In a flap
Years ago, I worked as a stewardess on the old Viscount Propeller airplanes. It was great fun, but we had many hair-raising experiences. One of the more humorous was the day we flew to Orly, Paris to pick up French passengers and bring them to London.
We ‘deadheaded’ the night before (this means we flew over without passengers). The next day was very hot and the plane had been sat on the tarmac for hours. The cabin crew consisted of me acting as Senior Stewardess, Chantal, the other Stewardess, the Captain and First Officer.
We boarded the aircraft thirty minutes before the passengers. (This was regulation, to ensure the cabin was clean, complete paperwork and upload supplies). As a stewardess working on the old Viscounts, we had to operate a switch (located in the galley at the back of the plane) which puts the cabin temperature into “intercool.” This means the cabin cools down once the engines get going.
Eventually we began boarding the passengers. I was so glad I was working with Chantal that day who could speak much better French than I; she was from Geneva and so spoke perfect French. One by one the passengers took their seats and began to complain about the heat. Chantal did a P.A. explaining that it would cool down as soon as the engines were running and went through the announcements and safety procedures in French. We took our seats as the plane taxied out to the runway and waited for our turn to take off.
The plane sped down the runway and we
were airborne. After a few minutes we realized the temperature in the
cabin wasn’t changing. Chantal and I removed our seat belts and went to
the back of the aircraft to check the switch was in ‘intercool.’ It
was, but nothing was happening and it was much more bumpy than usual,
and we had to hold on. We didn’t appear to be lifting out of the cumulus clouds.
Then, we got the call every stewardess dreads. The “crew call.” In our
case this meant a blue light flashed over the flight deck cabin telling
me that I had to go forward and speak to the captain. I knew something
was wrong. My legs felt weak as I passed passengers who were
complaining and fanning themselves with the safety literature.
The captain explained that the flaps were ‘tech’ (stuck). After taking this information in, I realized we would be okay. Luckily, the old Viscount aircraft have a manual override for virtually everything. He explained that the first officer would come back and manually override the switch and move the flaps. My job was to roll back the carpet in the center isle so we could get access to the hatch.
Okay, I thought,
how am I going to explain this one to the passengers? It was very bumpy
and I had to hold onto the tops of the seats as I weaved my way back to
a white-faced Chantal. I thought about how the passengers would feel
watching us roll back the center carpet. Then suddenly I had an idea and ran it by the Captain who gave it the okay. I got Chantal to do a P.A. (in French) and explain that due to the heat
in the cabin, the First Officer was going to come back and let in some
fresh air to cool them down. (which of course, is impossible). We told them that we would lift the center
carpet and then safely let in some cold air. There was a round of
applause and “merci, merci!” We rolled the carpet back which exposed a
large hatch in the center. In the hold at the back was a rather large metal gadget approximately 5ft high, which looked a bit like a giant sardine
can opener. This slotted neatly into a hole in the hatch. The first
officer started turning the device and the passengers applauded him. My
job was to look discreetly out of the window and give him the thumbs up
when I saw the flaps move.
Needless to say, it worked. After just a few turns of the manual override it kick-started the automatic flap switch on the flight deck and we had no further problems. The passengers thought we were wonderful and had no idea of the dilemma we had been in. We laughed until we cried, relaying our story to the rest of the crew back home.
Copyright © Helen Lewis 2009
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