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Tuesday, April 24, 2012

How cabin connectivity can reduce interference

I know the topic sounds rather outrageous, but just think of it for a minute.

Imagine yourself being inside an aircraft taxiing towards the runway when the captain comes on the P/A and says that someone has left his/her mobile phone on and that he is not able to use the weather radar because of the interference and asks everyone to make sure their phones are switched off. Not long after, the flight attendants patrol the cabin and found the guilty passenger, a stern argument occur between the flight attendant and the passenger until the passenger yielded.

Such a scene isn't exactly unusual since the early days when mobile phones became everyone's essential communications device, and with the second mobile revolution, the smart devices, passengers feel even more attached to their devices and their need to connect with the world.

Now while the Captain of the flight is probably making it up about not being able to use the weather radar, let's imagine another scene:

The crew of a company with a fleet of corporate jets noted unusual problems with its ADF receiver on approach several times. On one trip, one of the pilots determined that the ADF receiver was affected whenever the CEO powered up his Blackberry just prior to landing, to see if he had any emails about his meeting appointment and the arrangements made between his landing and the appointments.

Now, this second story isn't fiction. The crew couldn't do much to the CEO who signs their pay checks, but it got to a point when they were on an NDB approach to an airport in low overcast condition when the CEO switched on his Blackberry again, and the ADF receiver deflected immediately. The Captain, the company chief pilot, immediately executed a missed approach, climbed to 10,000ft, went to the cabin, and demanded that the Blackberry be surrendered, citing that had the First Officer not been watching the ADF when the Blackberry was switched on, the aircraft would have lined up with anything other than the runway. He didn't let the CEO have the Blackberry again until the engines were shutdown after landing, and refused to start the engines without the CEO's Blackberry in his hand for every single remaining flight of the trip.

We all know that the problem is not the mobile phone specifications, but phones that are out of specs. Consumer electronics are unlike aviation electronics as they are not tested individually to ensure they are not making haywire electromagnetic emissions which can interfere with other aircraft equipment.

In that business jet case, the CEO got a new Blackberry, and the old one was tested and found to have problems. When it couldn't latch on to a cell tower, it started its powerful search, which unfortunately for that phone and the crew on that day, the phone started to emit radio signals in frequencies it should not have, with quite some power.

The company ended up having to test all electronic devices used by the CEO and division presidents, and those that failed, were sent back to the manufacturer. This company seems to have had bad luck with 2 - 3% of the devices failing the tests, although the person that provided the story suspects the number would generally be lower.

It would be very expensive to get consumer devices to be certified for use on airplanes. We've seen that banning use of these devices is in many cases a losing battle. We've also seen many cases of interference during approaches that couldn't be repeated in the lab. I've heard of cases of airplanes being thrown off the ILS due to cellphone interference. But note the trend there... most if not all of this occur at low altitudes. At high altitude, I haven't heard of any disturbing cases, either because the interference there is not there, or doesn't affect aircraft equipment other than the crew hearing an annoying rapid pulses on their radios.

So, why am I saying that cabin connectivity can reduce interference?
There are two main points:

1. Inducing devices to emit at low energy
Most of the interference problems from cellular devices are caused by high powered transmissions in search for a tower, or the struggle for the device to latch on to a cell tower. Installing picocells in airplanes connected to the ground through Air-To-Ground datalink or SatCom datalink, can allow the phones to be connected to a cell "tower" at low energy, which reduces or even eliminates stray radio frequency transmissions from these devices.

So providing for connectivity, can already reduce stray RF interference from onboard cellular devices.

But this doesn't always solve interference at low levels on its own. When you give a cellular device a choice of two signal sources of equally strong cellular towers, which one would it choose? Once the airplane goes to lower levels, the risk of cellular devices from latching onto a cell tower on the ground increase... and the lower the airplane goes, the more dangerous interference becomes. At this point, we must rely on the next benefit.

2. Induce the willingness to switch off and wait
The willingness of people to switch off their devices when they're told to depends on the time they have to wait until they can switch it on again and connect. The shorter the wait, the more willing they are.

I, like many people, is addicted to being connected. I hate having to switch my devices off, but as a passenger, it is my duty to do so. But not all people are willing to switch it off. Many still push their lucks by remaining connected to the very last moment such as the aircraft commencing the take off roll, or switch the devices on while the aircraft is still rolling down the runway on landing.

Since airlines begin to allow devices to be switched on on airplane mode, I was happy to comply and switch it off as soon as I sat down and buckled up and then switch it back on in airplane mode as we passed 10,000ft... that was until I had 3G connection (yes, I'm hooked). So at times, I must admit, that I've joined the "push your luck" crowd (and been caught a few times!)

But I honestly believe, if I can switch my device back on and connect as soon as I've passed 10,000ft, I would no longer join the violators and the "push your luck" crowd". I've only enjoyed 1 flight with connectivity on board, and I was willing to switch my phone off as soon as we pushed back, because I know I can connect again in less than an hour.

