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Please Sir, May I Have Another (Plane)?

Andrea Sachs

I have a wonderful friend named Pilot Bill. He used to fly for American Airlines, but now steers planes laden with packages. The man knows his aircraft and noises.

When Pilot Bill and I took a trip together years ago, we played the "What's That Sound?" game. He was able to explain every grunt, creak and burp the plane emitted. He also reassured me that the planes have so many back-up systems, there is no way we are going to fall from the sky. I settled back into my seat.

However, despite the tutorial, I have never felt 100 percent comfortable when my scheduled plane is delayed for technical reasons and the mechanics fix it on the spot. "You can do an oil change in less then 12 minutes, but can you repair a flap in that short amount of time?" I have always wondered: "What would happen if I told the flight crew, 'I'll catch the next ride, so please open the cabin door'?" Could they force me to stay on board? Or would I have to be abusive just to get thrown off?

Apparently not.

On Sunday, passengers on an Air Berlin flight bound for Portugal petitioned to get the heck off that plane after the pilot noticed a problem with a gauge in the cockpit and the landing flaps. After the first discovery of a problem, the passengers were told to disembark and wait for the broken piece to be fixed. When they were given the green light to re-board, two refused. Then the problem arose again, and that's when the 170 passengers took over. Like concerned citizens issuing a referendum, they signed a petition to be let off and assigned a new plane. They preferred to wait 14 hours instead of taking a risk. They were no doubt spooked by the SpanAir crash on Aug. 20, which killed 154 people. But can you blame them?

I know we should have faith in the experts' decision and that we can't cry wolf at every little growl from the plane's belly. But when there are so many signs of trouble, shouldn't we have some say in our fate?

So, Pilot Bill, I completely trust your assessment on plane safety, but I might just start packing a pencil and sign-up sheet. You never know.

By Andrea Sachs |  September 16, 2008; 10:10 AM ET  | Category:  Air Travel , Andrea Sachs
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...I'll stick with the pilot's judgment. After all, if there's a problem, he/she is going down with the plane too!

Posted by: Andy | September 16, 2008 11:03 AM

Herd mentality, sure...but I love it when people stick together. I hope the airlines learned something here! I wonder if they were penalized somehow (ticket price, etc.?).

Posted by: cbr | September 16, 2008 11:30 AM

Why do I even bother looking at this blog anymore?!?

Posted by: Paul | September 16, 2008 11:35 AM

I agree the pilot doesn't want to go down with the ship, but not sure how much internal cost cutting, etc. give the captain options for flying or losing his job over something "borderline."

The article I thought this would be, plane is delayed from somewhere else, not enough crew, mechanical problems etc, can I get another plane instead of waiting for one to show up? Several bad experiences over the past few years, including delays of over 12 hours, not leaving a good travel experience. I'm sure part of the problem is trying to keep each flight full, cutting back on all staff and number of planes, so there just aren't enough spares for when there is a glitch in the system, or a system glitch on a plane.

Be nice if they would just raise the fares to cover costs. More palatable would be a "Fuel surcharge" like the cruise lines use if raising base fares is so unpalatable. And more sense than the per bag charges showing up, and increasing, since most people have to travel with at least some luggage...

Posted by: Oy! | September 16, 2008 11:36 AM

You can't be serious. You didn't run this post past your pilot friend, did you? He probably would have told you that many problems are the types of glitches that can be fixed quickly.

I can't think of a single trip, business or leisure, that I've been on this year, where a fourteen hour delay on the outbound flight wouldn't have made the trip impossible or unworkable. As far as I'm concerned, anyone who wants off of a flight (as long as the plane is already at the gate) is welcome to it - they can then fly standby or fend for themselves. But as long as the plane is cleared and the pilot is willing to fly, I don't want a bunch of spastic infrequent flyers upsetting my travel plans.

(BTW, other articles about the incident said that the second return to gate was not caused by the technical problem, but by a fainting flight attendant.)

Posted by: adub | September 16, 2008 7:14 PM

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