SCENES FROM A DELTA AIRLINES FLIGHT

I'm at a conference for the rest of the week, and loyal readers know what that means: angry airport posts a-comin'. Fortunately I don't have to try very hard to find reasons to loathe the experience these days. The following two anecdotes are true in every detail regarding a Delta flight departing Atlanta for Chicago-O'Hare at "5:15."


ACT I

4:45 – Ed boards the 717 and stops at the end of the jetway when he notices a 10" strip of foil tape, or possibly duct tape, where the cabin door meets the exterior skin of the airplane. Actual quote to flight attendant: "There's fucking duct tape on the plane." I try not to think about what the areas passengers can't see look like.

5:31 – "Hey folks, this is your captain speaking, looks like we've finally got everyone on board and we'll be pushing back from the gate in a few minutes."

5:37 – "Folks, we're going to be in the gate for just a few more minutes. This plane has just come out of maintenance and it looks like they forgot to refill us with water for the lavatories. Wouldn't want to fly without that, ha ha!"

5:45 – "Folks, uh, it appears that our wingtip lights aren't functioning properly. We're not expecting any inclement weather, but we need those lights in case of any potential low-visibility situation, so, uh, hold tight for just a few more minutes…"

5:51 – taxi from gate. This short elapsed time period leads me to believe that nothing needed to be "fixed" with the lights but in fact the crew didn't know how to turn them on.

5:58 – "Flight attendants, prepare for takeoff."

5:59 – Ear-splitting metal-on-metal sound; "Uh, we're gonna have to go back to the gate, folks. We're, uh, having some problems with one of the engines."

6:45 – "Well folks, we should be on our way in just a second. Turns out that when the folks in maintenance serviced that engine, they drained the oil and forgot to replace it. Ha ha!"

It is difficult to explain the extent to which I wanted to get off the plane at this point. Even if this was the truth – the horrifyingly incompetent truth – why would the captain admit it? How about "We've checked out that engine as a precaution and it looks like everything's fine!" He wins points for honesty but sometimes we must be economical with the truth.


ACT II

6:45 – "Well folks, we should be on our way in just a second. Turns out that when the folks in maintenance serviced that engine, they drained the oil and forgot to replace it. Ha ha!"

Passenger seated next to Ed: "FUCKIN' UNION MECHANICS. PROBABLY IN A HURRY TO GO ON ONE OF THEIR DOZEN BREAKS EVERY DAY."

Ed: "The reason they do maintenance in Georgia is because it isn't unionized. They used to do it in St. Louis, Chicago, Cincinnati, and Indianapolis. They moved it to Birmingham and Atlanta so they could pay untrained people $12/hr to do the same work. I mean, the planes have five times as much downtime now and they don't do the work correctly, but it's cheap."

Passenger seated next to Ed: "FUCKING UNIONS."

Ed, after a considerable pause: "Heading to a big Tea Party convention in Chicago?"

Passenger seated next to Ed: "WHAT? NO."

Ed: "So, something else in Chicago for people who are impervious to facts?"

On the plus side, he didn't try to talk to me after that and I read my Baffler in peace.

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33 Responses to “SCENES FROM A DELTA AIRLINES FLIGHT”

  1. ts46064 Says:

    Damn unions and their ridiculous demands for health insurance, fair pay and VACATION TIME!! pff WHO NEEDS EM

  2. RosaLux Says:

    Yea, so I was recently in India – which most Americans would (falsely) consider a third-world country and every flying experience I had there was dazzling. I used two different airlines, flying several times on each. The planes were new and smelled clean. There were no horrific delays prior to takeoff to fix glitches. Edible meals and drinks were served regularly. It was all delightful, and my fellow passengers seemed to take it all for granted, as simply the way airlines should be run. Only then did America truly come into focus as a bizarro world where air travel is almost always nightmarish. WTF, America? Think of all the great European airlines: Lufthansa, KLM, Air France, British Airways even. And Republicans rave that Obama wants to turn us into a western European nation? If only.

  3. Daniel Says:

    Was the word "fuck" really used that much on this flight? One more question: How was the food choices?

  4. Ian Says:

    @RosaLux:

    I've flown on Japanese, Korean, and Chinese airlines, and the same applies. The only bad flights I've had have been on Delta and United, the only bad airport experiences I've had have been in the US, or because I was on a flight going to the US.

    If more Teabaggers had ever been outside the US to anywhere but Mexico and MAYBE Canada, there would be no Tea Party.

  5. Nan Says:

    Duct tape on yet another airline. When I flew on US Airways a month ago there was tape holding down the anti-chafe strip on the wing flaps.

    As for the wages for nonunion mechancs, the last I heard it was just barely above minimum wage and hadn't budged in years, which is one reason my FAA licensed aircraft mechanic husband got out of working on aircraft. The guys working at the local Ford garage probably make double or triple what the typical airline mechanic earns per hour.

    Many, many years ago, back when Eastern still existed as an airline, they had an airplane literally fall out of the sky (it dropped something like 20,000 feet with no warning) because a mechanic forgot to replace an O-ring. Unhappy, underpaid employees (at the time Eastern was trying hard to bust the union, which they did by going out of business so union members no longer had Eastern to work for) tend to be distracted, prone to making errors employees — yet another reason to avoid air travel as much as possible.

