British Airways representatives issued an apology after passengers panicked during one of its flights, during which oxygen masks were accidentally dropped mid-flight with an announcement that said it was “not a drill.”
On Sunday, flight BA16 was traveling from Singapore to London when, two hours into the flight, oxygen masks dropped.
Mitchell Webb, a passenger on the flight, told The Sun Online Travel about the ordeal and that, during the flight, they were never given an explanation for what happened.
“The media screens and lights turned off, followed by the masks falling down and an automated announcement telling us to put on our masks for oxygen,” he said of the event. “About 2-3 minutes after this, the cabin crew started to ignore the message, it was due to a technical error and they were in the process of a step by step reboot of systems.”
“One cabin crew member made a particularly striking reassurance of ‘we’ll make it’—great to hear—and even after all this panic, we had no apology or even an explanation from the captain to reassure us, even before we came into land.”
Webb says that, during the rest of the flight, there was no explanation from the captain on what had happened.
“We received no communications on the incident itself from them, and we only heard again from the pilot 45 minutes before landing (around ten hours later) to give us the usual update on weather at the landing location, etc.—with not a single mention or apology regarding the incident that occurred,” Webb told USA Today.
He also told the Evening Standard that an automated message guiding passengers on how to use the oxygen masks said that “it was not a drill,” and that even after it was over, he was concerned for the rest of the flight.
“It was very scary—even after we were told it was all fine I still wondered what else could go wrong thereafter, given we were only a couple of hours into the flight when it happened,” he said.
According to The Sun, Webb received an emailed statement from the airline, saying:
“We would like to apologize for the inadvertent oxygen mask deployment on your flight from Singapore and any distress or concern this may have caused. We would like to reassure you that safety is always our main priority and this was not compromised on this occasion. We trust that our flight and cabin crew dealt with this situation in a professional manner you would expect from us.”
A British Airways spokesperson told Sun Online Travel, “Our flight and cabin crew reassured customers after oxygen masks were deployed accidentally.”
“We are sorry for the distress this may have caused, and are investigating how it happened.”
Pre-flight announcements and aircraft safety cards include a message warning passengers that, if cabin pressure drops, oxygen masks will deploy.
Airplanes are pressurized to maintain a comfortable pressure inside the cabin of less than 10,000 feet, even though many commercial planes often fly at much higher altitudes.
If that cabin pressure is lost, people may suffer from hypoxia—oxygen starvation. The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) says that hypoxia is painless and the signs and symptoms vary from person to person. According to SKYbrary, symptoms of hypoxia can include breathlessness, excessive yawning, tiredness, fatigue, euphoria, impairment of mental tasks, and possible loss of consciousness. SKYbrary is an online aviation safety repository first initiated by Eurocontrol, an international organization for air traffic management across Europe.
When that occurs, oxygen masks drop down for people to use. Passenger oxygen masks do not deliver enough oxygen for constant use at high altitudes, so the plane will drop lower to under 10,000 feet, as was the case for travel writer Nomadic Matt, who’s United flight deployed oxygen masks and dropped quickly in altitude in 2013.
The FAA says the most common causes of hypoxia in aviation are flying non-pressurized aircraft above 10,000 feet without supplemental oxygen, rapid decompression during flight, pressurization system malfunction, or oxygen system malfunction.
Flying with a pressurized plane or flying at an altitude where supplemental oxygen is not required helps prevent hypoxia.
In 2018, a Jet Airways flight took off from Mumbai, only to return in less than an hour after takeoff because the cabin crew forgot to turn on a key switch, which resulted in a drop in cabin pressure and caused passengers headaches and bleeding noses and ears, reported Hindustan Times.
Oxygen masks were deployed and 30 out of 166 passengers were rushed to a hospital for treatment.