat-soled yet comfortable footwear such as Deck Shoes, Moccasins, Training Shoes, and Flat soled business shoes are a must. I recommend that you resist the temptation to remove these shoes and put on the in-flight socks until the take off and climb is completed and the aeroplane is safely in the cruise.

Approaches and landings carry a higher statistical risk of emergencies, so you should put your “sensible” shoes back on at the top of the descent. This is normally indicated when you hear the engine note diminish as the power is reduced, about 30 minutes before arrival time. You may also hear a passenger announcement from the pilots at this point.

I also recommend that you invest in a simple body belt, so that you can carry your passport and travel documents easily. Its more practical than carrying them in a shirt or blouse pocket, and it may save you being delayed if you do have to evacuate the aeroplane.

Those passengers who have footwear and a passport may be swiftly re-booked onto another flight. Those who don’t will probably have to wait for some time in the airport until their passports and belongings have been collected by airport staff.

Your last consideration before leaving home for the airport should be the rest of your clothing, and the material from which it is made. I recommend that you wear clothes produced from natural products, such as cotton.

These materials may burn in the event of fire, but they will offer you more protection from flames than man-made fibres such as Nylon, which is highly flammable.

Now, lets consider your flight. You have boarded the aeroplane, and have been welcomed aboard by a smiling Flight Attendant. Soft background music will be playing, and you will shuffle to your allocated seat. This is easy in a well-lit cabin.

Now imagine the same cabin, darkened, filled with smoke and full of passengers. Your ability to see will be severely limited. Therefore, you should count the number of seatbacks that you pass on your way to your seat. This will enable you to locate the exits in poor lighting conditions should you need to escape from the aeroplane in an emergency.

Once at your designated seat, you should stow your carry-on baggage in the overhead lockers.  Nothing could possibly go wrong with this.  Or could it?

This is an area for concern. The overhead lockers are not designed to carry very heavy items, yet passengers are often observed struggling to lift huge sports bags and holdalls, boxes, and even very heavy cases into the overhead locker above your seat.

In the event of a forced landing, these lockers may deform, resulting in the doors springing open, thus allowing the contents to fall on the passenger below – in this case you!

If you feel unhappy about the load in the overhead stowage, talk to a crewmember and ask, or even insist that the bag is removed from the overhead, placed in another locker, or put in the aircraft hold.

Now, before you sit down, you should use the opportunity to have a quick check of the area around your seat. Find the lifejacket stowage, and check that there is a lifejacket in it!

It may surprise you, but it is a sad fact that every summer, I witness passengers walking off aeroplanes with life jackets stuffed in their hand baggage. Not only is this a criminal act, it is also a very selfish one, bearing in mind that the jacket is safety equipment, and could potentially mean the difference between survival and death.

It is a legal requirement that a life jacket is available for each seat, and the aircraft will not depart until you have one – even if the only water you will fly over is the Manchester Ship Canal!

Most reputable European, North and South American and Australasian airline’s aircraft engineers will always check that every seat has a life jacket before the aircraft operates its first flight of the day. However, you may be flying on the third, sixth, or even the twelfth sector, so its always possible that someone has stolen the jacket as a souvenir since the engineering safety check.

Furthermore, you may be flying to a remote region on a carrier operated by a small and under-developed country. There is no guarantee that these checks have been performed, so you should take a peek to make sure that you have a lifejacket.

Once the aircraft is safely away from the gate, and starts taxying to the runway, the safety demonstration commences. This will consist of either a pre-recorded film, or a demonstration given by the cabin attendants.

I strongly urge you to watch the film or demonstration. You may be a regular traveller on a Boeing 737, or an Airbus, but each airline will have a different seating layout, different emergency lighting systems, and different types of safety equipment, so assuming that you don’t need to watch the demonstration is dangerous complacency.

Numerous safety items are covered on the safety demonstration; how to fasten and release your safety belt, how to use the drop down oxygen masks, and how to fit and secure a life jacket. You will also be advised to read the safety card, which will either be contained in the seatback pocket, or in some cases, riveted to the seatback in front of you.

The reason that you are instructed to read the safety card, is that it will contain information that the safety demonstration doesn’t cover. This will include how to open the doors and emergency escape hatches, and how to adopt the correct “brace” position in the event of making an emergency landing.

