What was that horrendous buzzing sound?
Julie Margot tried to ignore it as she indulged in the fluttering kisses that Pablo was bestowing on her. She leant back in her sun-lounger, listening to the rhythmic sounds of the Caribbean Sea and sipping her Lychee Daiquiri with extra rum, looking down at his tanned, glistening body as he ….
Something tickled her nose, and she brushed it away.
‘Shall we swim, naked?’ He looked up at her with a flash of white teeth and eyes as green as the ocean…
‘Ooh yes,’ Julie said, ‘what a marvellous idea!’ She jumped up and quickly removed her swimsuit. The beach was deserted, so no one would see. Where was everyone, anyway? She thought, confused.
The buzzing was getting louder, and whatever it was that had tickled her nose kept coming back, but she couldn’t see it. Pablo was already in the water calling to her, but she felt disorientated, her surroundings were beginning to blur. She tried to see what it was but when she rubbed her eyes everything was getting dark.
Where was she?
Opening her eyes again she found herself in darkness with just a soft white light coming from behind her head, dimly lighting the padded walls that hemmed her in on all sides. There, just above her was something hanging, a string tickling her nose.
Was it night time? Was she at home?
Julie touched the object, making it swing away from her, it was something unfamiliar to her, and yet she had been here, in this tiny bed, before…
‘Grab your mask and put it on, breath normally.’ A man with an Italian accent was telling her to put a mask on, but she was sure Pablo was Spanish, so it wasn’t him… Julie was suddenly awake, catapulted out of her dream about Pablo and the Caribbean, and back into her crew bunk. She could hear muffled voices, and a shriek from the bunk next to hers. She grabbed at her oxygen mask and held it over her nose and mouth, eyes opened wide to the darkness. Her ears popped as the plane began to descend at an alarming rate.
Antonio, the Italian purser, with his smooth Italian accent, sounded calm and reassuring. She could hear voices in the background as he spoke, passengers in the cabin clearly panicking. The fluttering in her stomach was threatening her own composure, and she focussed on her training, thirty years of drills that were embedded in her brain, hopefully never to be used.
Decompression when in crew rest.
Seat Belt signs will illuminate
The white light from behind her
Continuous buzzer and masks drop out
Yep, that happened exactly as they said it would.
Don your mask and wait until the aircraft levels off
Make reassurance PA when possible
Well done Antonio.
When safe to do so transfer to portable oxygen if necessary and return to cabin
She laid still and waited for that bit, planning how she would be the quickest one out of bed and down the stairs. What was next?
Check toilets for incapacitated passengers
She’d leave that to her crew, they all knew the same drills, but she was the manager, what did she have to do? Julie scrunched her eyes together, trying to picture the next part of the drill that lay deep inside the thousand-page manual that she thought she knew inside-out.
If no word from the pilots, go to flight deck
Yes, that was it, she would go straight to the flight deck and they would tell her what the heck had happened, and what they were going to do about it. She tried to work out where they were, having left Seattle some hours ago. Over Canada? Over the Atlantic?
Julie felt the panic start to build, her usual calmness and ‘everything will be fine’ attitude might not actually work today. What if it was really bad and they had to make an emergency landing? She was laid in a bed inside a metal box up in the tail of their aircraft with four other crew. Would they all be found like this, still strapped to their bunks like they were in their coffins, her hairnet still on? She reached behind her and pulled it off, there was no way the rescue services were seeing her like some little old lady, dead or alive! All those handsome young men.
She threw her duvet back as her temperature rose, inwardly cursing her body for choosing now to have a menopausal flush, the first she had had in weeks. The next problem hit her with the force of a Jumbo Jet and she stifled a cry as she realised; she was in just her underwear, and it didn’t even match! Julie! She chastised herself. Always so meticulous, you never knew when someone might see your underwear after all, but she had let herself go a little lately, the flow of dates and spontaneous hook-ups had definitely been dwindling this last year or so. She couldn’t bear it, the idea that she would be found amongst the plane wreckage in a floral bra and spotted green knickers, even if they were Victoria’s Secret! The thought of the posthumous humiliation was unbearable, and Julie’s jumbled thoughts digressed to why she hadn’t packed pyjamas for crew rest, or slept in her uniform just this once like the others did? Right now, a creased blouse would have been such a minor issue in comparison.