The cause of Saudi Arabian's connectivity with OnAir has gone a different way. With many people forgetting to switch their phones off, they resorted to keeping the picocells active at all times even in the ground and when the aircraft is at low level. Not only does it reduce interference, it allowed them to remind passengers through a cell or sms broadcast that they forgot to switch their phones off (and advertise their service too of course).

So, let's get back to the two points:
1. Inducing devices to emit at low energy
2. Induce the willingness to switch off and wait
Both, need the aircraft to be connected.

Now back to the business jet story... At the end of the day, the company decided to install connectivity onboard its corporate jets. Although it is unclear whether it is WiFi only or include GPRS service, but one can safely guess that those two points work. Now, has anyone with connectivity onboard ended up with more interference problems during approaches? I guess not.

Sriwijaya's 1st 737-800 finally arrives as 2-class service launch nears

Sriwijaya's first 737-800 finally arrived in Jakarta in the early hours of Sunday 22nd April 2012. The aircraft was delivered from Cairo, Egypt, with Midwest Airlines as the previous operator. The delivery route was CAI-DXB, where the aircraft overnighted, then onto DXB-MLE-CGK.
MSN 28591 (ex SU-MWD) arrives in Jakarta CGK
to join Sriwijaya Air as PK-CLA
The aircraft  flew on 11 March 1999, and owned by GECAS. It has a colourful history, originally starting with Istanbul Airlines as TC-IAH, and transferred to Pegasus Airlines of Turkey a year later as TC-APY. During its stint at Pegasus the aircraft also saw service for Khalifa Airways under wet lease, and finally left Turkey on 30 May 2007 and joined Futura as EC-KFB until the latter folded on 9 September 2008. The aircraft saw service briefly with Axis Airways as F-GZZA from 30 March 2009 until 7 Dec 2009 when that airline too ceased operations. On 10 June 2010 the aircraft joined the troubled Midwest Airlines of Egypt as SU-MWD, before finally finding a new home with Sriwijaya Air, with a new registration PK-CLA.

SU-MWD/PK-CLA enjoying the first
day in Jakarta basking in the sun
The delivery flight have been delayed for a while, due to paperwork for flight clearances on both the Indonesian end and the Egyptian end. But all the wait is now over. The aircraft is due for a C-Check where it will also be painted in Sriwijaya Air's new colour scheme, and cabin to be configured with 8 Business Class and 168 Economy.

All of Sriwijaya Air's 737-800s will
operate in the new colour scheme
Sriwijaya Air's launch of the new 2-class service is now overdue to delivery delays of SU-MWD and the recent arrival of an ex United/Continental 737-500W currently undergoing cabin reconfiguration, repainting, and C-Check. The 2-class service launch has been revised to (15 May 2012. All 737-800s and 737-500Ws will be reconfigured with 8 Business seats and the rest of the cabin in economy. Several aircraft in service have already been configured ahead of the new service launch. According to the website CH-Aviation, Sriwijaya Air reportedly has also leased 2 737-800s from TUIfly in Germany but the delivery dates are not yet known as both aircraft earmarked for Sriwijaya are still flying with TUIfly.

Several Sriwijaya aircraft have already been fitted with 8 business
class seats prior to the 2-class service launch.
The Indonesian airline industry continues to grow but as capacity boosts are accelerating, we are seeing increased differentiation on the service front. The airlines realize they cannot continue to rely on competing similar schedules and prices as fuel price continue to rise. While Garuda have focused on the premium sectors and reactivating its low-cost arm Citilink, low fare giant Lion Air's past failed experiments have resulted in creation of its premium sector carrier, originally dubbed Space Jet and currently reported to be called Batik Air. Sriwijaya Air as so far enjoyed the "middle ground" between the premium carriers and the low fare / cost carriers, but it is a place it shares with Batavia Air. Batavia Air itself have launched widebody service to Saudi Arabia and select domestic destinations with mixed results, and have recently announced it will postpone the start of the service into Tokyo Haneda citing fuel prices as the reason.

Rather than rushing into its next strategy, Sriwijaya have over the past two years formulated a plan to continue dominating the middle ground. Now that the aircraft it needs for the expansion under the new strategy begins to arrive, it's going to be an interesting ride for this "traditional carrier."

Monday, April 23, 2012

UPDATE: Batavia A320 overrun at BPN 12MAR12

EU Ban exempted carrier Batavia A320 runway excursion
On 19th April, Indonesia's National Transportation Safety Commission has released its recommendations for the Batavia Air A320 PK-YVE overrun at Balikpapan that occurred on 12 March 2012. My summary translation of the finding can be found later in this article (with link to source).

