British Airways flight BA0074 was supposed to be a routine flight, one of the about 360 the airline operates every year from Nigeria to the UK.
But it turned out to be anything but.
Passengers checked in on the flight were supposed to depart Lagos on Saturday June 7, 2014 at 23.00 but they ended up spending 6 full hours on board the aircraft before being asked to disembark the next morning. Then they had to wait another 22 hours before their plane was air borne at 3am on June 9, 2014.
Trouble started a little after midnight when anxious passengers aboard for over one hour began to ask questions. The cabin crew informed them that there was a problem with the aircraft but that “it was being sorted out.”
Two hours later, the plane was still on the tarmac engines running, air conditioner roaring, passengers fretting.
The obligatory airline meal was served and those who made enquiries were told that the problem was being fixed.
Many passengers ended up falling asleep and many woke up believing they were en route London, but alas, the plane had never left the landing dock.
The cabin crew would finally inform passengers that a minor incident had occurred during fuelling. After discharging fuel, the tanker driver, they alleged, had failed to remove the nozzle and in driving away, tore off the aircraft’s fuel manifold valve. The ground engineers fixed the problem but the plane could not take off until officials from its makers, Boeing, had verified its airworthiness.
That verification did not come until about 4.30am when the pilot announced that Boeing Engineers had failed to give the all clear and so the aircraft would not be taking off.
“I know you are upset,” the pilot, Captain Graham announced from the cockpit. “But do not take out your anger on the cabin crew. If you must, take it out on me.”
Anxious and upset, passengers who were already comparing the incident to the infamous Arik debacle in Ghana that went viral on youtube filed out, stopping by the door of the aircraft to write their names and phone numbers.
Passengers on that flight included notable business, political and media heavyweights; Oba Otudeko, business mogul and major shareholder of First bank; Aig Imokhuede, immediate past CEO of Access Bank; Senator Florence Ita Giwa; Honourable Fashinro, federal legislator and owner, Classic FM, Ladi Balogun, scion of the FCMB group, Eniola Bello, Managing Editor of Thisday amongst others.
“This people can’t handle crisis, they can’t handle crisis,” a gentleman with a goatee kept repeating as he shook his head
About an hour later Alex Nwanorue, a British Airways staff took charge. Professional and courteous he calmed frayed nerves and ended up providing buses that ferried willing passengers to various hotels. Business Class passengers ended up at Sheraton while the rest were taken to Hotel Ibis, Welcome Inn hotel and other hotels in the contiguous Ajao estate area.
Hours later, most passengers received emails and text messages from British Airways asking them to return to the airport for their onward jouney to London.
The email read: Dear Customer, Flight BA0074 on 07-J/LOS will now depart 23.55 local time on the 8th June. Please check in between 2000 and 23.00 local time. BA apologises.
Passengers were informed that the damaged part had been flown down from London and the aircraft fixed. It was chaotic that evening at the check-in counters as two sets of passengers; those booked on the cancelled flight and those booked on the flight of the day; struggled to obtain their boarding passes.
But it wasn’t over yet, because even though check-in and immigration was concluded by 10.30pm, passengers would be kept waiting for another 4 hours and it was at about 1am that their patience ran out; a full hour and a half after the passengers checked in on the Saturday flight had taken off.
Economy class passengers stormed the First and Club World lounge and demanded to speak to a British Airways staff. The saucy female staff manning the desk committed a huge error of judgement when she accused the irate passengers of “making noise.”
That was when all hell was let loose and it would take all of one hour to calm the passengers who said they had been left in the hall leading to their departure gate without anyone bothering to provide an explanation.
“What is going on,” a visibly angry man screamed. “How can you leave us here without answers?”
“Look at us. We are sweating in the hall. There is no AC. Children are crying,” a woman in a red blouse screamed.
“Don’t tell me to keep calm. Don’t tell me to keep calm,” a passenger shouted at another passenger. “Is it because you are inside AC?”
An elderly woman’s intervention was instantly shot down while another man was silenced with “Don’t tell me what to do. Is it because you are a white man? How can she say we are making noise? It’s our right to know what is happening. Why did they let people who came today leave before us?”
Security men were summoned while the saucy staff sought refuge, first, in the Business Center then in the rest room. It took an announcement from another staff to calm nerves.
“Let me begin with an apology” she said to boos. “The engineers are working on the plane and we should begin boarding in 40 to 45 minutes. They have …”
The crowd didn’t let her finish as boos and jeers drowned out her words.
The crowd, somewhat pacified, dispersed but they would wait for another hour before a harried British Airways staff announced: “This boarding call is for British Airways flight BA0074 which is now boarding at Gate E63.”
Her parting shot, “This is a final boarding announcement,” was met with derisive laughter.