Pulling this card out to read it as the aircraft is skidding to a stop in a field is a little late in the day – so please read the information on the card whilst you are taxying out.

You may feel justified in ignoring the safety demonstration for numerous reasons. I was recently presenting a safety course and I asked a frequent flyer why she chose to ignore the demonstration. Her response was a common one: “It’s a bit patronising – any fool knows how to fasten a safety belt” Her frequent flyer colleagues all nodded their agreement.

Most passengers will be highly familiar with the operation of a seat belt, as they use one every day whilst driving the car. Think about where the belt release is. Its down by your hip.

Now, where is the belt fastener on an aeroplane? Its in the middle of your stomach.

Bodies have been recovered from wrecked aircraft, bearing trauma wounds to the hips, where the victim’s hands have been scrabbling to find the belt buckle that was in fact sitting in the middle of their stomach.

Some of these individuals survived the crash, only to be suffocated in smoke because they were unable to undo their seatbelts. Reviewing the operation of the seatbelt in the safety demonstration is done to remind passengers that the belt is different to the ones that they may be more familiar with.

You will also be shown how to put on and use the cabin emergency oxygen system.

Aircraft are pressurised to give a comfortable environment similar to normal air pressure at about 8,000 feet.

Very occasionally a fault may cause a drop in cabin pressure, and the air may become too thin to breathe comfortably. Therefore, oxygen masks will automatically drop from cubbyholes overhead each passenger seat. It is important that you put the mask on quickly, as it is possible to lose consciousness for a brief period if you don’t.

Many aircraft use chemical oxygen generators to produce oxygen, as it saves the requirement to carry large metal tanks. When activated, these generators combine two chemicals to produce oxygen, which is then delivered by a plastic tube to the mask. A by-product of this reaction is heat.

The generators are located in compartments built into the overhead lockers. Over time, they will be covered in a layer of dust. This dust heats up, and creates the smell of burning. This may create panic, as some passengers will assume that the aircraft is on fire.

So, what may happen in reality?

You may feel a slight popping in your ears and the cabin may start to become quite chilly. This is to be expected if the cabin altitude is rising. At some point the safety systems will detect the falling pressure, and the oxygen masks will automatically drop out of their stowages under the overhead lockers.

You may hear a pre-recorded passenger announcement that reminds you to put your mask on, and informs you that an emergency descent has been started.

If you have paid attention to the safety demonstration, you will have already grabbed the nearest mask, and will have put it on. The air flows as soon as the rubber tube is pulled.

Don’t worry about pulling the mask out of its connection to the air supply – the rubber tube is very strong and secured very tightly, and you do need to pull the mask firmly in order to start the oxygen flow.

Whilst this is going on, the Pilots will be doing their emergency drills. They will have donned their masks, and will have immediately put the aircraft into a fairly steep descent to get the aircraft quickly to an altitude where the air is breathable.

Modern aircraft wings are designed to create as much lift as possible, but lift is now the last thing that is needed. The pilot will have extended the speed brakes, which are large hydraulically operated panels located on the top surface of the wing.

Once these are lifted up into the airflow, they interfere with the lift, and the rate of descent is now much faster. They also cause some turbulence and noise, and this may add to the sense of alarm in the cabin.

However, you must remember, that the apparent feelings of being in extreme danger are deceptive, and whilst this is an emergency situation, you will be quite safe. Aircraft depressurisation is practiced by the crews regularly in the flight simulators, and is relatively easy to handle and resolve.

The last item that is normally demonstrated is the use of the lifejacket. Lifejackets are generally similar in operation regardless of manufacturer or airline. They will be simply placed over the head, and either tied around the waist with canvas cords, or secured with nylon webbing and plastic snap fasteners.

They are inflated by pulling a toggle on the front of the jacket, which discharges a CO2 cylinder into the jacket.

Although lifejackets are designed to have no “inside” or “outside” they are best worn with the CO2 cylinder outside, as the metal cartridge becomes very cold after discharging the gas, and may cause burns if left touching the skin. It is imperative that jackets are not inflated inside the aircraft cabin, as they will either get ripped, or will cause obstructions in a densely packed cabin.

