Too Much Pressure in the Aircraft’s Cabin…

cabin pressure

We were already operating a difficult flight. For some reason we had an unusually high number of demanding and down right mean passengers. I don’t mean passengers that were angry because something went wrong, I mean passengers that would insult us… just because! I was shocked that people would say these things to us.

To make matters worse: We ran out of meals. That didn’t help with these pax at all. I don’t mean we ran out of an option; I mean we ran out of meals completely. How does that happen!? We had four rows of passengers and no more hot meals. For some reason we had a surplus of extra trays, though. Each tray had a juice, croissant, yogurt, cheese, and butter. So in that regard we were able to give those last rows two of each of those items.

While some people were satisfied that we were trying. Most people were upset. Which is understandable. Still, some people went further.

As I was walking by, one passenger asked me: How many seats are there on this airplane?

“189” I replied.

“You have 189 seats, yet you don’t know how to count 189 … meals? What’s … wrong with you?”

For the sake of keeping the blog PG, I’ve removed select words from that quote.

Again, I was stunned. I couldn’t reply because if I had said I anything I might have been fired. I just walked away.

But that’s not the point of this post. I’m just outlining that as a crew, we were already very stressed when the following happened:

We’d just cancelled coffee and tea service after I spilled a pot of coffee on myself due to the turbulence at the time. The turbulence had entered moderate and we were ordered to take our jump seats. While seated, everyone’s ears began popping, then hurting. While that was happening we didn’t think much of it. At least not until the “Bing Bong”. It only rang once, which at my airline signifies a call from the flight deck for the Cabin Manager.

After waiting for the interphone call light to turn off (signalling someone else has answered) I picked up the receiver and listened in.

“Hi this is captain, We’re having an issue with the pressurization system.”

I gasped, which got the attention of the other FAs in the aft galley. The captain continued,

“We’re not sure what the problem is right now, but for some reason the aircraft is over pressurizing. I need you to start preparing the cabin in case we need to land. Also, can you get one of the aft FAs to bring augmented pilot, on his break back up to the flight deck.”

Our CM responded with “Will do. Is there anyone else on the line?”
I replied, “Hi it’s Jet, I’ll let the others know and will get augmented pilot.

After informing the other FAs, I went into the aisle and approached the pilot who was sleeping at the time. After waking him I very discreetly informed him of the situation and sent him up to the front.

We then took everyone’s meal trays and garbage, made sure bags were away, turned off the entertainment system (the movie was finished anyway) and completed almost all the other landing requirements aside from having everyone return their seatbacks to the upright position. We’d only do that if we were told that we’re actually landing.

I remained calm for the whole situation, aside from that initial gasp. I noticed one of the other FAs had gone pale.

Shortly after we finished preparing the cabin, we got another call. The pilots have switched off the automatic pressurization system and were controlling it manually. Apparently the relief vent in the tail of the aircraft was snapped shut and wouldn’t open. For the time being they planned to continue the course, but with caution.

As far as service was concerned, we were allowed to resume limited service. Essentially we could get out of our seats and answer passenger requests, but no full on bar service or anything. The decision was made that the situation was under control, so there would be no need to tell the passengers. Personally this is something I was on the fence about. On the one hand, people were getting even more mad at us because the service had stopped for no apparent reason. More importantly, this information affects them. Does that entitle them to know?

On the other hand, is it necessary to cause worry and possibly panic? At this time there is no immediate risk to their safety. The pressure of the aircraft was quickly under control again and for the time being was staying on course.

After another 30 minutes we got the call that they’d fixed the problem. From that point on we simply had to continue on with what was left of the inflight service.

Once we were on the ground, we were talking to the pilots about what had happened. Apparently they were caught off guard when they realized it was an over pressurization. The signs and symptoms for both over and under are similar, although under pressurization has more signs and is more noticeable… if you’re not too imparted to notice. Apparently they had originally thought we were facing an under pressurization and were preparing to follow the checklist for such a situation. I’m glad they figured out what was happening though, had they not I’m certain they would have dropped the masks and made an emergency landing.

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