Still they descended, Julie feeling the weightlessness of her body against the seatbelt that held her on her bed, wondering whether she would actually float to the ceiling that sat just a couple of feet above her if she undid it. She fought with the forces to sit up and reached to the bottom of her bunk, picking up her neatly folded uniform and struggling to put it on as the plane hurtled downwards. Crash or no crash, she would not be found like this!
Finally, they seemed to level out, and the Captain’s voice came over the PA.
‘Sorry about that Ladies and Gentlemen.’ He sounded quite calm she thought with relief. ‘Well you may have gathered that we lost pressurisation there, due to reasons unknown at the moment, and had to descend rather quickly to a safe altitude. Rest assured though, we are now cruising at ten thousand feet and it is safe to breath without your oxygen masks.’ Phew, thought Julie, pushing hers to the side and checking with her fingers that her French twist hairstyle had survived.
‘Unfortunately,’ the captain continued, ‘we are going to need to divert, and we are just speaking to people on the ground to find out our options. As soon as we know anything more we will be sure to let you know. Meanwhile please remain seated with your seatbelts fastened and follow the cabin crew’s instructions. Cabin crew you can move around the cabin, please prepare for landing.’
Multiple seatbelts clicked open as the crew released themselves. Julie was out in a heartbeat, shuffling at speed to the foot of her bed and swinging her legs into the stairwell, descending through the door at the bottom into the cabin. The galley below was a mess with debris everywhere. Juice and water jugs lay amongst hundreds of plastic glasses and a metal atlas box was open on the floor, spilling its tea and coffee supplies everywhere. Julie’s manager head noted that it had clearly not been latched into its stowage as it should have been, but she was discerning enough to know that now was not the time to be reprimanding crew for trivial errors.
‘Is everyone okay?’ she asked Antonio, who was knelt down mopping up the floor with paper towels, beads of sweat running down the side of his face as he worked quickly.
‘Yes, they are just out checking on the passengers now,’ he affirmed without looking up.
Julie stepped over to the door and glanced out of the window. She was hugely relieved to see that they were over land, and not the ocean. Despite the pages of the manual that told them how to evacuate a plane on water, and the training the pilots had to land on it, she seriously doubted how successful they would be on the Atlantic. Hopefully there was an airfield nearby which they could divert to quickly, she thought, as her legs were feeling decidedly shaky.
‘Okay, I’ll make a conference call once I’ve spoken to the boys,’ she said as she walked into the aisle.
‘Yes, Boss,’ Antonio replied.
Julie smiled at this and walked away. No one else ever called her ‘Boss’ and she wasn’t sure how she felt about it, but somehow in his Italian accent and from his sweet young face, with those thick long eyelashes, it didn’t bother her, or perhaps it was simply that she had much bigger things to worry about right now than the way her crew addressed her.
There was an unexpected calmness in the cabin as she walked towards the front. People were speaking in hushed voices to each other, she couldn’t hear what they were saying, but she saw the way they looked up at her, studying her face for reassurance which she was struggling to show. This wasn’t turbulence, when she could sit opposite a terrified passenger and smile, tell them it was perfectly normal, because it wasn’t. She tried to read their minds from their facial expressions, wondering how different their thoughts about the situation must be. Some would still be fearing death no doubt, whilst the optimists would be celebrating that it was clearly over; she wondered if anyone else had considered their choice of underwear?
As she passed the next galley there was a sudden, dull thud. It wasn’t loud, but it seemed to shake the whole aircraft. In all her thirty years of flying Julie had never heard a noise like it and her stomach lurched. The interim calmness was replaced with gasps and cries. Her own heart started beating hard and fast as she sped up, her mind racing, trying to work out what on earth was going on now. She pressed forward through the cabin, her senses heightened, listening for clues as to what was happening to them. Behind the sound of the passengers she wondered if she was mistaken in thinking that the aircraft had fallen silent. The background noise of the engines, which was always there but you didn’t notice because it was ever present, had been replaced by an eerie quietness. The half-smile that she had fixed on her face for the benefit of the passengers was gone, even the most professional flight attendant couldn’t pretend things were okay right now.