The whole cricket world was talking last week about Kevin Pietersen’s “switch hitting” when he changed from right-handed to left-handed during a one-day game between his team, England and New Zealand.
Whatever switch he hit, and whatever furore or frustration he caused, it could not have been worse than the switch that Caribbean Airlines pulled on those of us who boarded a flight from Antigua to Barbados and Trinidad last week Friday evening.
The flight was late getting into Antigua, but we were on board early. By 06:30 p.m., we were all seated and waiting for take off, and waited, and waited and waited some more.
Then the pilot announced that the switch for one of the engines was not working and the engineers were taking a look at it. He would tell us more later. Time passed and they were still scrutinizing the switch.
“Better dat happen while we on the ground and not over the sea,” someone said, and we all nodded in agreement.
My colleague, Jamaican legal eagle Derek Jones, eventually joined us from First Class and helped to enliven the atmosphere, which by that time was starting to deteriorate, both because we were on what seemed to be bottled air and also because people were getting anxious, fed-up and frustrated simultaneously.
Derek told us a Jamaican variation of this joke. A Jamaican countryman was on an Air Jamaica flight headed for Montego Bay from Atlanta.
The Jamaican had not been home for many years and was anxious to get there. His entire extended family and village had been assembling at the airport since early afternoon waiting for him to arrive. Halfway into the flight, the Captain announced on the intercom that one of the plane’s four engines had burned out.
After assuring passengers that the plane could fly on three engines, the pilot told them the downside.
The plane would fly slower and would not reach MoBay at 08:00 p.m. as scheduled, but an hour later, at 09:00 p.m. The Jamaican was upset about the delay but still thought it would be ok. His family and friends would wait for him.
Another hour went by and then the Captain was on the intercom again, announcing gravely that the plane had lost another engine.
He reassured the passengers that the plane could fly on two engines and that they would now be an additional hour-and-a-half late, meaning they would not arrive in MoBay until 10:30 p.m. The Jamaican was upset but not yet angry.
Another hour went by and things seemed to be going well. Then the Captain came on the intercom and announced that they had lost the third engine. He reassured passengers that the plane could fly on one engine but it would take much longer to arrive in MoBay and the new estimated time of arrival was 12:20 p.m. This was the last straw for the Jamaican.
He exploded, “This is stupidness! Dem can’t do people dat! If this engine give up we will be up here whole night!”
We almost were, except that we were up in the plane but the plane was down on the ground while the engineers were switch hitting. At about 08:00 p.m., the Captain and the engineers had decided that enough was enough, the switch had to be switched, and that they would get a replacement switch from Trinidad.
In the meantime, we would deplane and go to the relative comfort of the departure lounge while the plane was being repaired.
This took forever. The flight attendants strolled down the aisle with free drinks, a move which convinced us of the gravity of the situation, because we all knew that things had to be really bad, desperate in fact, for Caribbean Airlines to even contemplate such a move. “Why it taking so long for us to get off the plane?” I asked a flight attendant.
She shrugged, “They say they have to prepare for the passengers?” “What they preparing,” I questioned, the unaccustomed free drink going to my head, “Caviare and champagne?” She laughed, “Whatever it is, they taking real long.”
Eventually we filed out of the plane and headed for the departure lounge. Even though we had gone through security to the lounge and then to the airplane, and were then escorted off the plane to the lounge, we had to go through security again.
I wondered at the time if the Antigua Airport Authority had done this because they suspected some member of the crew might have staged this elaborate charade for a passenger to load up with drugs on the flight and get them into the country illegally.
But we ate the cheese sandwiches and hot dogs provided for us while Derek regaled us with more jokes and lines like, “Are we having fun?”
Then we started speculating. How long would it take to get a plane? How long would it take to get a part? How long would it take to get people to fly the plane? All this led, of course, to wondering how long would we be stuck in Antigua.
At about 10:00 p.m. we heard a plane arrive. I thought it was an American Air Force jet. It turned out to be the plane with the part.
Then, almost magically, three of us, all veterans of BWIA and Caribbean Airlines encounters, came up with the same thought, “What if they bring the wrong part?”
* Tony Deyal was last seen saying that a jet engine is just a big fan used to keep the pilots cool. When it stops, you can actually watch them start sweating.
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