The flight that nearly didn't…

Last week I had two marvellous days in Northern Ireland as a business coach for lovely people.
On Thursday I had a late flight from Belfast Intl to Manchester – and a very early start on Friday morning to attend the Practice Plan Club Weekend in Alicante.
Our Easyjet flight on Thursday leaves on time and we are climbing steadily after take-off when there is a sudden and very loud banging noise from somewhere below our seats.
“Crash, bang, wallop”
and then a screaming noise that sounds like chalk on a blackboard – and lasts for a good 60 seconds.
The passengers look at each other in silence. Those of us with window seats gaze outwards. The cabin crew are still in their seats as we are in a steep climb.
The sound eases and shoulders go down again, white knuckles relax on seat arms.
Two minutes later – the same screeching sound again and there is a definite sense that the pilot has increased the steepness of the climb.
I’ve been around on domestic flights for long enough to know that we have gone considerably higher than the 22,000 feet announced – way up in the air.
The flight levels off high above the cloud base and we continue our progress east on what should be a brief 45-minute journey.
Still no commentary from the crew and, strangely but largely un-noticed, no mid-flight chat from the pilot.
Our descent into Manchester is very slow, very long, very straight and the passengers have settled down and are calm.
Touchdown is effortless and the aircraft slows on the runway.
As we come to a standstill on the runway (unusual) those on the port side see a row of fire tenders and other vehicles, all with emergency blue lights flashing.
The pilot addresses us for the first time since we were on the stand at Aldegrove to say that the emergency vehicles are alongside because of a “technical difficulty”.
I love it when airlines say that – it embraces (in one case) a pilot stuck in a traffic jam on his way to work – to “pray – you are all going to die”.
After a very quiet wait we are told that hydraulic fluid is leaking from the aircraft and that we will have to wait for engineers to stop the leak and a tug to tow us to our station.
One and a half hours, sat in the middle of the runway, patiently waiting.
Barry and the cabin crew are calm, reassuring and firmly insist that we stay put, belts on and no mobile phones.
Two-thirds of the passengers completely ignore the advice and start posting, texting, tweeting their plight to assembled friends and followers.
Can you imagine if there had been Facebook on the Titanic?
Status update: “Ship has hit iceberg and sinking, water freezing cold, not enough lifeboats – Captain should have been to Specsavers”
Comment: “LMAO Chris – you are such a prankster – we all know the Titanic is unsinkable”
Slowly, slowly the tug takes us over to Terminal 1, where we disembark, thanking the crew for their care.
The pilot emerges to wave us goodbye (he looks 16).
Baggage arrives thankfully quickly and then there is a final sting.
The doors to the baggage hall fail and we are locked in arrivals at 23:00, waiting for a security guard to come and release the electrical lock – we are just giggling at this point.
My Caribbean shipmate Dave Rogers – a 36-year time served Air Canada pilot – has been following the story on Facebook from his home in Vancouver Island. Cap Dave gives me a good explanation of what probably went wrong – its technical but the bottom line is that we were probably never in any real danger.
But it remains a salutary lesson of the thin line that sometimes separates us from tragedy.
And of the faith that we place in technology that we will never understand and people we never meet.
Jon B and I were safe and sound and I tolerated the 2 hours sleep we managed before our alarm call and drive to John Lennon Airport the next morning.
By the way, I typed this on my iPad at 30,000 feet somewhere over Spain – on our Easyjet flight.
Lightning, of course, never strikes twice in the same place…


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Chris Barrow

Chris Barrow has been active as a consultant, trainer and coach to the UK dental profession for over 20 years. As a writer, his blog enjoys a strong following and he is a regular contributor to the dental press. Naturally direct, assertive and determined, he has the ability to reach conclusions quickly, as well as the sharp reflexes and lightness of touch to innovate, change tack and push boundaries. In 2014 he appeared as a “castaway” in the first season of the popular reality TV show “The Island with Bear Grylls”. His main professional focus is as Coach Barrow, providing coaching and mentorship to independent dentistry.