What I find disturbing:
  • Batavia Air is an airline that is exempted by the EU Ban imposed on Indonesia.
  • Aircraft has had problems with nose wheel steering and brake systems since November 2011.
  • This incident is the second runway excursion in recent months.
  • Airbus has issued recommendations to Batavia Air on fixing the issue prior to the aircraft flying again.
  • Batavia Air did not complete the work outlined in the Airbus recommendation before its next revenue flight.
  • The combination of brake servo valves installed in the aircraft did not comply with Airbus Service Bulletin issued.
  • A Key personnel holding key holding the Technical Director position at the airline was different from the one specified in the airline's Operations Specification document approved by the DGCA.

Credibility of EU Ban and EU Ban Exemption questioned
The EU Ban Exemption for Batavia has raised questions amongst the industry, and the credibility of the EU Ban and its exemptions in particular. With the country now focusing more on raising the FAA Country Category II status back to Category I, the NTSC investigation into the PK-YVE excursion will certainly raise more questions on how Batavia Air received its exemption from the EU Ban, whilst others such as Lion Air who has put in a great effort into safety improvements (with a lot of help from Boeing and ATR), remain in the ban.

Indonesia now has no problems in admitting that the EU Ban and FAA Country Category II "sentences" were caused by safety deficiencies, but seeing which airlines got on the exemption list and which airline remains on the country blacklist is causing a lot of grievances, including allegation of unfairness and political favouring by the EU. The slap in the face for the EU Ban is Indonesia's decision to literally, "screw the EU Ban and let's focus on getting our FAA rating back to Country Category I", and to work with other countries regulators and safety agencies such as Civil Aviation Safety Australia (CASA), Japan Civil Aviation Bureau (JCAB), and even regulators from individual EU member countries. Work with EASA continues but without looking at the EU Transportation and Energy Commission's work.

I guess the conclusion of the country's new direction in safety improvements and the findings into this serious incident investigation is, "yes, we got problems, we're solving it, but we'll get help from those we can trust, screw your ban!"

Summary of findings:
PK-YVE operated BTV2911 from Denpasar to Balikpapan with 2 pilots, 5 flight attendants and 178 passengers (including 1 engineer and 1 pilot not on duty).

Aircraft landed on 0327UTC at runway 25 Sepinggan Airport, Balikpapan (BPN/WARL). At around 150 meters before the runway end, aircraft veered to the right and pilot attempted to steer the aircraft back onto the centerline. Aircraft stopped at the stopway beyond the runway 07 threshold, and all 4 wheels of the main landing gears sunk 30-40cm into the asphalt.

Airport was reopened with a NOTAM advising that the runway usable length was reduced to 2040 meters. Aircraft evacuation was delayed because the required A320 main landing gear jacks had to be sent from Jakarta. Aircraft was moved onto the apron at 1725UTC on 13MAR, and the reduced usable runway length NOTAM was terminated/revoked.

Early investigations have found that PK-YVE has suffered from steering and brake system problems since November 2011. 

Aircraft was found to have 2 different sets of brake services: 2 units of new model brake servo valve (p/n C20374000-2) and 2 units of older brake model servo valve (C201033500).

Servo valve combination is found to be in Non-compliance to Airbus service bulletin (A320-3201089 revision 3) issues 20 September 1995, which when non-identical brake servo are instaled, mandated operators to use 3 new model servo valves (C20374000-2) and 1 old model servo valve (C20103100, C20103100-1 or C20103500).

Early NTSC investigations have found that between the aircraft being moved off the runway and the repairs done by Batavia engineers, poor coordination was shown and is a result of poor understanding of procedures and lack of effectiveness of field key personnel.

The person holding the Technical Director position at the time of the incident was different from the person specified in the Operations Specification document approved by the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (issued 18 January 2012).

The serious incident is the second runway excursion suffered by PK-YVE in recent months, the first one occured on 7 February 2012 at Sentani Airport, Jayapura (DJJ/WAJJ).

The NTSC noted that since the February excursion, Airbus has provided several subsequent checks for PK-YVE to Batavia before the aircraft can be flown again. It appears that Batavia has deemed the problem solved as the aircraft maintenance computers had not reported any faults. Another finding suggests that the engineering personnel may not have understood the pilot report with regards to faults in the brake system. The investigation reveals that Batavia has only partially achieved/completed part of the Airbus recommendations, and the work outlined in the recommendations remained incomplete by the time of the Balikpapan excursion.

Summary of recommendations:
The NTSC has issued the following recommendations:

