Regular readers will know I’m a bit of an aviation nerd. This largely derives from a fear of flying and a need to know everything that happens on a plane. All those weird noises. Like the strange bang I heard last night when flying on BA 16 from Singapore to London Heathrow. The British Airways flight that then went on to have an emergency landing and return us to our starting point, an hour after we took off. So let’s just say, this won’t be your usual Jetlag & Mayhem flight review. I’ll start at the beginning, Friday the 13th July….
It’s time for our annual US roadtrip. This year we are off to Atlanta, Georgia and then driving to Tennessee. It’s no quick hop from Singapore and I chose a British Airways flight that routed us through London Heathrow and then a second flight on to Atlanta. We were supposed to land at 5am on Saturday and head straight to my sister-in-law in London, who has just had a baby. Then we would return to Heathrow to catch our 4pm BA flight to Atlanta.
Last night, as we set off for Changi Airport, Jetlag & Mayhem were SO excited at the prospect of seeing their best friends in Atlanta, whom they hadn’t seen for a year. Added to our usual airport attire, were neck pillows and eye masks that we had purchased the month before, after our Singapore Airlines flight had a technical fault and we had to sleep at the airport (not in a hotel, I mean literally on chairs in Ho Chi Minh airport).
Added to my excitement was the fact that one of my old school friends was on our flight. I spent all day trying to convince her to swap her Business Class seat with my Economy one but she wasn’t having any of it. She did however, promise to come visit me as soon as we were in the air, ideally with champagne.
BA 16 was on time for its 10:25pm departure. We clambered onboard and surveyed our seats. Miss Jetlag lucked out as she had extra legroom. I also lucked out as I was seated on the other side of my family, leaving Mr Jetlag in charge! We set off for our hometown of London and I settled in to watch a movie. I was really enjoying the flight, my neighbour was a quiet lady who had gone to the sleep and the guy in front had not moved his seat back.
As promised, my friend made an appearance in our cabin although sadly lacking the champers. We stood giggling in the aisle and then there was a strange clackety bang. I’m a bit of a nervous flier so I turned to my husband for reassurance. He looked at us like a bunch of lemons, ‘you know that’s nothing, it’s perfectly normal for there to be noises.’
Then we took our seats but things started to get a bit weird. Despite the seatbelt sign being off, cabin crew kept walking up and down checking seatbelts. They removed all the bassinets and insisted the parents hold their babies. They also kept putting down my daughter’s TV, much to her annoyance. Then both Jetlag & Mayhem fell asleep, eye mask and neck pillows on. As I watched my movie I thought I’m totally winning at this family travel business, what a pro.
There was an announcement by the captain ‘could the Senior Cabin Officer please approach the Flight Deck’. That’s when I realised things were getting weirder. I also realised that the flight appeared to be flying lower than usual as I could still see city lights. Normally you’re up in the clouds at this point. I ran though situations in my mind. Are we being hijacked? Is someone ill? Nobody else was batting an eyelid.
The PA system then crackled into action.
‘Ladies and gentlemen, as you may have noticed, we have a problem with the aircraft. We have lost the right-hand engine and protocol means me need to land at the nearest appropriate airport. In this case we are returning to Singapore for an emergency landing. There is no reason to be alarmed. The plane can fly perfectly well with one functioning engine. We are in the process of dumping fuel until the plane is light enough to make it safe for landing’.
At this point, I was springing between eerily calm and slightly bonkers (bear in mind I usually have to take a valium on longhaul flights but for some reason I hadn’t self-medicated on this one). I kept looking around to find other nervous passengers and the cabin was a mix of nonchalance and panic. I have to say the British Airways crew were amazing. There was a particularly nervous passenger ahead of me and the flight steward spent ages reassuring them.
Meanwhile my husband (not a nervous flier) was taking great delight in watching fuel gushing out from the fuel hose on the wing. Jetlag & Mayhem were fast asleep and I decided the best thing for it was to watch the movie and block it all out from my mind. I then realised better than the movie, was the Route Map. I like watching the live Route Map on normal flights but this time it was fascinating!
Eventually the pilot announced we were 20 minutes to landing. He also warned us that the plane would be met by the fire service to check if it could safely taxi to the airport. Cabin crew had warned us the landing might be a bit harder than usual. It wasn’t too bad but it did feel as if we were veering to one side. When the plane came to a stop, the cabin burst into a round of applause. We anxiously waited while the fire crew checked the plane to ensure we weren’t losing oil and contaminating the runway. At this point my mobile reception had returned and family back home in London were responding with a mix of relief we were safe but also frustration that we may not get to see our new baby nephew!
At around 2am we returned back to the seats at the Gate. There was a huge amount of confusion and frustration but an overwhelming sense of happiness we were safe. The Captain came out to address us, announcing that ‘the right engine had been almost destroyed. It had thrown out so much debris that the tail of the plane was also damaged. These are the exact situations that we are all trained to fly in.’ Cue round of applause.
So where does that leave us now? Well we sat around the airport for a bit, not really knowing what to do. My friend rebooked onto a Singapore Airlines flight in the morning. We realised whatever happened, we would miss our second flight to Atlanta. Luckily we live in Singapore and decided to pick up our luggage and wait it out at home. Having recently been stranded in a Vietnamese airport due to a technical failure (what are the chances?!), we were very happy to have the option of going to our own bed rather than continue to sleep on chairs.
At this point, we aren’t really sure what’s going on. I did wake up this morning to find out that I had been quoted in the Daily Star with an image I’d tweeted! I’m also the only person in the world who regularly googles ’emergency landing’ in news stories to see what’s going on in the world of aviation (I know I’m weird). Yet for once it’s actually my own flight that made the news! I reckon I’ll stop googling that now…
We eventually got rebooked onto a Singapore Airline flight from Singapore to London and a Virgin Atlantic Flight from London Heathrow to Atlanta. We were also able to claim on travel insurance and also an EU directive regarding flight delay. I’d like to point out that I always felt in very safe hands with the British Airways crew who acted professionally and calmly throughout our emergency landing.