July 19, (THEWILL) – Nature is capricious. It can, without seeking man’s opinion, do whatever it likes with us mere mortals. It could be for good or ill.
Passengers in a Lagos-bound flight from Abuja to Lagos last Thursday found out how nature can alter one’s destination, and insultingly so without any apologies.
When the more than 150-plus passengers left their homes, offices or from wherever in the Federal Capital Territory to board Aero Flight 5N-BYQ on Thursday, July 15 to Lagos, none of them ever imagined they would end up in the air more than the fifty or so minutes it would take them to reach their destination. None of them ever imagined they would have to make a detour to another airport in Rivers state before coming back to Murtala Mohammed International Airport hours later for safe landing.
Though they are trained to handle such situations as professionally as they can, airline crew sometimes run or fly into the unexpected. For the passengers and crew on board the flight from Abuja that day, the expectation was that after boarding at Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, all would go swimmingly. It did not.
The flight was to take off by 3.05pm. Flying at 32, 000 feet, it would take about 50 minutes to reach Lagos. As if it was a premonition of what was to come, we didn’t take off until well past 4 in the afternoon.
The Boeing 737 was smack down on the tarmac when we boarded. As we taxied for take-off, the pilot announced right there that we had to wait a few minutes because three incoming aircraft from Lagos would soon land.
True, incoming and outgoing flights on the same runway have been known to wing themselves without proper clearance from the Control Tower. Engine purring, we endured another grueling wait inside the aircraft. By the time the 150-plus capacity jet lifted off for the journey to Lagos, we were all relieved.
The sweetest part of flights, as any frequent flyer would tell you, is when the aircraft begins its descent, banking to the left and right and the pilot’s announcement that his bird will be landing any time soon.
“Ladies and gentlemen, fasten your seatbelts…” the pilot announced once again, “for we are about to land.”
Any travel-weary passenger will be delighted for that last piece from the pilot and his crew. We were. But it was short-lived. “Good evening ladies and gentlemen,” the pilot announced once again. “We are sorry we are unable to land because of Mother Nature.”
Mother Nature, it turns out, was the heavy downpour in Lagos at the airport at that very time. Visibility was down to zero. Risking it could result in a crash. Though the pilot didn’t spell it out, all the passengers knew the consequences of crash-landing a jet like a Boeing 737 with over 150 travellers aboard in an inclement weather.
One more time, the pilot nosed his aircraft to the skies and we were soon up in space though we didn’t know where we were headed this time. There was studio-quiet silence in the cabin. It is not hard to imagine what would have been going on in our minds.
Not long after, the voice from the cockpit came again. “Ladies and gentlemen, we have clearance to land in Port Harcourt Airport…At 32, 000 feet we will make the airport at Six-ten. We do apologize for the inconvenience to our passengers. Thank you.”
It was not necessary. The passengers understood. The fault was not man’s or machine’s. The aircraft itself was in excellent condition, manned by a professional crew. Thus began another unscheduled, unpaid for trip from one littoral capital to another.
Soon after the pilot announced the diversion to Port Harcourt, some of the travellers visited the loo. Impromptu conversations began among the otherwise soporific passengers. I was having the time of my life, a free ride to another state.
“This is a pleasure ride,” I told the guy sitting to my left. He laughed and threw his head back, an expression his masked face couldn’t quite conceal.
As we taxied to a stop at Port Harcourt International Airport, I called my editor, Olaolu Olusina of THEWILL to inform him of the development. I was due in the newspaper’s GRA, Ikeja office that day. “Just take your time,” he reassured me.
Having spent more time in the air because of the diversion to PH, the Boeing had to refuel. No sooner had we landed in the Rivers State capital than a refueling truck drew close and the nozzle went straight into the aircraft. At about the same time, the weary passengers formed a long queue in the aisle, hoofing it to the convenience. Mother Nature was, indeed, at work.
While the plane was being tanked up, the passengers were also downloading right in the convenience – men and women, mostly Nigerians. There was a heavily tanned Asian, an Indian, a sturdy Caucasian with a shiny pate reminiscent of the skinheads (Yobs) who terrorized London streets back in the seventies and eighties, and a tall, bespectacled Scandinavian type, all masked up to relieve themselves. It occurred to me that if lavatories could talk, the two at the rear of the aircraft would have griped about seeing so many visitors in such a short time.
Two beautiful and leggy hostesses – always beautiful and comely – helpfully controlled the throng, squirting hand sanitizers into our palms as we exited the loo.
Remarkably, not one of the passengers complained about the diversion and forced landing.
Done with refueling and answering nature’s call, we took off at exactly 7.15 back to our original destination and just hoping, hoping that Mother Nature will spare us the ordeal we just went through.
The journey back to Lagos from PH, the pilot assured us, will take about 50 minutes flying at 32, 000 feet. Though it was getting dark, most of the travellers had their faces glued to the windows. Some of us craned our necks to see what the weather was like outside. Was it raining? But the pilot reassured us, once again, that the control tower in Lagos had cleared his bird for landing.
We finally landed at the international wing of Murtala Mohammed Airport. Time was 8.10. As if on cue, some of the passengers busted into a spontaneous applause as if a miracle had just been performed. It was a great relief from the internal turmoil some of them went through from the moment we couldn’t touch down in Lagos, proof that some of them had their hearts suspended just like the aircraft hovering in the air.
And still, it was not over yet. No sooner had we touched down at the international wing than the pilot announced, once again, that there was no parking space there. What? Is this a jinxed flight?
From the delay at Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport in Abuja to the failed landing in Lagos to the diversion to PH, back to Lagos and now this. The pilot told us for the last time that we had to taxi to Aero’s tarmac. It took some 15 more minutes. But then we were already home, and relieved for the first time since we departed Abuja four hours earlier.
More than anything was the uncommon understanding between crew and passengers all through the ordeal. Though a passenger – he identified himself as a pastor with Zion Ministry – right in front of me (I was in the second to last row on the left from the entrance) prayed when it seemed there was going to be some sort of calamity. As is common with some Pentecostal devotees during prayer time, he started nodding his head vigorously, then swinging it from side to side correspondingly, muttering words. Aside that, no other person, as far as I could see, showed any sign of fear that we would be the worse for it in the end.
The crew of 5N-BYQ demonstrated a stoic resolve to the end. By the time we exited, the pilot himself mounted a guard of honour of one on the ramp, along with a hostess who dispensed snacks, thanked us and wished us well as we departed to our various destinations.
Yes, the journey started with a delay in Abuja, more delay on the tarmac, failed landing in Lagos, diversion to and refueling in PH, then lift off for return to Lagos and all the febrile apprehension of what might have been. As they say, all’s well that ends well.