Writing from Changi Airport Singapore
On my way to Singapore today I was struck by how seriously the flag carrier takes the fasten seat belt sign. Kudos to pilots of Singapore Airlines Flight 21 for turning on and sitting down its passengers and cabin crew at the first indication of turbulence.
Flight attendants are the most susceptible of anyone on the airplane to injuries arising from turbulence. Despite that, I often notice they are moving about the cabin in bumpy air, as I wrote for The New York Times last year.
My friend, airline pilot Pete Frey, had told me that Singapore, known for its world-class service, treats its flight attendants with the same respect it gives its customers by requiring them to remain buckled in when the seat belt light is on.
My flight from Newark Liberty International Airport to Singapore may be the longest non-stop commercial flight – an 18-hour around-the-globe-journey that stays largely over land. This is quite a feat considering Singpore’s location on the western edge of the Pacific.
My A340-500 departed Newark headed east, flying across the Atlantic, over Norway, Russia, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India, across the Bay of Bengal and down the length of Thailand and Malaysia to arrive at the tiny city/state of Singapore.
OK, I slept for the first 10-hours, doped up on Sudafed due to a head cold so serious I considered postponing my departure, and Zomig my favorite migraine medication, the migraine brought on by the above-mentioned cold.
The way to experience turbulence is as I did, flat on my back (seatbelt fastened over the blanket!) and dozing where it felt like being rocked to sleep. That’s much better than upright when the rockin’ and rollin’ can sometimes be downright scary. But through my drug-induced slumber, I was aware of several announcements by our captain instructing flight attendants to get back to their seats and passengers being told the flight crew was “suspending all aircraft service until we are clear of turbulence.”
When seated with belts fastened, it is extremely unusual for turbulence to cause injuries. In the case of cabin staff, because they try and maintain a balance between their role as guardian of passenger safety and provider of in-flight service sometimes they remain unbelted when they should not. So it is good policy to put the decision in the hands of the pilots and eliminate that passenger-service pressure from the safety equation.
It was a very bad year for turbulence-related injuries in 2009. In the most dramatic case, a Continental Airlines plane made an emergency landing in Miami, after more than 33 people including five flight attendants were injured to the point of needing medical attention on a flight from Brazil to Houston. This is reason enough to take turbulence seriously.
On this flight to Singapore, I’m guessing that the routing – over water, high mountain ranges, through the equatorial tropics makes a nice meteorological turbulence-creating stew. Singapore’s spokesman Nicholas Ionides told me, the airline has “on-going awareness and education programs and campaigns to advise crew on the period of turbulent weather in certain regions during certain times of the year.”
Little Singapore population five million has an outsize operation in Singapore Airlines which serves 48 countries and and 153 destinations. From the looks of it the airline is doing an equally outsized job treating with care passengers and employees alike.