Batavia Air:
  • To obey and execute recommendations made by the manufacturer on brake and nosewheel steering systems.
  • Improve and ensure the control system on the aircraft configuration remain and continue to comply with the Illustrated Parts Catalogue, Service Bulletins, and recommendations issued.
  • Ensure the status and conditions of the manuals and procedures to be valid and updated and can be accessed by personnel when required, especially in outstations.
Balikpapan Airport
  • Review the Emergency Response Plan on handling of incident/serious incident/accident.
  • To cooperate with other agencies and airlines within the airport environment to provide mutual assistance and support in handling incidents/serious incidents/accidents.
  • To include obstacle location and height when issuing NOTAMs.
DGCA - Airworthiness Directorate
  • Ensure that Principle Maintenance Inspectors me more aware and understand aircraft repetitive problems.
  • Ensure that Key Personnel duties are carried out by persons specified in the valid Operation Specification
  • Ensure that operators have better control systems over aircraft configuration and manual status.
DGCA - Air Navigation Directorate
  • To include obstacle height and position when issuing NOTAMs caused by obstacles, to be used as reference when calculating aircraft operational performance
Source: Immediate Safety Recommendations - Serious Incident Airbus A320-231 PK-YVE Balikpapan Sepinggan Airport 12 March 2012 - National Transportation Safety Commission (Rekomendasi Segera Kejadian Serius Pesawat Airbus A320-231 Registrasi PK-YVE Di Bandara Sepinggan, Balikpapan, Tanggal 12 Maret 2012, KNKT/001/3/IV/REK.KU/2012)

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Garuda 737-800 vs a 1kg eagle - Palangkaraya 21 APR 12

The dented nose of PK-GEM

Garuda Indonesia Boeing 737-800 PK-GEM was operating GA550 into Palangkaraya airport on the morning of Saturday 21 April 2012. The aircraft was on final approach when it hit a low flying eagle. The aircraft landed safely.

The 1 kilogram eagle was killed instantly but was later found. The aircraft damage was limited to the nose radome. Passengers onboard only remembered hearing a thud close to touchdown.

Borneo TV footage at PKY airport
By 3pm, the aircraft was still being repaired, and it didn't leave until 630 am Sunday, as a ferry flight. Several passengers were disappointed due to the decision to make them wait all day, only for the flight to be cancelled.  Cause of the prolonged delay is reported to be a puncture in addition to the dent with the radome (although I think they were just waiting to get approvals for the post repair flight). Passengers were given a choice whether to remain overnight, get a refund, be transferred onto another flight, or catch another flight from Banjarmasin to the southeast.

It was a classical case of myth versus reality. The giant mythical eagle versus a real life eagle, to which both lost. The disturbing thing is, for 2 weekends in a row, Garuda has suffered rather bizarre setbacks. Only last weekend, a baggage container belonging to another airline went astray, hit and punctured another Garuda 737-800 in Singapore.

Time for the venerable duct/
speed tapes.

What is interesting is the BorneoTV footage, showing the nose radome dent disappeared, and the venerable duct tape or speed tape was administered. If a birdstrike does not dent the radome, then there should be no issues (but yes, check the pitot-static system to make sure that they're clear from leftovers from the bird), but the foto on top of this blog shows the dent. Did someone just simply knock/hammer the radome back?

But before anyone screams that this is outrageous, the aircraft flew back to Jakarta with no passengers, for some real repairs.
Interesting speed tape application
All photos from "Protespublik/yfrog.com" and BorneoTV.

Garuda's collision with containers in Singapore - Sometimes you just can't win!

PK-GFI and the container after the collision at SIN

Last week, Garuda Indonesia's 737-800 PK-GFI suffered a mishap when a baggage container belonging to Singapore Airlines collided with the parked aircraft. The aircraft was on a ground turnaround and parked at the gate awaiting the next flight scheduled for 0900 local time as GA841 to Denpasar, Bali. The aircraft was immediately grounded, causing 50 passengers having to be flown to Bali with other flights.

The offending container and trolley
Puncture just above the static port

The aircraft skin was punctured just aft of door L1, and very nearly hit a static port just below the puncture (which would have caused a lot more in repair bills).

A very expensive 7 inches?
To illustrate the depth of the puncture, the photo on the left was also circulating around the internet. The depth of the puncture is estimated at 7 inches, and quite likely that the pressure hull has been compromised.

News on the incident quickly disappeared from the front of various news sites (including aviation sites), but the aircraft is still undergoing repairs in Singapore.

This evening (21 April 2012), the aircraft was seen at the remote apron just off Terminal 1 in Singapore, with its forward fuselage coved by a white "tent", presumably still having repairs on it. A photo was tweeted by TCG_Aviation, who was on a flight inbound from Kuala Lumpur who tweeted:
@TCG_Aviation: What is Garuda's 737 white cover doing over forward fuselage at SIN Airport? #airchat http://pic.twitter.com/8qijm5HT
Photo by: TCG_Aviation

We can see that the aircraft is covered by some form of tent, obviously to hide the repair work that is going on behind the covers. PK-GFI (msn 36805) is leased from GECAS and was first flown on 7 October 2010 and delivered to Garuda 2 weeks later. 

What I find interesting about this incident is the statement by Garuda Indonesia's VP Corporate Quality, Safety & Environment Management, Capt. Novianto Herupratomo, who in a recent seminar in Jakarta stated that despite improving safety over the past decade, two of the airline's most serious safety issues that remain in 2011 were Near Collisions (TCAS RAs) and Ramp/Ground Incidents.

Unfortunately, those two factors are not 100% within the airline's control as this incident shows. 

