According to English tourist Luke Davies and another passenger, 20 minutes after departure from Cape Town to Durban on Tuesday they saw smoke, while others smelled fumes.
However, Kirby Gordon, FlySafair sales and distribution head, said the flight turned back after an issue regarding the cabin pressurisation systems.
“The oxygen generating devices do generate a smell during normal operation, they apparently also emit some heat, so this is most likely what the customer reporting is referring to.
"The pilots turned the aircraft back towards Cape Town and initiated what in aviation is referred to as a ‘rapid descent’.
“The aircraft had reached an altitude of approximately 20 000 feet above sea level when the crew initiated the descent action, with the aim to return the aircraft to 10 000 feet above sea level, where pressurisation is not a concern.
"Nobody aboard required any medical assistance after landing,” said Gordon.
Davies said everything happened fast.
“We were panicking a bit, and after five minutes the captain called a crew member and we were informed to prepare for an emergency landing.
"We had to brace ourselves and at that point I thought maybe we were going to die or something. The crew dealt with the situation quite well and the pilot was professional,” Davies said.
He said some passengers had wanted to continue with the journey and there was a spare plane.
“At that time it was around 9pm and I was still anxious after the incident so I stayed with others. We thought they would book a hotel for us, but we were told the flight was delayed so they can’t book for us.
"They said if the flight was delayed for more than four hours then they would assist.
“Our argument was that the flight was not delayed, but nearly crashed, and we were told there’s nothing they can do because it’s not their policy.
"Even getting to speak to the manager took two hours their customer service was poor. We were literally stranded at the airport,” Davies said.
Davies said they were eventually transported to a hotel, but they had to pay for it themselves. He called on FlySafair to compensate them for stress.
Gordon said: “Naturally, an occurrence such as this can be very upsetting to those on board. As soon as FA 461 landed in Cape Town the customers were met by our ground teams, who were there to see to the needs of all.
"We offered refunds to those no longer wishing to fly and free changes to those who still wanted to fly (on any of our flights that they wanted to use).
“The airline has also made counsellors available to any customers seeking to speak to someone professional regarding their experience.
"We would like to extend a sincere apology to our customers for the experience they had and for the inconvenience of having to turn back and have their journey delayed in this way.”