Worst Flight of My Life
For the sake of my job and for privacy, I will be leaving out certain details like my company or when this nightmare flight occurred.
Let me set the stage for you, it was the eve of Chinese New Year, our Hong Kong flight has been delayed five times for a total of ten hours!
Thankfully, they've been calling the crew every two hours and letting us know to stay home. But that also meant that our duty day hasn't started yet. This will come into play later on in the story, so I'll quickly explain what the term duty day means.
"Duty day: Is the duration of time a flight crew is operating from check in to check out. For a Hong Kong, a flight attendant's duty time is a maximum of 18 hours. Anything over is considered over their duty day and it is at the discretion of the individual to either ask for crew rest or they can opt to work if they feel like they can still operate safely. "
So, I finally arrive and check in at 9PM at night. The flight was suppose to leave at 10AM that morning. Tensions were running so high that the police have been called because our passengers have been hostile towards the gate agents. And understandably so as they have been stuck at the airport for over twelve hours at this point.
This was the state of affairs when we boarded the airplane. But as luck would have it, we hit a slew of mechanical issues and because this was February, everything was running slow. Imagine this, we had a plane full of irate passengers on the tarmac for 2 hours, trapped in a metal tube after waiting in the airport for over half the day. They're hungry, angry and they've had very little information to work with.
On the other hand, you have an is extremely junior crew, all of us who were on call. We were inexperienced newbies who haven't napped all day. And on top of that, we also have zero information on why this flight has been delayed.
I was the most senior flight attendant with only a few months more of experience and the only one who has ever done a Hong Kong before. This spelled Disaster with a capital D.
If you thought I was of noble character, you are dead wrong. I did not want to stick around so when I saw that my duty period was up, I was ready to flee! The sneaky pilots caught wind of this and CLOSED THE DOOR a minute before our legality was up and basically trapped all of us in, without the option of booking crew rest. Drat those pilots.
Since my fate was sealed, I was determined to make the most of it. The flight is approximately 15 hours long and it was a bit of a gong show because the crew didn't know what they were doing in terms of service. The first service that normally takes a maximum of two hours to do, turned out to be over three and a half hours long resulting in the shortest break I've ever had on a Hong Kong flight.
I spent most of my time in the aisle apologizing and placating passengers because they were all super upset and we had no way of compensating them or if the company would have any arrangements for them. I spoke till my face was blue and till I lost my voice. You guysssss, it was hostile on that plane.
Oh... but it doesn't end there my friends. We finally land at 3:30AM in the morning, Hong Kong time. It is Chinese New Year.
Now you have to understand, NOTHING is open even in a city that runs 24/7 because this is the equivalent of Christmas Day in North America. The passengers realize this, and they know that there is no transportation or cabs are running scarce at this hour and especially on this day. This is when everything hits the fan.
The poor gate agents that have been waiting for the plane to land comes on and makes an announcement over the P.A. to direct passengers on their next steps. They try to break the news gently that there were no flights, boats or trains at this hour to get these people to their final destinations and that they are re-booked for later on in the day.
I swear to you, the pent up anger and tension that has been building up for over twenty four hours has reached it's breaking point. The hope that they will see their family before Chinese New Year was over is crushed before my eyes and the visceral reaction was catatonic.
A passenger runs up to the gate agent and yanks the P.A. headset from her and makes an announcement. It went a little something like this.
"If we get off this plane now, they will never give us anything! We're stuck here! We've been treated like rubbish the entire day and we deserve compensation!"
A third of the plane listened and stayed on the aircraft. As flight attendants, we are not allowed to leave until all passengers are off. So we sit there as the ground agents try to convince these poor passengers that they need to get off the aircraft. They were in earnest because there were 300 people waiting to board this airplane to go back to Canada who have also been delayed because of this entire situation. As if the situation was not tense enough, the police have been called and were waiting to jump into the action.
As a last ditch effort, the Captain took mercy on these passengers and went on the airplane to speak to them. He explained to them that they were taking the airplane hostage and by using it as leverage to negotiate a deal they were essentially "hijacking" the plane. If the police were to take these passengers off by force, they may be taken into custody or have to deal with the legal ramifications of their actions.
He did not mince words but they worked. One by one the filed off the airplane.
At this point you may think the story ends, but nope, the saga continues. They got off the plane, but stayed on the bridge of the aircraft (basically the hallway that connects the airplane to the airport) thus successfully baring the next flight from leaving.
One lady threw down her bags and started throwing a crying fit. I can't say I blame her to be honest, she was stranded with a young child and she won't be reuniting with her family for the most important day of the year in Chinese culture.
As I was leaving the bridge, I heard gate agents give money from their own pockets to appease the passengers who wanted to be compensated. It was rough all around and I was glad to go. We were compassionate but the whole ordeal has been out of our control the entire time. So we left it to the gate agents.
Some of our duty periods have exceeded 24 hours at this point. When we got to the hotel, I remember a few of us went to the only diner that was open and ate something quick and crashed for 10 hours. (Typically a Hong Kong layover was 24 hours.)
The next morning, when we reported for duty to bring the flight home, we saw the same gate agents working our flight. I asked how it went. Turns out, they only went home for two hours and came straight back to report for duty.
Everyone was taken care of but I don't know if the company ever compensated or did anything to smooth things over with the passengers. I just remember writing two pages, single space, documenting the whole ordeal. But since I never heard anything about it, I assume all was well that ends well.
As for me, I got paid duty over time, continuous duty day and draft for that three day pairing. Which basically meant for a 30 hour flight (done in three days), I got paid the equivalent of an entire month's pay.
But believe you me, I would NEVER do that flight again. Worst. Flight. Ever.
I was so traumatized afterwards I did not fly Hong Kong for an entire year after that episode. You could not pay me enough to step foot into that situation again.
Thanks for reading. That was the longest post ever!!!! Kudos to you if you actually read the entire thing.