13 November 2013

Mayday, mayday... reputation at risk (but brave Withers partners survive)


Amber Melville-Brown
Partner | US

Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.. Well that might be how the nursery rhyme goes, but a few words spoken out of turn can certainly cause upset and panic, and potential damage to reputation in the process, as I found out on a flight to New York last Saturday. I was headed out to the Big Apple for the Media Law Resource Centre conference. Just before we were about to be served our 'choice of hot meal – chicken or a curry' (why do they serve curry in a small metal box 30,000 feet in the air?) our astute 777 pilot noticed smoke in the cockpit. What he didn't notice apparently, was that he must have knocked on one of the no doubt thousands of switches on the flight desk that turned on the tannoy system. The unsuspecting 200 passengers heard 'Would a senior member of the crew please report to the flight desk IMMEDIATELY'. As I joked that the pilot presumably hadn't been given his correct choice of hot snack, the plane dropped suddenly, followed by what felt to all intents and purposes to be a dramatic nose dive towards the ground. When one is falling out of the air towards land or sea – we didn't know at that stage – one might prefer to hear a calm and specific message for the passengers, 'This is a controlled descent – please do not panic, everything is under control'. What we did hear however, with the tannoy unfortunately still broadcasting loud and clear, was 'Mayday – BA-177, we are descending, Mayday…' Our heroic pilot must have realised the error. The next message we heard was a calm and controlled Darth Vader like voice – he told us he was speaking through his oxygen mask 'as a precaution' – informing us that the 'issue had been isolated' – the issue we later learnt being not one but two fires in two separate fans in the plane. We were now in emergency mode, he informed us, and we should do exactly what we were told as he would be making an emergency landing in Shannon. Given the Mayday we had overheard, this did not exactly banish our fear that death was imminent as we hurtled towards the ground. But passengers for the main part remained calm and contemplated their fate. Ultimately, our pilot successfully landed the fuel-laden beast with a rather heavy clump, and we were greeted by banks of fire engines on the tarmac. Once we were safe and the engines had been turned off, he thanked us for remaining calm and let us into the secret that that was the first emergency that he had experienced, too. Personally, I would have preferred not to have heard those few choice words, announcing the Mayday message. But this mistake notwithstanding, our pilot's reputation remained well and truly intact given his successful delivery of us not to JFK but to an unsuspecting Shannon airport. He may have made a mistake over which intercom button to press, but at least he knew which buttons to press to get the plane down safely. www.clareherald.com/2013/11/may-day-call-accidentally-broadcast-to.html

Amber Melville-Brown Partner | London

Category: Blog