I’ve flown thousands of flights on over 200 different airlines across six continents. Never in my flying life, has anything happened like what happened today. On my flight from Newark to Fort Lauderdale aboard United Airlines, the cabin depressurized; the oxygen masks came down; and for about 10-12 minutes; I thought I might die.
United 1601 started like any other flight and actually took off on time from Newark Airport; which rarely happens. The 737 took off and headed south. It was an 8:30am flight; which was to connect in Fort Lauderdale for North Eleuthra Island in the Bahamas. I feel asleep almost immediately after takeoff.
About 1:30 into the flight, I was woken up because my ears were popping badly. This never happens to me. I was half asleep and couldn’t understand what was happening. I was in the middle seat in economy plus and I looked at the woman to my right, Abby, and she felt the same thing. I was still confused.
All of a sudden, the oxygen masks came down from the ceiling panel above the seats. It was shocking. It was as if nobody on the plane understood or knew what to do. There was no direction from the captain or crew. There was no announcement about what was happening or why the oxygen masks came down. They just fell and then people started freaking out and put them on.
I had always said that I would totally freak out if the oxygen masks came down on a plane. To my surprise, I handled the situation extremely calmly and didn’t freak out. Don’t get me wrong, I was freaked out but there was a woman across the aisle that was freaking out and screaming enough for everybody. As awful as her piercing shrieks and her instructions to her two kids were-it distracted me and kept me calm.
After about 10-12 minutes of absolutely no announcements or anything from the captain and crew, the captain came on the speaker. He almost dismissively said something to the extent of, “Well that was interesting. Sorry we lost cabin pressure there and then we had to release the oxygen masks to keep you safe. It’s OK to take them off now”.
This is information perhaps they could have told us right before or right after they released the oxygen masks. People were scared out of their minds. Abby and I kept looking out the window and only saw water. We thought we were landing on water for a bit.
During the fiasco, there was a burning smell in the cabin and through the masks. We thought perhaps there was a fire in the galley or worse, the engine-who knows! There was a rapid decent as well after the oxygen masks came down. I assume this was to reach a safe altitude, perhaps below 10,000 feet. Again, some information would have been nice.
This was the type of thing that could honestly give a person a heart attack. I kept thinking that there might have been an elderly person or something that would literally drop dead from the sheer terror of the situation. Luckily that wasn’t the case.
I was flying down with a group for a press trip to the Bahamas. My friend, Matt Kepnes, was two rows behind me. Another writer, Mike Richard, and my friend and PR rep, Jessica Parker, were in the back of the plane.
When the plane finally landed after it was diverted to Charleston, South Carolina-we all got together to go over what just happened. It was really surreal and as I write this right now, it’s almost as if it never happened. It’s very odd.
I am still not sure what to make of it, except I guess now it makes a good story and hopefully a good post. That aside, I hope I never experience that again. It was really scary and at the least I hope that the captain and crew will be more responsible next time and alert us as to what’s going on in that situation where you are completely helpless.
I don’t blame United Airlines because I know it could’ve happened to any plane at anytime. However, I still have no idea what actually happened and why. We were never told anything before, during or after about what happened. That’s not right.