On Saturday April 13th, I was on the 07:05 BA flight 478 from Heathrow Terminal 3 to Barcelona. About a half an hour into the scheduled 2-hour flight, the captain announced that both he and the co-pilot had been exposed to fumes, which had left them feeling a little strange. They were using oxygen as a precaution but had gotten permission to return to London rather than continue on to Barcelona.
He said that the aircraft had been in maintenance, out of use for a number of weeks, and that sometimes it happened in those circumstances that there could be a build-up of fumes inside the aircraft the first time it was subsequently used.
So we returned to Heathrow and I did not see or hear anyone complain and if I had, I would have thought them idiots. He had explained in a helpful and clear way exactly what the problem was and any sensible person could understand that it was the correct decision to go back, which would take a half an hour or so to accomplish, rather than go on for another hour and a half, with the flight crew feeling woozy. Equally, I might ask, what about the risk of further fumes?
I did wonder at one point whether a singing nun would pull a guitar out of the locker and strike up a chorus of Kumbaya, or if someone might rush down the aisle asking for anyone who knew how to fly, but all seemed calm. We had further updates about what might be going to happen to us, whether we'd be bussed back to the terminal or transferred to another plane. Of course a new crew would have to be brought in as well as a plane, because the captain felt that the only place he was going next was to sick bay.
We came in through low cloud, almost down to fog level, not able to see anything till very near the runway and then a good landing. Captain: "Just to let you know, we did the landing on automatic, as I thought it safer, given that I am still not feeling quite right" or words to that effect.
After an hour or so on the ground: Look out of the window on your left, that is another identical Boeing 757 and we have a crew coming in to take you to Barcelona. Even though it's just there, we will probably get the buses to ferry you across, because you are still what is called "sterile". [I thought, I hope not as a result of the fumes.] We are waiting for a new crew to be found. We waited I think about two hours: significant for compensation claims, perhaps, but I was more worried that the air in the first plane was very poor, the conditions hot and my wife was not well or able to endure indefinitely.
I did start to feel a bit like one of those poor animals we see crammed into lorries on the motorway, but I don't blame any of the crew. In fact I thanked the captain who stood by to chat with anyone as we disembarked, for getting us back safely.
And another thing...
The crew members were all marvellous - both on the first, the second and a few days later on the return flight, but that by the way was overbooked! (BA Flight 487 from Barcelona back to Terminal 3, 20:35.) We had to wait to find out if we were going to get a seat, though we were not late checking in, and again my wife was struggling, with nowhere to sit down.
In the end we were upgraded to Business Class, where I listened in on a conversation in the seats behind between a would-be poet accompanying someone who at one point referred to himself as a well-known playwright.
'"The sky above": What did you see wrong with that?' 'Well, I wouldn't use it. The word "above" is redundant, because where else would the sky be?' 'Oh thanks, that's most helpful, really. You're so against using the iamb and [jargon jargon jargon], is there a reason for that?' 'It sort of announces that it's poetry and [jargon jargon jargon].' 'For the same reason, no rhyme?' 'Mmm...' And then to the attendant: 'Yes, I'll take the whisky please.' He needed it.
Earlier I saw them have a stern but discreet word to the officials at the check-in about the disruption. However, they weren't to know that we had trumped any gentility they could deploy with the simple chance asset of my wife having exactly the same name as the check-in person's mother. So while they were still trying the "I say old chap, a word in your ear" routine, the Mick and somebody who looked like one of their TNT slaves breezed into the first row of Business Class ahead of them. Result.
* Copyright Willesden Herald © 2009. Syndication enquiries: Click Dear Mona (above left). Ed