Sunday, June 6, 2010

Flying the White 747

We were just about to land on OR Tambo when I saw the white 747 that was waiting to take us to Luanda. If it wasn't for the windows it could've been any no name cargo plane. I have flown with it before, it seems like it has been dedicated to the Johannesburg-Luanda route and as far as I could remember the previous time there was no in-flight entertainment on it. Or let me rather put it this way, the entertainment stopped  a few minutes after it struggled to start. Sitting for 3 hours with nothing to do was not really what I had in mind for my flight to Luanda today, but it seemed like there was no getting out of it this time. I am not very comfortable on this aircraft. It seems rather old and the fact that it has no South African Airways emblems on it makes me wonder where it came from. It looks more like a aircraft that is not on their books anymore because it is on its way out and they are just using it until it finally comes to rest.

The boarding went quite well. Ten minutes before scheduled departure time everyone was on board. Or so it seemed until they realized that two passengers were missing. The captain informed us that we will be a bit delayed because their luggage had to be found and that might take about 20-30 minutes. Fortunately for the missing passengers they found the boarding gate before their luggage was found and they managed to get onto the flight. As if they haven't caused enough trouble, one of the passengers found another woman seated on his seat and impolitely asked her to move. The pregnant lady that was put there by one of the cabin crew refused to get up, saying that she had all the right to be there and that he was late. What followed after that only happens on a Jerry Springer show. All of a sudden they were throwing insults around and it really turned ugly. Eventually the cabin crew had to intervene and with all their peacekeeping efforts they managed to find the gentleman another seat which he was satisfied with.

We were ready to leave. The flight attendant switched on the safety video and the cabin crew "secured the cabin for take-off". But then the video stopped playing and I knew immediately that the entertainment system had not been repaired since my last flight. So the cabin crew had to do the safety instructions manually, which obviously not only wasted more time, but it already had some passengers making remarks about the possibility of other things on the aircraft that might also not be working. Not a good sign when you are already sceptic about the aircraft.

After the safety instruction everything went into pause mode. Then the captain announced: "Cabin crew, please disengage all doors". Something was wrong. Only then I realized that there were no lights on inside the aircraft, and when the captain informed us about the "small electrical fault", I knew for sure that someone did not accidentally switched it off. After a couple of minutes two technicians were on the plane looking for the technical problem. At this point another female passenger started hyperventilating. She wanted to leave the aircraft immediately! She obviously had a fear of flying and after the fist fight between the passengers, the broken safety video and the "small electrical fault" she had enough. While the cabin crew was trying to calm her down the technicians found the electrical problem...or fault rather. In aviation you never have a "problem". It seemed that the problem was on the ground and not on the aircraft itself. The generator that is supposed to "kick-start" the engines were not strong enough and another one had to be found. While all this commotion was happening outside, the cabin crew were busy with anti-stress counseling inside the aircraft. Soon the lights and the engines went on, and the hyperventilating woman calmed down a bit. The captain ensured all the passengers that the aircraft was in perfect flying condition and absolutely safe, and that the problem, oops fault, was in fact outside. During take-off I could see that this woman was a nervous wreck and I really felt sorry for her. Having a fear of flying is really not something I ever want to develop.

The take-of went smooth. Just before lunch was served they tried to get the in-flight entertainment system going, but they only managed to get that right after our meals were finished. That gave me just enough time to watch a movie until 15 minutes before its end. Now I have NO idea how the bloody movie ended. The food was good and the beer cold, so no complaints on that side, but the white 747 is starting to build a reputation for itself. Whenever you arrive at OR Tambo, watch out for the white 747, it might feature in one of my post again....or on the 7 o' clock news bulletin.

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