“We do not need our lifejackets anymore,” a voice commanded over the intercom.
Lifejackets? Everyone was in a panic at the sound of that word. We watched as one of the flight attendants carried back a jacket that had been inflated by a trigger-happy unattended minor.
Who said anything about life jackets?
The South African woman sitting next to me and I looked at one another. I knew her expression mirrored mine. A combination of confusion and fear.
We had stopped in Zanzibar for a few hours because of a problem with our second engine. When we returned to the plane, the engine that had had problems was now running. They told us they didn’t want to turn it off in case anything happened again.
Shortly after takeoff, I noticed that everyone on the right side of the plane started looking around, pointing, and exclaiming. I glanced at a window across the aisle from me and noticed that one of the propellers had stopped turning. One of the South African woman’s daughters began exclaiming in Afrikaans.
The air-conditioning had stopped working so the flight attendants were going up and down the aisles handing out cups of water to both cool and calm us. Their faces and demeanors were the picture of serenity. They hadn’t begun panicking, so I told myself that that meant I didn’t need to worry either. I also thought that could be a clever trick they were playing to keep chaos from ensuing. At any rate, I tried to convince myself that if we were in any real danger we would turn around. We had taken off only moments earlier.
“Are we going to turn around?” The South African woman asked.
“We are going to fly and land with one engine,” the flight attendant responded, smiling calmly. It was a short flight—only 20 minutes from Zanzibar—to Dar, so I figured we could make it. I could tell that the plane was tipping slightly to the left, possibly in an attempt to keep the plane from losing control. Before we knew it, the captain announced that we would be landing—the only thing he’d said since the engine had gone out.
The descent was rather smooth, but once we touched down to the ground the plane began shaking from side to side, lights flickering and everything. I gripped my armrests as tightly as I could. Not a thought was going through my mind other than a classic African hymn I had grown up hearing since childhood. My God is a good God, yes He is! One woman’s hands flew up, one on the roof of the plane, one in the air praying fiercely. We began to slow until we eventually rolled to a smooth stop. After a momentary pause, all of the passengers broke into applause.
In all of that, the thing I found most odd was the lack of compensatory customer service. In America we would have been given all kinds of vouchers and air credits to keep us happy, whereas here, the pilot gave us a simple apology for our late arrival and “rough” flight and then sent us on our way. Strangely, that was the thing I found most jarring in that whole situation…