Published: November 11th 2012
July 4th 2012
So with mixed emotions, dominated a tad by excitement, I left Paris and a year's worth of memories behind and set off for Africa, a continent I had never visited before. My flight was Paris-Barcelona, then Barcelona Marrakech. I have completely forgotten the Paris-Barcelona flight now but the second flight is a flight I shall remember until the moment that my memory is no longer.
To be honest I had been running at 100mph for as long as I could remember and taking off on this flight was about the first time I started to relax in a good week or two. I had been so busy giving my farewells to those that had played a part in my life in Paris, enjoying what Paris has to offer, packing and working, that I hadn't had time to catch up with myself. I find flying is nearly always a good remedy for this.
On taking off, I was gazing out the window, whereby I found myself directly above the wing, the safest place on a plane, according to an engineer I once flew with. I was feeling completely relaxed/content and was admiring the beautiful full moon over the wing when a fire ball burst out of the very wing I had been looking at for the previous 5 or so minutes. At the same time there was a loud noise, the lights went out and my heart began to beat about 100 times faster than it ever has before.
The lights and electronics were back in working order pretty much immediately and I remember my senses were more alert and clear than I can remember them ever being. People were talking hurridly, a few Moroccan women began having panic attacks and I just went into some animal/survival zone where I was analysing what I should/could do. I honestly thought I was going to die, smoke was trailing the plane and the pilot had changed course without saying anything.
Basically what my instinct told me was that there was nothing that I could do and that if I was going to die, I was going to die, so I began to think about my family, my life and those people who have graced it and contributed to it. It was interesting because while teaching in France I had used this video http://www.ted.com/talks/ric_elias.html
on several occasions. I don't know if it was because I had watched this video but my mental processes pretty much followed the same pattern. During that time I thought about my family and the people who have left the biggest impressions on my life. I thought about the damaged fences that were still to mend and I thought about the amazing moments that have made up my life. In essence I came to the same conclusions as the guy on the video above.
Maybe I am being melodramatic but that is genuinely how I felt at that time, I didn't speak a word to anybody and I prayed to whatever it is that makes life tick to let mine keep ticking a little longer. The pilot came on the intercom and said that we would have to perform an emergency landing. I crossed my fingers and contemplated my life, the good, the bad and the ugly.
When we landed there was an audible en masse sigh of relief and the loudest applause I have ever heard ensued. The lady next to me had been sleeping when the bird strike happened. At the time we didn't know what had happened and we were talking about what it could have been. Many people, in fact most of the people on the plane hadn't seen the fireball. It was night time and the vast majority hadn't been looking out of the window. I said to the lady next to me that I didn't think we would be making it to Marrakech and that I thought that they would ground the plane until it had been thoroughly inspected and that that wouldn't be anytime soon.
To my surprise, after 3 men had looked around outside with flashlights for about 15m, the pilot announced that we would be taking off again shortly. One of the Morrocan ladies was still freaking out and quite frankly I didn't and don't blame her. The Vueling staff announced that people could get off the plane if they would like. A lot of customers went and talked to the Vueling staff about this and as they were clearly not used to relanding because of birdstrikes they were saying different things to different people. The main question people were asking was if they could get another flight and if they could get their money back. To the first question the answer was no, all the flights to Marrakech were booked for the next two weeks and to the second question the final answer was that they didn't know whether or not the money would be refunded.
In other words, Vueling said that you could get off the plane but it would be nigh on impossible for you to get to Marrakech and that they were not sure whether or not Vueling would refund the flight. I and 9 other people got off the plane. This was the first and only time to this point that I have been on a plane where I have seen a fireball and therefore had to land with smoke trailing the plane. That was enough for me to make that decision. I also was less than impressed with the pilot's decision as I believe a 20m flashlight inspection is not enough to assess the damage of a bird strike and that the main reason he had made the decision as quickly as he had was because the plane was booked in for 4 consecutive flights that night - that is to say I thought that his decision may have been influenced by economic considerations.
As soon as I got off the plane I felt relieved and when i talked to the other 9 people, of which 8 were men and none were Moroccan or Spanish, we were all unaminous that there was no way in hell we would be getting on that plane again. We were also worried for the passengers that had stayed on the flight and were shocked that they were flying. Albeit that they would have lost their holidays and were probably aware due to being predominately Spanish and Moroccan of what service was to come from Vueling.
After getting our luggage, we found out that we had to go to Vueling's customer service desk to ask about possible refunds, other flights etc. On walking there I met the American couple that had got off the plane as well and the guy was fuming, he said good luck with those idiots and don't get angry like I did and went off in a hiffy. The 3 Brazilian guys that had got off at that point also bid farewell. They were all loaded and were just happy to be alive. One of their mothers had already booked them a hotel in Barcelona, from Brazil and as it was 1am they couldn't be bothered with the hassle.
So I went to the customer service desk with another American guy and we enquired as to what there was to do. They were laughing about the fact that the plane had landed due to birds hitting it and were basically trying to control themselves. They had clearly enjoyed the previous complaint from the American who had gone off fuming. Anyway, they informed us that there was nothing that they could do for us and that if we wanted we could fill out a complaint form. After 2 or 3 hours and having waited for the supervisor to start her shift, the result was the same and eventually I left the airport at 6am having spent the night at the airport.
3 months later I received an email from Vueling saying that they were investigating the incident. They said they were doing a quality report, I replied saying I didn't think much of their 'quality' and that until they gave me my money back, I would continue telling anybody who cared to listen that their airline is the worst I have used. They responded that they regretfully couldn't refund my money.
Last week Curtis, the American guy I complained with, sent me an email saying that he had suprisingly received an email from Vueling saying the he had had his flight refunded. So I copied and pasted that and sent Vueling an email asking if they could explain why they choose to refund some customers and not others. 2 hours later I received an email from Vueling apolgising for the ' inconvenience this unpleasant incident may have caused you' and stated that they had refunded my money.
So in conclusion, Vueling is the worst airline I have ever used and I don't recommend using them to anyone. However due to the birdstrike, a lot of things have since happened that I am extremely grateful for and yes, believing that you are going to die on a plane does make you put things in perspective and appreciate life and those that grace it a little more...