Should you forget this, and fire your jacket early, you may deflate it easily by unclipping the inflation tube (the one that is normally used for topping up the jacket by mouth) and pushing your finger into the tube end. Inside is a Schrader valve similar to that used on a car tyre. Simply press the stud in the middle and compress the jacket to deflate it. Once outside the aircraft cabin, two or three deep breaths should re-inflate the jacket to the point where it will support you in the water.

If you are instructed to put on your lifejackets, then there will be an element of panic throughout the cabin. I strongly suggest that after you have donned your jacket and tied or buckled it up, you briefly release your seat belt and stand up!

It will be too late to discover that you have tied the jacket (and yourself) to either the seat frame, or your fellow passengers once the aircraft has ditched. Doing this ensures that the jacket is secured, and that you can still exit the aircraft when required to!

Aircraft typically have an approach and landing speed of anything from 150 knots (130 mph) to about 120 knots (105 mph) but in an abnormal or emergency situation this could be higher. As you will appreciate, under the rapid deceleration of an emergency landing, anything not secured in the cabin will become a projectile, and will travel through the cabin at very high speed. This will include unsecured items of hand baggage, food carts, and other pieces of aircraft equipment.

Aircraft structures are designed to withstand loads of up to nine times normal gravity, but under a crash landing scenario, these limits may be exceeded, and the cabin may start to deform during the deceleration.

The safety card will contain details of the correct brace position to be adopted should a forced landing need to be made. The brace position is designed to minimise the whiplash effects of rapid deceleration, and to protect the head from injury.

Some authorities suggest that bending forwards, and clasping your arms under your thighs will offer the best chances for survival. I personally prefer the brace position used by British Airways. This brace position is adopted by leaning as far forward as possible, and placing your hands over your head.

You should then place your feet flat on the floor, and move them backwards until they touch the baggage restraint bar under your seat. This will guarantee that your feet are behind the line of your knees, thereby ensuring that your legs won’t swing forwards under deceleration loads, and smash your shins into the seat structure in front of you.

I also suggest that although it is a natural tendency to interlace your fingers when you place your hands over your head, that you don’t do it!

If you are right handed, place your right hand on your head first, and then protect that hand by placing your left hand over the top of it. This will make certain that even if the baggage lockers above your head collapse onto your hands, you will not have all your fingers broken and will still be able to unfasten your seat belt, and still have the use of your good hand.

Taking your dream holiday trip of seeing Orang-Utans in the wilds of Borneo or Indonesia, may well involve a considerable amount of flying with air carriers of dubious or unknown quality. You wouldn’t travel without insurance or vaccinations – so surely investing fifteen minutes to watch and understand a safety demonstration is time well spent!

Now, its time to take a reality check.

According to the UK Civil Aviation Authority, during the period from 1992 – 2001, UK airlines carried 802 million passengers with no fatalities!  Quite an impressive record in fact.

The biggest UK Airline operates 285,000 flights per year. Over the last five years, they have only had to evacuate an aircraft on two occasions. These evacuations were only conducted as a safety precaution, rather than as the result of a cabin fire. This means that statistically speaking, you stand a one in 712,500 chance of having to evacuate an aircraft.

To put that further into perspective, The UK’s Health and Safety Executive estimate that the chances of you dying as a result of an aircraft crash are one in 125,000,000 passenger journeys. In fact, they calculate that you stand a one in 16,800 chance of being killed in a road traffic accident.

So, you are relatively safe in the air – but how safe are you once you check into your hotel? Do you know the risks? Have you thought about your welfare? This will be covered in a later posting.

 

Categories
Airport Flight Society Transport Travel

Airline Loyalty Programmes. Good For You – But Better For Them?

Member of an Airline Loyalty Programme?
Good for you – But better for the Owner!

If you are a regular airline traveller, you have special cause for celebration on the 1st May each year.

For on this date thirty seven years ago, American Airlines launched it’s Aadvantage® programme, the first ever integrated Frequent Flier Loyalty scheme.

In 1978, just prior to the launch of the then unique programme, the US Government had enacted the Airline Deregulation Act, and the US air carriers were in a state of turmoil.

Against a backdrop of recession and economic uncertainty, airlines were struggling to contain costs and make even meagre yields, so great thought was given to enhancing the profits from existing customers.

