Aviation blues: Dealing with rude passengers, using regulation at hand

By Capt Kamil Abu Bakar

 

IT is imperative that pilots keep their emotions under check. It was only once throughout my 42 years of flying career that l lost my cool.

And thankfully, that too after the flight was over. Here is my story.

One night, l received a last-minute call up to fly to Brisbane. So as not to incur much further delay, l dashed up to the cockpit to do my pre-departure checks and got the aircraft airborne in no time.

The flight was uneventful….so l thought.

It was however, somewhat not normal…the First Class was full, though there were many empty seats at the back.

Normally, it was the other way round, with the Economy class full and many empty seats up in the front section.

Amongst those in the First Class was Tan Sri Shamsuddin Kadir of Sapura Energy Bhd, members of his family and another Malay couple. The rest were Mat Salleh, who were transit passengers from London.

When flying, l rarely leave the cockpit except for toilet breaks and to stretch my legs. Being a last-minute call up, l had no chance to meet the cabin crew.

From the name list, l could not tell who they were. There were so many of them in the airline…more than 2,000.

After we landed in Brisbane, in the early morning hours, with all the passengers having disembarked, l left the cockpit with the co-pilot following behind me.

As l came down the steps from the upper deck, l saw the cabin crew were all gathered at the door…ready to leave the aircraft.

Amongst them, l recognised Kamal, a very friendly flight steward who flew with me on my last trip to London.

I learned a bit about him…a brilliant chap who joined the airline to see the world and for his love to meet people. Plus, he speaks five languages.

My conversation with Kamal went like this:

Capt Kamil: Hi, Kamal. I didn’t know you are on board. How are you?

Kamal: I’m feeling terrible, Captain.

Capt Kamil: Huh, why?

Kamal: One passenger called me barua. Not once but twice.

(Barua is a disparaging word. There is no English equivalent, but close to calling someone a bastard.)

And Kamal explained what happened. He was tasked to do the service in the First Class and the section was full.

As per the protocol, like all other airlines, the service would start from the front down to the back with the passengers sitting in the front row being served first.

This goes all the way from distribution of cold towels, welcome drinks, satay, starters, main course, tea or coffee…very elaborate. Those at the back are naturally served last.

But they will get the same treatment with no discrimination.

However, it so happened that all those in the front rows were Caucasians, who were transit passengers from London, on this follow through flight to Brisbane.

Seated somewhere in the middle row was a Malay couple. In the last row was Shamsuddin and his family.

Capt Kamil Abu Bakar

Midway through the service, whilst the main course was about to be served, the wife of this Malay couple left for the Economy Class cabin to see their children who were seated there.

After a while, she came back and asked her husband something, presumably, “Bang, have you had your meal?”

That was when he burst out.

Having headset on whilst watching the inflight entertainment, not knowing the level of his own voice, he shouted, pointing at Kamal, “Barua…tu barua” (Bastard…that bastard)

The cabin was rocked with his voice. Everyone was shocked to hear the loud remark.

Apparently, he got upset seeing Kamal serving… seemed to be entertaining and spending more time with the Caucasians at the front.

He got a kind of complex, perceiving that he was being neglected. Shamsuddin, who was seated behind him and served last, did not have any complain.

From then on, this passenger sulked, refused to have his main course, despite repeated pleas by Kamal and the inflight supervisor for him to have something.

When l heard that, l was appalled. I dropped my Black Delsey wheelie and flight bag on the aerobridge and told Kamal to follow me.

I brushed aside the Immigration officer, saying l was going after one passenger and that l would come back.

He was already in the arrival hall, waiting at the carousel to collect his suitcases.

After greeting him, with Kamal by my side, l confronted him, whilst he was talking to a fellow passenger.

Capt Kamil: Sir, did you have any problem on the flight just now?

Passenger: No.

Capt Kamil: Oh, come on. Why did you call my crew barua? Not once but twice!

Passenger: No, I didn’t

Capt Kamil: Come on. The entire First Class passengers heard you shouting that, including Tan Sri Shamsuddin there (with me pointing to the Sapura supremo).

What you pay does not entitle you to disparage or humiliate my crew. You know that word barua is a very degrading word. You are a Muslim. How can you use such a word on a fellow Muslim? That does not mean that just because he is wearing a green jacket serving people, you can belittle him. He was just doing his job.

And I think he is smarter than you. He speaks five languages.

The passenger was stunned silent with what l said but I did not end there.

Capt Kamil: You are lucky l knew about it only after landing. Had l knew about it earlier, l would have got the police to meet the aircraft and have you dragged out in handcuffs.

If you are not happy with the service, you should complain to the inflight supervisor or to me. Or if you are still not happy, you can write to the company. You better don’t ever do that again.

The passenger was silent throughout.

When I was walking away, Shamsuddin remarked “That’s very good, Captain.” I managed a grin.

I went back through the immigration and met the rest of the crew, who had left the aircraft and helped to carry our bags.

I turned towards Kamal and asked,

Capt Kamil: Kamal, are you happy now?

Kamal: Thank you, Captain,” he smiled…at last.

As it was fated, l met the gentleman two weeks later in a wedding function at the Lake Club. He was seated at the VIP table. So, he must have been a big shot.

After the meal service, he left the main table to meet me, extending a salam. l took it to make peace.

He must have found out who l was and what l was capable off, one who breeds no nonsense.

I too found out who he was, a Datuk and a businessman was involved with Tabung Haji.  

This is something l do not understand.

I would expect people, as they move up the social hierarchy, to carry themselves well and be more dignified. More humility and not show off or be arrogant or worse, pass disparaging remarks onto others.

Now let us have a look what the Civil Regulations say about the incident.

There is nothing in the Malaysian Civil Aviation Regulation (MCAR) which forbids any passenger to disparage or humiliate any crew on board any Malaysian registered aircraft.

But it is really a question of basic human ethics and conduct not to do that onto another person in public.

The closest to that, the Regulation says;

“No person shall willfully or negligently imperil the safety of an aircraft or any person on board, whether by interference with any member of the flight crew of the aircraft, or by tampering with the aircraft or its equipment or by disorderly conduct or by any other means.”

As of my action, the commander of the aircraft, it states:

“Every person in a Malaysian aircraft shall obey all lawful commands which the commander of that aircraft may give for the purpose of securing the safety of the aircraft and of persons or property carried therein, or the safety, efficiency or regularity of air navigation.”

But I went one step further. I believe in protecting my crew from, regardless, physical or verbal abuse. This is part of my responsibility as a commander of a flight.

Of course, l was not happy with the conduct of the inflight supervisor itself. I told him that.

He should have handled and resolved that Datuk’s “dissatisfaction” when it happened in the air.

Finally, this is something which l could not verify.  l heard that the Malay couple was upgraded to the First Class for that flight. Hmm! –  Feb 21, 2021

 

Capt Kamil Abu Bakar was a former Malaysia Airlines Director of Flight Operations, chief pilot, Flight Safety & Security director and member of the International Advisory Committee of Flight Safety Foundation.

The views expressed are solely of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Focus Malaysia.

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