My Scariest Day in the Sky

There aren’t many jobs where you begin your work day in one country and finish it in another. Similarly, it isn’t every day that you come to work and are confined to a highly pressurised environment, for hours on end, with the same people! Such a unique environment brings unique circumstances and challenges that all Cabin Crew must be aware of, regardless of whether or not they actually happen.

Emergency

On my first ever operational Turn Around flight I was faced with a medical emergency. A Turn Around is a flight that doesn’t involve a layover, usually to a destination close to your base (less than 5-6 hours flight) where the crew doesn’t actually disembark the aircraft; they simply pick up new passengers, turn around and come back. My first flight as a fully functional crew member was to Bombay (Mumbai) in India. I was completing my final Cabin Checks during boarding, and my position was at the front of economy, on the borderline between business and economy classes.

All of the sudden I heard a clattering behind me and the curtain between Business Class and Economy class was flung open. I caught a glimpse of a man crumpled on the floor, struggling to breathe and gasping for air. “Get the EMK!” my fellow crew member shouted at me. I felt like my brain was moving separately to my body. I could feel my blood pounding in my ears and the adrenalin coursing through my body propelled my legs to retrieve the EMK.

I pushed my way past passengers, crew and the man’s screaming children to give the Business Class crew member the Emergency Medical Kit. This contains lifesaving medication and the device that calls MedLink, the onboard 24×7 international doctor service that gives crew advice and instruction on how to save lives in a medical emergency in the sky.

Staying Calm

I tried to remain calm myself, and to keep the rest of the cabin calm while we listened to the Senior crew members administer first aid and telling the Captain to call a doctor. Luckily, this Medical Emergency occurred while we were still on the runway and the man who, we later realised, had suffered a heart attack, was given medical attention on the aircraft by paramedics and was taken to hospital. We had now been on the ground, with the aircraft doors open (and brakes on, which means we don’t get paid) for almost three hours. We were briefed by the Captain and the Purser on the unwell man and his family, and asked if we were OK to operate the flight after the shock of a catastrophic medical emergency*. I felt comfortable to continue operating the flight in the knowledge that our passenger was being taken care of by the best medical professionals available.

The flight itself was uneventful after that, and there were thankfully no more events or dramas on board. Thankfully there were no more issues on the way back to Dubai either. The new passengers seemed to intuitively know that something had happened onboard (despite not being delayed very much) and they were kind and quiet. The mood was sombre as we completed our landing duties and cleared the cabin ready for the next flight. As we disembarked the aircraft via the stairs from the Aerobridge, there was a man in a suit waiting for us at the Crew Bus. This was a first… He introduced himself as the duty manager for the day, and said that he was very sorry to tell us that the man on our flight had passed away. I felt ill. All I could picture was his distraught wife and young children as they watched on while the crew gave him medical attention. Then I felt selfish for feeling sick and sad with shock, because imagine how horrible this poor person’s family felt. Whilst I was trying to collect my thoughts and listen to information about Employee Support (grief counselling for shocking occurrences) one of the Crew Members next to me whispered to a colleague “Great – now I’ve missed out on my dinner plans because some guy had a heart attack!”

The Aftermath

I was disgusted at her comment and her behaviour as my fellow crew member. A man had died on our aircraft today and all this girl cared about was her dinner plans! I was distraught with emotion, tired from being on duty for almost 15 hours straight. What was meant to be a 5 hour flight there and back had turned into a huge, emotional, and drawn out day. I thanked my seniors for their support and hard work, and went and sat on the Crew Bus to go back to my apartment building. I was silent and sad. I missed my family, I missed my friends and my boyfriend and my dog and my house. On top of all that, I felt so overwhelmingly sorry for this poor man and the family he had left behind. I ran myself a piping hot bath, and sat there until it was tepid and uncomfortable. After that, I slept for 12 hours straight and woke up feeling much less defeated than before, but still quite emotional.

What had happened to our passenger was unbelievably sad and scary for everyone involved. There was no lesson to be learnt here, and no silver lining. I felt that if something this confronting had happened on my very first flight, then how bad could the rest of them be? I felt as though I was a little stronger, a little tougher and more compassionate than before. Personally, that was one of the scariest days of my life, let alone flights! Looking back, all I can say is that I am glad that my Cabin Crew instinct and training kicked in. I was proud of that, and my fellow team members being mostly compassionate and hardworking. We ensured everyone was as comfortable and safe as possible given the situation.

Lessons Learned

Events such as those on this flight should encourage us all to be more patient, understanding tolerant of others. Never hold how someone acts towards you against them. Everyone is fighting a battle that we know nothing about, and the sword that fights the battle is compassion! Hopefully this has given you an insight into how distressing and emotionally taxing flying as Cabin Crew can be. It is one of the most exciting and rewarding jobs on the planet, but it can also be an inherently difficult one.

*A Catastrophic event on an aircraft is a fire, damage to the aircraft or endangerment of a life on board.

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