(Calm before the storm – this was taken just before we took off from Lisbon to Cape Verde)
This is our final leg of the journey from KL to Cape Verde and this time, we changed the airline from Emirates to TAP Air Portugal, flying on the smaller Airbus A320. And given the fact that we have been on transit in Lisbon for the last 8 hours, we were very anxious to get to our next flight and reach our final destination to Cape Verde for a hot shower, clean change of clothes and a good sleep on a soft bed.
We lined up at the boarding counter, cleared by the TAP staff after verifying the cabin luggage size and went down to catch the shuttle bus to the plane.
There were 2 buses waiting for us – we took the second bus as the first bus was already full. Both buses took off at almost the same time but immediately I sensed some is wrong as I saw the first bus turning to the left and the second bus where we were in, turning to the right. As the bus kept moving on the opposite side of the airport, we only wondered if the driver is taking some kind of shortcut.
He finally stopped the bus in front of a lone plane parked on the far side of the airport but there were no airline staff waiting for us by the plane. There was no staircase leading from the ground to the door of the plane. Everyone including the driver sensed that they have come to the wrong plane to Cpe Verde. The driver quickly took his phone and chatted furiously in Portuguese and then turned the bus around back to the place where we first boarded the bus.
Once reached, he then turned the bus to the left on the same path as the first bus. When we reached the plane, the first bus already offloaded the passengers and was driving away from the place. We had to rush to get into the plane BUT I did not fail to notice that this particular plane was parked just outside a huge hangar with words “MAINTENANCE” on the front. I did not like the coincidence of this – with the bus missing the plane the first time and now, the correct plane parked outside a maintenance hangar.
The take-off to Cape Verde was slightly delayed due to the heavy air traffic but it was a smooth take-off nonetheless. There was no ICE system onboard but we were not complaining – we were too tired to watch anything by now.
(Take it or leave it – there is no option for the main dish and unfortunately, it was not “halal” for me and I did not book vegan meal this flight)
The stewardess started the onboard meal services – I remembering booking a vegan meal on TAP but could not remember for which flight – was it to Cape Verde or from Cape Verde. There were no options for the meal and they only served one thing – a beef-based dish which I could not take. I only took the drinks and passed the beef meal to my colleague who was sitting next to me and I went to sleep. I immediately knocked out after 10 minutes.
I could not remember how long I have been asleep when someone woke me up. The plane engine did not sound right but it did not cross my mind then. My colleague leaned over and said that the pilot had just made an announcement – there was a problem with the plane and they are heading back to Lisbon. Still feeling drowsy from my deep sleep – I did not catch what my colleague said at first and I had to ask him again.
At first, I did not panic – mainly because everything was so calm in the cabin with other passengers minding their own business and the stewardess assuring that it is just a “precaution” and it was for the safety of the passengers. I was more of got angry about the delay to reach the final destination but I know that the pilot is doing in the best interest of the passengers.
(This shot was taken before the takeoff to Cape Verde but surprisingly everyone kept their calm when the decision to turn around was made. One group of tourist even laughing at the back listening to jokes)
As I said, I did not panic first but then I remembered we were flying over the sea and other than the Canary Island (I did not know that we passed the Canary Island, made the U-turn and passed the island again), there was no other place to land other than in Lisbon. I looked out and in the pitch darkness; I only could see the sea. The irregular sound of the engine sounded even more irregular now.
This time, I panicked. I thought we were going to crash – I took the leaflet to check which the nearest exit was and I practised in my mind on how to brace myself and how to put on the life jacket. I thought I would never see my family again and all the “unfinished” work that I had left behind.
Then I realized I could not breathe – I adjusted the ventilation vent to the maximum and yet it did not help – I still feel like I am out of breath. I tried to calm down and take slow deep breathe in & out. Slowly it became easier to breathe and my panic attack seemed to reduce. I said a silent prayer – not revealing anything to my colleagues. I did not want them to panic too.
The plane had flown for 2 hours into the total journey to Cape Verde that takes 4 & a half hours to reach. So when we turned back, we still had another 2 hours to go before we can safely reach the continent of Europe and a safe place to land.
It seemed hours before the pilot came and informed that we are preparing to land in Lisbon. It was late at night by the time we were about to land. The danger was not over but at least if we crashed, we will not crash into the deep sea and the emergency crew will know where to look for the wreckage. The landing was bumpy but we made it. I had expected emergency vehicles to drive towards the plane but there was none. There were only buses to ferry the passengers back to the airport building for further action. What a disappointment!
The day was still not over – we were now stuck in Lisbon airport with no clear indication when we can fly again to Cape Verde. All passengers who were in the same flight, however, started to walk towards to quiet corner of the arrival hall and started to surround a TAP airline staff.
From far I could see that she was holding some files and seems to be arguing with some of the impatient passengers. We decided to wait until the impatient passengers get their views across and get the answers. Further, all were talking in Portuguese so we could not catch what was being discussed.
The staff finally was able to break away and we quickly approached her and asked what is the next plan that the airline is arranging for us. She looked kind of lost but addressed our queries as much as possible. She was not sure when the next flight to Cape Verde – the priority is is to sort out the accommodations for the passengers for the night and she is waiting for approval from the management on the details.
She asked us to wait for further instructions along with other passengers who are not from Lisbon (those passengers who stayed in Lisbon were asked to go back home and wait for the call from the airline). We were left with questions on what will happen next.
To be continued in Part 4…