Irresponsible Citizens on Board, By Joseph Amenaghawon

Joseph I.Amenaghawon

While we complain about bad governance, let us endeavour to be rational citizens, the author suggests.

Have you been on any domestic flight in Nigeria? Do you often hear the cabin crew instructions about switching off phones and other electronic gadgets when the aircraft begins its take-off routine? Similar instructions are also meted out during the craft landing routine, when the cabin crew says ‘all electronic gadgets must remain switched off until the plane has come to a complete stop” Does it bother you that after listening to pre-take off instructions, some passengers simply refuse to switch off their phones and would continue to fiddle, speak and engage their phones until they are possibly shouted at?

That was exactly what happened while I was on a domestic flight out of Lagos to Abuja on Sunday, February 10, 2013. The aircraft was already on its pre-take off routine when I was jolted out of the little doze of sleep I was beginning to enjoy by the noise of some passenger sitting on roll 6 who was threatening to deal with some other passenger on roll 7 when the craft gets to Abuja. This fellow, despite the intervention of two cabin crew members actually got off from his seat and turned to attempt hitting the passenger on roll 7.

I learnt that the aggressive passenger had been told by the roll 7 passenger to switch off his phone as the plane was already on its take-off routine. The aggressive passenger may have found the tone of the admonition offensive and sought to use loud, abusive and threatening language to beat down the other fellow.

The attempts to hit the passenger in roll 7 jolted and stirred up all manner of comments in the plane. The cabin crew continued with efforts to manage the situation by also reading out the aviation rules concerning unruly passengers that may include the payment of a fine in the sum of N50, 000.

A lot of passengers murmured their protest about this and some preferred the removal of the unruly passenger instead. Initially, I assumed the craft would continue its take-off routine, but I think further discussions between the flight and cabin crew resulted in our returning to the plane’s parking spot on the tarmac. On return to the parking spot, the entrance of the craft was immediately surrounded by airport security and the disembarking facility was mounted. It was thus clear, that some removal was going to be effected.

The aggressive passenger and another passenger (probably a friend of his) who was sitting next to him looked the obvious choices for immediate removal. But the airport security, possibly on the advice of the cabin crew, also wanted to remove the passenger that had been threatened with a possible beating up in Abuja. The reaction of passengers in the craft to this was mixed, some protested vehemently against removing him from the craft, since in their estimation he hadn’t behaved in an unruly manner but was the one that was being threatened by the aggressive passenger. Another set of passengers, however, felt that if the aggressive passenger and his co-traveller were to be removed, then the same action should be taking against the third passenger too.

Some other dimension to this whole saga was the “quality” of comments that was ventilated by passengers. One passenger on hearing the native language of the aggressive passenger and his co-traveller made a sly remark (in his own native tongue, which I understand) about people from that section of the country. He was suggesting that such behaviour was not unexpected. Other passengers including myself who were sitting about two rolls behind him, cautioned him against continuing in that line of thought. Interestingly too, some passengers who were from the section of the country as the about to be removed fellows, seemed sympathetic to the dilemma that they were faced with and their interventions were against any removal.

I recall too, that one prominent business class passenger intermittently joined in the intervention efforts and at some point did remind the cabin crew to resolve the matter timely as the issue was already ‘eating’ into projected travel time of passengers. The aggressive passenger and his co-traveller were eventually removed and led away (as I joked with passengers on the same roll with me) like VIPs escorted by airport security. For a flight that was originally scheduled to leave at 1.50 p.m. we eventually left at about 3.00 p.m. About one hour wasted sorting out an issue that wouldn’t have arisen if the aggressive passenger had simply abided with the instructions of the cabin crew about switching off all telecommunication and electronic gadgets.

On many domestic flights, I have wondered why it seemed so difficult for some passengers to adhere to the cabin crew instructions regarding use of telecommunications gadgets. Often times, the plane has only just landed and the instructions are clear “all gadgets switched off until the plane has reached a complete stop”. But, this means absolutely nothing to some passengers, they eagerly switch on their phones and begin to announce their arrival to their love ones, friends etc. You hear statements like “we have just arrived, but we are still in the plane”.

What is so difficult about enduring the few minutes it would take for the plane to come to a complete stop? Passengers, who do this, cut across all cadre of the society. I have seen highly placed Nigerians and supposedly knowledgeable citizens “violating” these simple instructions. Is this a reflection of their attitude to law and order? Are they simply not convinced about the negative impact that activating their telecommunications gadgets can have on the plane’s navigational systems[1]? What exactly is the excitement in announcing their arrival when they are still locked in a plane taxing to its final stop? It smacks of deep irresponsibility for anyone to consider a set of safety instructions irrelevant and not to be adhered to.

Why jeopardise the safety of others because of your own obstinacy and lack of regard for rules? Perhaps, some of these irresponsible Nigerians feel that they have no part to play in air travel safety? They think the entire responsibility falls with the airline operators, the air travel regulatory bodies, and the flight and cabin crew.

Everyone who boards a plane in my view voluntarily submits to the rules and instructions of the operations of the craft in question. One hour or more on a domestic flight isn’t too much to give in terms of respect for rules especially when it concerns the collective safety of all. There is a role for everyone to play. The levels of irresponsibility often exhibited by some persons on board are somewhat baffling. Is it that airlines now need to conduct “psychiatric” tests on would be passengers to determine their ability to understand, absorb and adhere to simply flight instructions? I don’t think that’s the way to go. But, the onus falls on the passenger to behave appropriately while on board and that includes simply adhering to simple in-flight safety instructions. It is that simple.

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