External threats like Near-Collisions and
Ramp/Ground incidents continue
to challenge Garuda
The safety figures continue to improve
despite continue external safety threat factors

No matter how hard you try, sometimes, you just can't win when bad luck comes along. However, I cannot help but remember that this is not the first time a ground incident has happened for Garuda in Singapore, and I dare say that Singapore seems to be the airport outside Indonesia that has had the most ground mishaps for Garuda. 

But I despite all this, I can't help but wonder, who's going to pay the bill this time?

Friday, April 20, 2012

The enemy within: When your own staff steals jet fuel!

Strict cost control is probably the only thing keeping airlines alive these days. The ever rising fuel price means airlines should look into more fuel efficiency for routine operations. To have a good fuel efficiency program, there is one ingredient that airlines often overlook... Airport Security!

What is the point of trying to save fuel by spending thousands of man-hours in "Fuel Savings Committee" meetings if you power up your jet in the morning and look at the fuel log and see there is fuel missing of half a ton to several tons? You'd wonder, "who the heck refuelled this aircraft last night?"

But before airlines should accuse the state oil company (who has a monopoly on fuel supply at Indonesian airports) of short-changing them, who's guarding the plane overnight?

I'm not kidding when it comes to having half a ton missing or even several tons of fuel missing. One airline discovered one morning that 2 (TWO) tons was missing overnight, and there was no refuelling. So, who's next in line to be the scapegoat? The airport of course! But then, apart from several instances where the apron CCTV failed to work, don't be surprised if one of your aircraft right in front of the CCTV loses several tons of fuel overnight!

So the question is... who's been doing the stealing?

Today, came across this: "Airline engineers caught stealing 2 tons of jetfuel at Jakarta CGK airport" (article in Indonesian only).

Whilst doing a routine road checkpoint at the airport, police stopped a vehicle carrying jerrycans of jet fuel. To cut the long story short, it turns out that a syndicate of several Sriwijaya Air technicians and outside accomplices were being offered money to sap jet fuel from overnighting aircraft and dropping the loot at a pre-arranged location. They admitted to have been doing it over the past 4 months. 

I snooped around several friends in the airlines and they said many airlines have had fuel stolen from them, and they don't expect this to stop. After all, the police checkpoint was actually there to look for drugs and stolen vehicles, not stuff being stolen from the airport. If we still need lucky discoveries like this to catch the fuel thieves... it's not going to stop is it?

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Seat Recline and Air Rage: My story

This blog post contain words that may not be suitable to all ages, and may offend some people.
If you are easily offended, please don't read this blog entry!

It is not everyday I get asked to write about a personal experience on my blog. Today's story was thanks to reading this tweet:
@APEXmary: Do Passengers Have the “Right to Recline?” http://t.co/btZi8HwE
The link points to a blog post on Boarding Area by Angelina: Do passengers have the "Right to Recline?" and it mentioned "two passengers even got into a fist fight in-flight over a reclined seat, which prompted an emergency landing in 2010." 

Now those of you who do not like to read long stories, skip to "The Flight From Hell!" As for @9V-SKA and @APEXmary, I must torture both of you by asking you to read the whole story!

The Right to Recline? The argument goes both ways!
The "Right to Recline" is something that has irked me in my over the past 15 years of my 30 years of flying around in economy (Yes! Economy! That's where you feel the airline's genuine product culture!). You're still eating your dinner with a nice small wine bottle and suddenly the person sitting in front of you slams the seat back into full recline, hitting the (not empty) wine bottle at such an angle that it became a projectile onto my forehead and oozing red wine all over my lap. Luckily this only happened to me once, but at one stage, tea and water were frequent flyers when I'm sitting! I quickly learnt that more often than not, your meal tray can be pulled towards you to prevent such a mishap, but you'd only do that outside mealtimes because you're also reclined.

I've always tried to be courteous when it comes to seat reclining. Whenever I want to recline, I recline slowly. If I have someone who asked me not to recline because he or she is still having a drink, I do point out that the tray can be pulled back towards them. They're usually thankful being informed of such a feature, but when they're not, they usually let me know when they've finished so I can recline.

It's all about courtesy. It's too obvious, but...

The airline for my Flight from Hell!
Good service, bad passengers,
Building up to "The Flight from Hell!"
Back in the 90s, I usually make 2 round-trips a year between where I went to school, the UK, and home, Indonesia. I used to try out different airlines, and my favourite choices were Cathay Pacific (where I'd take the morning flight from Jakarta and spend the day at gate 1 in Kai Tak and watch the runway action until the last flight to London), or SAS (who had the best galley parties for insomniac passengers!)... yes, those were the days. One airline came along promising the best service in the sky, and it had footrests and PTVs in economy. It was Emirates. The routing in the early days was kinda hell-ish. CGK-SIN-CMB-DXB, and then DXB-LHR, or the other way around, served by the comfortable but damn slow A300-600s and A310-300s.

