Wednesday, August 27, 2008

To fly or not to fly

Plane crashes and emergency landings. Air companies have enjoyed better moments than the last few weeks.

It's been a remarkably bad month so far for flying passengers. Just last week I told my parents not to worry about phone calls announcing a safe arrival as flying remains, statistically, much safer than driving a car. But then there were the two appalling crashes in Madrid and Kyrgyztan, the emergency landing of an Easyjet Stansted-Sardinia flight and, two days ago, the loss of pressure (and emergency landing) on a Ryanair plane from Bristol to Girona.

The latter has received extra news coverage because a number of passengers complained that their emergency oxygen masks had failed to work properly. According to Arctic explorer Pen Hanlow, who was on the plane with his family, his mask "wasn't filling up with oxygen and neither was my son's", adding that other passengers later complained of a similar plight.

Of course, Ryanair denied the allegations and claimed that "the oxygen masks were working and correct safety procedures were followed". But Ryanair will say nothing about the way it dealt with the entire situation. Passengers complained that they heard nothing during and after their ordeal and that getting hold of a company rep via their contacts is proving impossible. No surprises there. Typical Ryanair-style, as we wrote last month.

Yet, you'd expect a company that last year managed to pocket £363 million from "ancillary revenue" (i.e. payment fees, priority boarding, and other stealth charges) alone, to be a bit less arrogant in the way they handle customers.

Meanwhile, on the subject of safety procedures, am I the only one puzzled by the way instructions are hurriedly dished out before taking off? You get air hostesses robotically going through the motions in some incomprehensible proto-language in the midst of engine roaring. I don't really blame them, motivation and all, but as they're clearly reading it off a script, often in a language that isn't their own, mouth too close to the mic, you just get what sounds like 40 seconds of muffled breathless mumbling: "that... zzz...that... hafety... zzzgthth... tht...mssppp ...ppthatehththth...exit...pp...enjoy... tzhetht... atheflight with...(cue the name of a low fare company)". It sounds like everything but the word "priority".

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