It is said that it is six times more expensive to generate a new customer than it is to hold on to an existing one, so the ability to retain customers was seen as being a high priority.

Executives at American Airlines created the Aadvantage Programme, a system that rewarded loyalty by offering free upgrades to either business or first class, or free tickets, based upon the number of air miles that the passenger travelled.

Prior to the launch of the programme, American’s marketing department trawled through their SABRE reservations system for bookings with recurring telephone numbers. The 130,000 most frequent flyers were selected as the initial members of the Aadvantage programme, closely followed by the 60,000 members of the Admirals Club (American’s Airport Lounge Club).

Naturally such a scheme was hugely popular with passengers, and United Airlines launched their own loyalty programme called Mileage Plus the following week. Subsequently most large airlines have launched similar programmes.

So, the passenger may enjoy a free Business Class ticket from New York to London for every 50,000 miles travelled. That’s certainly a good deal, but what’s in it for the Airline.

Firstly, the Airline can build up a profile of an individual’s travel behaviour, seat preferences, times of travel, and class of travel booked.

Such statistical data is gold dust for a marketing department, and the information may be used to make decisions related to routes, departure and arrival times, and size and type of aircraft to be used on various flights. These decisions could make or lose the airline millions.

Loyalty programmes are good – for the owner, but British Airways made an inspired development of the AA system when they launched the BA Credit Card,

Once the programme was launched, passengers were given a double incentive. Book the ticket on BA, and get airmiles for the flight, and pay for it on the airline’s credit card, and get bonus mileage!

The passenger obviously benefits from this, but not as much as the airline.

Consider this – The passenger buys his ticket on BA, using his BA credit card. He then rents a car through the BA booking system (getting some airmiles bonus of course), and then pays with his airline credit card – for more bonus mileage.

When he gets to the airport, he buys some duty free liquor, a Mont Blanc pen, and some Chanel perfume for his wife. He then orders some Lalique Crystal, and some Caviar from the Caviar House.

Having finished his shopping, he takes his trip, and whilst abroad uses his Airline credit card for further purchases, enthusiastically hoovering up bonus air miles, all to be redeemed with the airline for future flights, which of course, he will pay for with his airline credit card.

Now, the passenger thinks that the loyalty programme is basically for his benefit. Not so!

For the company is now building up a comprehensive profile of the passenger, logging his purchases, and his shops of preference. The marketing department is creating a whole new armoury of tools to use on the passenger.
You, the passenger, may not realise the stealthy gathering of data, and may be quite happy amassing your bonus airmiles.

It should be said, that there is nothing sinister in the gathering of such information. Many corporate E-commerce websites make no secret of the fact that personal details will be used for marketing purposes.

The airline gains far more than the passenger, mainly because air transport ticket prices have fallen in real terms over the years. They make profit on the ticket cost; they then make profit on the interest generated on the credit card. But most valuable of all is the comprehensive demographic information they glean.

Long-term analysis of the passenger’s buying behaviour enables the marketing department to design incentive packages targeted personally at the individual, and thus generate more business.

Further examination of the flights booked may help the airline’s network analysts to plan new routes, or revise timings of existing routes.

This type of programme promotes exceptional loyalty, and ties the passenger more effectively to the airline. A passenger who is mishandled for whatever reason is more likely to stay with the airline if he has amassed a significant number of airmiles.

Global economic problems and the huge costs involved in operating an airline has led many airlines to form commercial alliances. These alliances allow airlines to pool resources, share booking systems and flights. In most cases, they will also honour the redemption of airmiles gained on another alliance members loyalty programme.

Many airlines have invested in hotel chains and car rental companies, and these will also offer airmiles for the airline, generating further profits – and all for the cost of a free ticket for every ten return trips London to New York.

Compared with the total spend made by the customer, the net gain is heavily loaded in favour of the airline.

These programmes have proved so successful that many high street chains have embraced the idea with great enthusiasm. Tesco’s have their Clubcard; Sainsbury’s have the Nectar card.

Interestingly, ASDA, which is part of the US Wal-Mart group do not operate such a scheme. Their philosophy is that low prices at the time of checkout ties the customer more effectively to them rather than the promise of money back later. It must be a successful business models, as Wal-Mart is the world’s biggest employer.