Emirates operated the A300-600 to
London Heathrow in the 90s until
A330s and B777s replaced them
The flight back from Heathrow to Jakarta was poorly timed for my liking. There was an LGW-DXB flight, on an A310-300, but it was full on that day, so I had to settle for the LHR flight which was a midday departure out of Heathrow, so I had to leave very early from the south coast, to London Gatwick, then catch the bus to Heathrow. After the first hop, you arrive in Dubai like you do today, at some un-Godly hour in the morning at the dingy old terminal, and then catch the always crowded multi-stop to Jakarta, and always at the end of the easterly departure bank... ie: the sun had risen by the time you leave!

Morning coffee was always required to get to Emirates to fly home. One day, I had too much coffee, leaving me wide awake until very near the end of the hop to Dubai. Deboarding by stairs, one would be greeted by armed soldiers next to the buses, only to be greeted by smiling but armed soldiers with loaded and cocked sub-machine guns saying "Good morning, welcome to Dubai, that way please!" Dubai's old terminal (now terminal 2) back then, was quite spartan. You have a huge duty free shop, a restaurant, and few overpriced coffee shops, and very few seats for the hub-transfer bank hours.

I recognized a few passengers from my previous flight going to Jakarta, most of them were backpackers heading out to some un-touristy parts of Indonesia. As more and more flights from Europe came, backpackers and students, attracted more backpackers and student to congregate together while waiting for the flight to Jakarta. No sleep for the weary!

An Emirates A310-300 departing Dubai
When boarding time came, us insomniacs had to fight through passengers bound for Colombo, mostly labourers going home on holiday (with all the usual fuss, hustle and bustle, and aggravation). Once the sun was up, we were on our way for the short-ish hop to Colombo. Again, no sleep no matter how hard you try. The flight was full, and you don't want to miss breakfast after a long wait in Dubai.

How to go from London to Jakarta on Emirates in
early 90s. Note the stop in Colombo!
Back in those days, the stop in Colombo was a mess as usual. 75% of the passengers would leave with a lot of noise, and leave a messy cabin behind for the equally noisy cleaning crew to sort the mess out (and they're good at it!). Us transit passengers have to say on the aircraft, so I got to know where my fellow insomniacs were sitting nearby, and we chatted throughout the transit. 

After reboarding, the cabin was full yet again! Want to sleep? No chance! Lunch was served, and it was midday for the passengers joining from Colombo, so they were all chatty. No rest for the weary... again! But, the crew welcomed us to join them for a chat in the galley outside meal hours (where one can appreciate the extra quantity of drinks carried on board), but, fatigue eventually won the day. One by one we would return to our seats, suddenly overwhelmed by the desire to do anything to sleep. I slept as soon as I got back to my seat (and reclined it of course!).

Unfortunately, it was time to descend to Singapore. "Oh God! Is there really no rest for the weary?"

The cabin crew who got to know the "plight of the insomniacs" through the galley sessions, knew were needed nothing but rest. They were kind enough to put our seats upright for us, and checked our seatbelts. "Don't worry sir, you just rest. We'll be changing crews in Singapore, I'll let the incoming crew know of your situation and you can stay on the aircraft to try and catch more rest," one flight attendant told me while putting my seat upright and checking my seatbelt. He even kindly asked the passenger next to me (I was sitting on **G, inboard of the starboard aisle) on F to use the other aisle to let me sleep. How very nice of Emirates back in those days!

The next thing I remember was the cabin being relatively empty, with the cleaning crew being told to not make a huge noise (inevitable with their vacuum cleaner, but they were quiet otherwise), and I saw one of the outgoing flight attendants pointing her hands at the incoming crew at the now sleeping insomniacs. 

The Flight from Hell!
Boarding time again... I had to make way for the new passenger now occupying seat F, before trying to doze off again. She was an old lady, who asked me why I looked like a bus just ran over me. I quickly explained, and she nodded, offering me to tell the crew for me whether I wanted another meals and drink service. I can't help but look at the passengers flowing in...

Emirates A310-300 in Singapore
A South Asian man arrived at the cabin session, making a lot of noise asking where his seat was. "Dear God, please don't let him be the passenger sitting behind me!" The curse was inevitable! 

As soon as he sat behind me, he called, "Hellooooooo! Stewaaaaard! Can I have a drink please?" I feel cursed... very cursed! He must have asked for something like 3 drinks before the aircraft even took off!

After we were airborne, I tried to recline my seat. A noise came from behind me and my seat back shook. "Hellooooooo! Sir! Can you put your seat forward please?" Use your imagination for the accent! And quickly followed by a chime from the F/A Call Button, which he pressed but still went loudly, "Hellooooo! Stewaaaaard! Can I get a drink please?" He asked for a beer.

As soon as we reached cruise altitude, I tried again. The same reaction, me seat back shook, followed by, "Hellooooooo! Sir! Can you put your seat forward please?" Quickly followed by the F/A Call Button chime, followed by "Helloooooo! Stewaaaard! Can I get a drink please?" He again, asked for a beer. 

