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Terror at 36,000 Feet.

26 September 2016

OK, needlessly dramatic, I suppose. Here’s the letter I sent to American Airlines:

Dear American Airlines,

This is a complicated email. I have both compliments and complaints. I was aboard flight XXX from Rome to [ECC]. Sometime around 4 hours into the flight, we received the following announcement:

“This is the captain speaking. The back-up oxygen to the cockpit has failed, and we need to make an emergency descent to 10,000′. We are going to turn around and divert to Shannon, Ireland, our designated emergency airfield. Sit down and strap in.” – or something very similar.

Now, I know enough to know that pilots operate under “Aviate, Navigate, Communicate”, so if they were taking the time to talk to us, it wasn’t an immediate life-or-death emergency. But it was very frightening. I want to compliment your cabin crew: they were calm, controlled, and reassuring. They didn’t know any more than we did but their actions showed us that panic and alarm did not seem necessary (not that they ever are, I suppose).

It was quite some time, about 20 minutes, before the pilots informed us we would be going on to Gander, not Ireland. From there, it was a comedy. Confusing and insufficient information, rapidly changing plans interspersed with long delays without information. Eventually, we got a “rescue plane” from [ECC] and flew home, arriving some 8 hours late.

Now, any flight with an oxygen failure and emergency descent that doesn’t end with flaming debris in the ocean can be considered a win, as far as I’m concerned. Your pilots and crew were obviously competent and sanguine. Well done on that account. But the ensuing snafus, while perhaps understandable, could easily have been managed better.

Thank you.

[Dr. 24hours.]

I am not a happy flier under the best circumstances. I’ve flown several hundred times in my life, and only had a couple of events that would qualify as emergencies. This one definitely the most serious I can recall. I’ll write more about the conference and Rome later on, when I’m not delirious and jet-lagged.

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