It may be argued that Low Cost carriers such as Ryanair and Easyjet drive loyalty through low prices, but this seems to be a less powerful argument, as service standards are much lower than that provided by legacy full fare airlines.

The only other loyalty programme that doesn’t seem to translate very well into the world of air transport is that operated by the Co-Operative Retail Group.

The Co-Op as it’s popularly known has been running a loyalty scheme for many years, and is known throughout the UK as “dividend”, or just plain “divi”. Put quite simply, customers were encouraged to become members of the Cop-operative.

They purchased a share, which then enabled them to receive a percentage of the profits generated. This scheme has been running for decades, and has been very successful in keeping customers loyal to the brand despite enormous competition from much bigger rivals such as Tesco and Sainsbury’s.

So – Loyalty programmes are good for the customer, but not as good as they are for the provider!!!

Categories
Airport Flight Transport Travel

Getting Social at the Airport

Getting Social at the Airport

Over the past few years, there has been a silent revolution taking place. The humble cellular mobile telephone has developed from an unsophisticated brick just about capable of making telephone calls, into a slender touch-screen smart device able to send video by email, and hook up to the internet from just about anywhere!

In parallel with the advancement of the mobile phone is the explosion into public consciousness of the benefits of social networking websites such as Facebook and Linkedin.

Individually these are both very powerful drivers of social change, but combined they are truly awesome in their ability to change our lives – hopefully for the better.

The Airline industry has been quick to identify the potential to engage with their customers using these new technologies. One of the earliest initiatives, now commonplace, is self service check in, either from a home or office PC, or performed using a smart phone.

Ownership of smart phones has dramatically increased recently. Results from the 2011 SITA/Air Transport World Passenger Self Service Survey shows that the use of such ‘phones by travellers has doubled to 54%. Of those users, 74% are business and first class travellers.

Imaginative high-tech marketing can help tie customers very effectively to an airline.

KLM has been very creative in the way that it has embraced smart phone technology.

According to a report published by Brand eBiz, KLM recently launched an I-Phone application quirkily called “Shake and Travel” The user either inputs the preferred choices, and shakes the phone, and the application cleverly suggests a destination together with the ticket prices and flight information. A simple push of a button will enable the user to book the selected flight on line.

The more adventurous can simply shake the phone and take pot luck on where the phone suggests that they go.

The Dutch Daily News recently reported that KLM have introduced “Social Seating”, whereby passengers visit social networks such as Facebook or LinkedIn to select as seat mate who shares a similar disposition and taste as them. This is a truly inspired piece of marketing!

Travolution also reports that KLM provides a Live Flight Tracking application which enables individuals to simply input a flight number and see the position of the aircraft displayed on a world map. Users can also check on flights operated by
Air France and Delta Airlines.

In a further attempt to encourage passengers to bond emotionally with them, KLM have launched their “Passport” application, enabling passengers to convert photographs of their experiences into inspiring films.

United Airlines have cleverly chosen to integrate their loyalty programme, Mileage Plus, with the social sites Facebook and Foursquare, and are offering bonus mileage points to travellers who share their locations at airports throughout the United States. The passenger benefits from information about dining offers locally and gets a further fifty point bonus if check in is completed via the social site being used.

Emirates are also busy developing their Facebook application to enable them to emotionally engage with potential customers.

Oman Air is not slow to see the potential – they have just launched Facebook pages in four different languages to enable customers to leave feedback and remain connected.

The smart phone and online connectivity has had a seismic effect on the way in which airlines and airports conduct their business. Singapore International Airlines has withdrawn is self service check in kiosks at Changi Airport due to low usage – a direct consequence of passengers checking in for flights off-airport.

It’s not just the airlines who are embracing these changes. Passenger Terminal Today reports that East Midlands Airport in Nottingham, England is using an animated holographic image of a virtual Terminal Assistant, who reminds travellers of the security requirements for travelling through the airport. This “friendly face” delivers the security message in a very human fashion, and is probably easier than reading the requirements on a video screen.

In another first for an airport, Moscow Airport is reported as launching the world’s first check in that can be accomplished on a video link from the Skype internet telephone service. (Wall Street Journal).

Airline Loyalty programmes have been here for thirty two years in a virtually unchanged manner. However, they are now metamorphosing and being assimilated into a global marketing machine that will change the way that we travel forever.