A little gas cooker began heating my pressure kettle when the male flight attendant delivered him the second beer, and said to him, "Sir, can you put your seat back forward please, we're about to start meal service."

Only one word came to my mind... "Bastard!"

Since the annoying idiot behind added more insomnia to my plight, I decided to take the meal service. Guess what, the flight attendant told him again, to put his seat back upright. Yes, he reclined it again while he wouldn't let me recline. Again, the word that came to my mind was.... "Bastard!" 

When he was asked what he wanted to drink with his meal, he replied loudly, "Excuse me?"
"What would you like to drink sir?" The flight attendant repeated with a slight increase in volume.
"Oh, yes!" He replied loudly, "Beer please!"

Once the cabin crew serving the meals went into the galley a few rows behind, I heard a crunch, a Singaporean woman gasping, followed by, "Excuse me sir, I'm trying to have my meal. Can you please put your seat upright?"

I can feel my blood begin to boil hearing that. The woman called the flight attendant and asked for another drink because she said she dropped the drink. She was still trying to be nice to the bastard by not telling the crew what really happened. During the meal, eye contact was established between me and the fellow insomniacs sitting around me. Hand gestures were made and soon a kind of a sign language conversation went on discreetly which went roughly along the lines of:
"Hey, the guy sitting behind you is an outright bastard," gestured the guy from Zurich two rows in front of me on seat J.
"Yeah I know, what can I do?" I replied.

Before long, me, the passenger from Zurich two rows in front, two English girls two rows behind on J and K, and two German guys on A and B two rows in front, were in a hand gesture conversation. I think they had enough with this guy shouting around.

Even before the meal trays were collected, the bastard asked for another beer, again, very loudly with his, "Hellooooo! Stewaaaard! Can I have a beeer please!"

His beer was consumed quite quickly and was finished when the trays were collected. He asked for another beer and the flight attendants said they'd get him one as soon as they're done with collecting the meal trays.

I tried to recline my seat again, and he said, "Helloooo siiiiir, I told you ! Put your seat up please!" Of course, with his customary shaking of my seat back.

If he didn't shake the seat back
I would have settled for this!
I looked around at the other insomniacs. Cut-throat gestures were made. Insanity caused by raging anger now boiled through me. The two German guys nodded they were ready. The Swiss guy nodded and I heard him unbuckle his seatbelt. He looked at the two English girls, and nodded at them as if he was replying to their "we're ready" signal and their I heard one of their seatbelts was unbuckled.

What would be the right time? How am I going to do it without being guilty. A devious plan driven by fatigue and rage was made. I was to wait until a flight attendant was walking by, then I would recline my seat and let history take it's path. I signalled the Swiss guy to notify the other accomplices of the plan. Not long after I got an OK from everyone else through the Swiss guy, the male flight attendant walked from the front cabin section towards the rear galley. It was time...

Let history take it's course...
I reclined my seat... and waited. My seat back was not shaken as expected, there seemed to be a moment of silence until...

A fist landed on my head followed by, "I told you not to put your seat back!"

Never let your anger exceed this
on board an aircraft! Believe me!
I exploded in an instant! He had assaulted me! This was perfect! I stood up, turned around and lunged at the bastard, strangling him and shouting, "why do you have to be such an annoying bastard and not let me have a rest! I have been awake for 24 f***in hours being stuck in a plane, stuck in an airport with no spare seats for me, and I just have to end up sitting in front of you, you f***in bas...." I never completed the sentence.

A fist grabbed my shirt and pulled me back until I slammed into the seat in front of mine. It was the male flight attendant. 

"Excuse me, SIR! I will deal with this, not you!"

Fortunately, this did not happen in the end!
I looked around the cabin to see where my cavalry reinforcements were. To my surprise, 1 female attendant blocked the two English girl shouting, "you two! Sit down!" then pointed at the Swiss guy, "you sir! Sit down!"

On the opposite aisle another male flight attendant blocked the two German guys, shouting, "You two! Sit down! Everybody sit down!"

They had the situation under control. My revenge had failed... history failed to take it's course the way I had wanted. I was devastated, and collapsed on my seat in despair. I have failed.

A little bitter sweet... victory?
The male flight attendant, had a good scolding session at the bastard.

"Listen, sir," he told the bastard in a threatening tone, "you have caused enough trouble and inconvenience to the crew and other passengers. Now, I will get you another drink, but it's going to be just one glass of water. Everyone on this flight might just appreciate you being quiet for the rest of the flight and not complain about other people because everyone has had enough."

The bastard was thrown back on his seat, and it seemed like the whole cabin cheered and applauded the flight attendant. It was a little victory for me. He told me, "you can recline your seat now sir, but I will get back to you on this."

The cabin crew left the aisles as that flight attendant went forward to the front cabin section... "He would get back to me on this?" I thought to myself. Oh boy, I'm in trouble now!

