A year ago, there was the widely reported story of how a United Airlines flight from South America had to divert into a Florida airport because the purser and captain got into a heated disagreement. The Captain chose to land the plane and have the cabin crew member removed. A few months later, United flight 803, a Boeing 777 bound for Tokyo from Washington’s Dulles Airport returned to the departure airport two and a half hours later, because the aircraft was one flight attendant short. It turns out that the fight was delayed due to a mechanical problem, and the clock was ticking on the crew’s legal length of duty time status, that is the number of hours they could work without a rest. If that time was exceeded, the flight would be delayed even longer until a fresh crew could be found. With the cockpit crew’s legality down to minutes, it was decided to close the cabin door and depart. No one at the time realized they were one cabin crew member short until they were on their way. Talk about red-faced! Apparently passengers weren’t told what was happening until told to prepare for landing at Dulles although a few realized “the sun was on the wrong side.” In this era of cost cutting, many airlines have reduced crews to the absolute minimum, and this was a little too close to the bone.
Crews Behaving (Very) Badly
There is no shortage of stories about passengers from hell, but unfortunately there are occasions where airline crew have been less than professional, sometimes inconveniencing passengers or worse, impacting safety. One day in February, Delta Connection flight 887, operated by Pinnacle Airlines, bound from Rochester, New York to Atlanta, returned to the gate to deplane an ill passenger. At this point, the two female attendants got into a fight, although stories differ between a verbal altercation to a fist fight. In any case, the captain deemed it serious enough and told everyone to get off; the flight was cancelled. More red faces. But this was nothing, compared to what happened on Donbassaero, a Ukrainian airline, on a domestic flight scheduled to depart Simferopol, in the Crimea, to Kiev, with 85 passengers including the country’s Deputy Attorney General. Police were called to investigate what someone believed to be an alleged inebriated crew member. And it was not just one, so it turned out. The entire crew, both pilots and flight attendants, were tested and found to be drunk, very drunk, at 10 times the legal limit. Talk about playing with fire; let’s hope their “tickets” were pulled!
Anger Management Aloft
Speaking of tickets, how about a winning ticket? A passenger on board Irish carrier Ryanair was traveling from Krakow, Poland to East Midlands Airport in the UK when he won ten thousand Euros on one of the airline’s in-flight scratch cards. Now anyone who has flown budget- obsessive Ryanair knows that its seats are close together, there are no seat pockets or window shades, and anything in the cabin has a price, maybe even lavatory use in the future. So you’d think that giving out scratch cards to win prizes would make people happy. The lucky man on this flight discovered he was the winner of ten thousand pounds sterling, about $15,000. But he demanded to be paid on the spot. When the cabin crew explained they didn’t have that kind of money on board and he’d have to collect his winnings later, the man became enraged and chewed up the ticket and swallowed it, rendering it invalid. Instead Ryanair held a poll to decide what charity to donate the money to. One Suggestion: anger management classes for this guy?
Hockey and Giant Rodents – Blame Canada!
I happened to be in Canada on Sunday, February 28. It was an eventful day there, with the Olympics final sports winding down, and the closing ceremonies set for Vancouver that evening. An Air Canada flight was scheduled to depart Vancouver for Montreal, but some passengers refused to board, instead glued to airport television screens as the second half of the championship ice hockey game between Canada and the United States were so tense. It would have been unpatriotic to threaten the offending passengers, who were rewarded by seeing their team bring home the gold. Air Canada took the delay, which they acknowledge was the first time ever for this reason. But a day before, in Ottawa, as Air Canada flight 888 was taxiing to the runway to take off for London, someone spotted a giant rat scurrying in the cabin. All right, this is Canada, but Canadians know the difference between a rat as in rodent versus a muskrat. In any case, there shouldn’t be one on a packed airplane about to take off for a seven hour transatlantic flight. The plane taxied back to the gate; all 205 passengers were quickly deplaned, exterminators were called, and when the bugger couldn’t be found, the flight was cancelled and passengers sent to hotels. Coincidentally a few days earlier, the Canadian Transport Agency had called on Canadian airlines to ban pets on board aircraft because of people allergic to cats. Flight 888 could have used a cat or two on that flight. A couple of weeks later, south of the 48th parallel, an American Airlines crew discovered 50 roaches on a curtain between the cockpit and galley on a flight ready to depart Miami for Washington. This time the exterminator was successful, and after being treated and the bugs removed, the flight departed 90 minutes late.
Playing Flight Attendant – Virtually
Remember when “Flight Simulator” software came out and everyone could be an armchair pilot? Well, it’s maybe not quite as exciting, but someone sent me a little game online that lets anyone with a mouse (the computer kind!) play flight attendant on your PC – in First Class. The game allows you to make coffee, serve drinks and meals, provide pillows and blankets, corral stray toddlers and encounter all sorts of in-flight challenges. There are beginner and advanced levels, and it certainly gives you a lot of appreciation for the work these professionals of the air do. Go to http://www.shinegame.com/games/first-class-flurry. There is both a free and a paid version with added features (like decorating your cabin!)
Airport workers know the term “FOD” which stands for foreign object debris, something that can damage aircraft engines that can be anything from an aluminum can to metal parts or other rubbish that may have been blown by wind or somehow made its way to a runway, taxiway or ramp area. A couple of months ago, Kingfisher Airlines flight 803 was two minutes from touchdown at New Delhi International Airport when it had to abort its landing to avoid hitting a naked man who was lying in the middle of the runway. The man could have been killed by the aircraft. Other flights were also made to hold until police could remove the drunken man from the runway.
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I like it Joel…good facts with a humorous edge. Keep up the good work and thanks for sharing your insights.
Thank you Russ. I am sure Joel will be reading the nice comments about his great column. We are very proud to have him as part of the editorial team.
I would spray Rataway Fragrance to control the rats on airplanes, etc..
Great Column Joel.
Keep it going
Thank you for the interestning column Joel. Some cases sound like fiction.., but in fact it is good to know what really happens sometimes on the flights…movie makers can use some of them…
Love reading your column. Always funny and informative at the same time. Looking forward to the next one. Best.
Good stuff as usual Joel. keep it up!
You are better than ever!
Keep up the excellent industry commentary and while ‘up in the air’ watch out for those million-mile rodents!
When I am flying and at the airport I see the doors open on the planes and some time the stairs are in place. ALL THE TIME
Looks, like to me everything could get in the planes from bugs to rodents. They should put up some netting over the doors.