30 minutes of agonizing wait
It wasn't long before the Inflight Service Manager (purser), the Captain, and the male flight attendant appeared in front of my cabin section. I saw him explain to them what had happened, then they all disappeared again behind the business class curtain. The aircraft then descended. We were coming to the end of the flight. I didn't feel relieved, I was worried. My worries were confirmed when the flight attendant stopped by my seat on the way back to the galley, "Sir, can you stay behind after landing please."

The Reckoning!
As soon as the aircraft reached the gate, I stood up to get my bag from the overhead compartment. My fellow accomplices were looking at me as if they were sorry history didn't take our course. The bastard did nothing but gave me a silent angry death stare. I had little choice but to ignore him and sat back down... and waited. I waived goodbye to the three accomplices in front. The bastard then left and a few people walked by until the two English girls each gave me a pat on the back before moving on.

The male attendant came along on the opposite aisle, and called me, "The Captain would like to see you now."

I joined him on the left aisle, and walked to the front. I felt like a convict walking towards a court room. Just as I entered the business class section, I saw a police car outside. I'm in trouble now.

The front row felt like a court room. Back in those days, the First Class were simply larger seats with larger PTVs and more space. The purser was sitting down on the left, another cabin crew were sitting on the right side of the cabin, I was told to sit in the middle. The captain was the judge and the purser was like the court room note taker.

As the captain opened his mouth... I was expecting the worst.

"Mr. Soejatman, on behalf of Emirates Airlines I would like to apologize for what happened," the Captain said.
"I beg your pardon?" I just wanted to make sure I didn't hear him incorrectly.
"As the Captain of this flight and on behalf of Emirates Airlines I would like to apologize for what happened. I have heard the explanation from the cabin crew and what they were told by the previous crew. Now, before I decide whether or not to make a report out of this, I would like to ask you whether you would like to report that gentlemen there?" He pointed to the bastard, on the jetbridge, with two airport security guards on each side. "If you decide to make a report, I will hand off the case to the police waiting outside with the reports from the crew, but since we have to fly back to Singapore, please decide quickly."

I weighed my options. Pressing on with the report would mean I have to go to make a statement on board, and then on the ground, probably at the airport security office, before making a repeat statement at the airport police station. I have been awake for over 30 hours by then, and my body was screaming the world "SLEEP!"

"Thank you Captain. I have to praise the action of your crew today and for your generosity in offering to make the report. But, no, I don't think I will be making the report. I just want to go home and sleep."

The Captain said he would note the occurrence nonetheless if the flight ended up being delayed. He told the ground handling agent to let the bastard go. The security allowed him to leave before they told the police they were no longer needed.

I shook hands with the crew involved, thanking them, before the Captain asked the ground agent, "take care of him."

The Aftermath
The ground agent escorted me through immigration, baggage claim, and customs. She was wondering why I didn't want to proceed with the report and press charges.

"Ma'am, if you've been awake for over 30 hours stuck in two airplanes, including not being able to sit or sleep whilst transfering, you'd feel the same as I do. I just want to go home and sleep!"

My father met me outside customs and he was wondering why I was being escorted by a ground agent. I told him I would tell him later (but I never did until he passed away a few years later). I just wanted to go home... or did I?

As we walked to the car park, I saw the beer drunken bastard again. He was being met by a couple of religious looking guys. Hardline Islamists and alcohol don't mix well, unless you're that bastard I guess. As he saw me, it was my turn to stare back at him, and gestured at him, "I see you had a good drink!"

He promptly looked the other way before his companions saw me, ushering them to walk with him. I had the last laugh that day.

What I did on the flight was probably not the right thing to do. In these days, doing what I did would probably mean both me and the bastard be handed over to the police on arrivals. But the moral of the story is, a little courtesy can go a long way, provided you don't insist on your counterpart replying in kind.

Since the incident, I have never met another passenger as outrageous as the bastard. Whilst most are courteous, at least the selfish ones I've met since, are not as bad.

The next time I flew Emirates, they added some flights a week that would skip the Colombo stop which made the trip much bearable. Service on Emirates back then was excellent, but after one more flight with them, I never flew them again until last year, by which, Emirates crew seemed to have come from a different planet from the crew I met 20 years ago.

Last year, I flew Emirates again. It was full as always, with the expected eclectic mix of passengers from the regular traveller to first timers, from the courteous to the selfish. The crew attitude had changed totally. Gone are the attention and care... you should be grateful if they give you a genuine smile. The ones giving death stares seems to be the crew now. I discovered that by accident when I left the toilet and accidentally bumped to a crew member bending down to stow a tray on the bottom part of the trolley, to which I received a death stare equivalent to the bastard's death stare I received 20 years ago.

How time has changed... (although some things don't...)

Disclaimer: Events and occurences on the flight 20 years ago may have been incorrectly recalled, and some aspects changed for dramatic effect.