  6. Eric Says:

    I will chime in as well that I was astounded how air travel radically changed when I got into Europe. On the relatively short hop from Paris to Rome I received better service and better food than I did on the long stretch from Atlanta to Paris. Sometimes I wonder why in the hell I'm still in this country.

  7. cerb Says:

    I've flown a lot, probably more than most people, and that is the worst airline story I've heard. I think Delta also came out yesterday and hinted at canceling their 787 orders because, paraphrasing, "we already have 747s that go across the Atlantic." Impervious logic! Yes, forget buying newer, safer planes, we got this nice old piece of shit that will do just fine. American is also still flying those old MD-80s as well for God knows how much longer. And then if you're lucky enough to connect to Butt Fuck, Wisconsin, you have to fly in a 50 seat airplane which has less room than a sardine can.

    I'll echo the other comments here and say that my best flying experience have been in Europe. Both Lufthansa and SAS have service that many US airlines wish they could have. However, I've heard Cathay Pacific and Singapore Air are even better, so there's that.

    To the person above who mentioned flying in India: Interesting. I flew on Air India once from ORD to Frankfurt and it fucking sucked. I'd give them another shot, though.

  8. Elder Futhark Says:

    The "oil change" remark was a joke. You are lucky you are not walking around with a piece of turbine blade in your forehead. Or, if there were an Almighty, your seatmate's forehead. Was he reading Investor's Business Daily? It's like the Onion, only funny.

  9. Hazy Davy Says:

    Funny.

    Still, a plane doesn't just go from "maintenance" to "carrying Ed".
    I think the FAA requires that it the work be inspected and signed off on before the plane comes out. Union jokes and misunderstandings aside, there *were* checks and balances to prevent this sort of thing, and those c&b aren't unionized, anywhere.

    Goodnight, Gracie.

  10. Jeff Says:

    I'm pretty sure that the only Delta employees that are unionized are the pilots. Only non-union mechanics taking care of that plane.

  11. Kulkuri Says:

    One of the problems Delta had when it took over Northwest was Northwest mechanics were union and Delta's were not. They are still trying to work things out because Delta doesn't want to honor the seniority of the Northwest mechanics and other employees.
    You'd be surprised by how much can get missed even with inspections and sign-offs. Most inspectors only look to see if it looks like the work was done and then check the paperwork. Also to save money or get the maintenance done quicker, there are supervisors that will push people to 'pencil-whip' the paperwork instead of actually doing the work.

    That incident with Eastern was a L-1011 and all three engines had new drain plugs put in without o-rings because the new plugs didn't come with o-rings. The flight was over water to Puerto Rico(I think) and all three engines quit when they ran out of oil. The pilots managed to get one or more engines restarted and do an emergency landing.

    That aluminum tape is 500mph speed tape, much, much better than the duct tape that NASCAR uses!!

  12. Crazy for Urban Planning Says:

    Hi all. Good post Ed, I got a good laugh out of your pilot's statement. I haven't flown that much, but the fact is not only does Europe have better service – but they have a more diverse amount of choices. I flew London to Dublin on Ryanair for 1 UK cent (plus fees its 25 uk pounds…), to make money the stewards sell crap the whole flight. I think they had a little raffle or something, tons of stuff in the sky mall magazine, booze, and anything else you could think of. It was actually terrifying – but if I wanted service I could have taken the British Airways for 3 times the price. In America we get one choice! This country is in real need of better and more transportation services. Remember, Europeans also can choose to take lovely trains and see the country side.

    I have a pent up rant about Sean Hannity. Every day this fuckin douchebag named Sean Hannity comes on the radio and says: Barack Obama is the most radical President in the History of America! Then gives a litany of things as evidence ("he sat in the pews when Jeremiah Wright spoke for 20 years!; "health care is radical![he must be kidding on this one... does he really want those 30 million people to not have health insurance for ever?]";"he wants to re-distribute the wealth…"; "several other acquaintances from his past are communist, so he is!").

    Let me say this clearly, I know he reads these comments. Democrats for the last 30 years have made careers out of compromise – Obama is one of these Democrats. If he were a radical or if he would begin listening to me for policy ideas I have some suggestions in regards to transportation:

    1) Lets get on with smart growth policies and end our urban dependence on driving places. Driving places makes us all fat, puts carbon in the atmosphere, and turns our homes into barren & lifeless suburbs where people never leave their homes unless they walk to their cars; its time to end this and make nicer neighborhoods for children to walk to school, older folks can walk to a grocery store or cafe & teenagers have fun activities outside of smoking marijuana cigarettes. I recently bought the fantastic book entitled "The Smart Growth Manual" by Andres Duany. I recommend it and his first book Suburban Nation.
    2) Our roads need to begin looking different. Rather than having vehicle travel lanes of 12' width and a small shoulder for bikes and pedestrians, I would suggest 8' wide vehicular travel lanes with a minimum of 6' wide bike lanes on every street in America.
    3) Trolley lines. For those of you who haven't heard this little piece of history here it is: after the Second World War, GM, Standard Oil, and Firestone came into the nations local governments and said, "you don't need the old broken down trolley lines you haven't funded for years, let us buy them and their lines from you to get rid of the things so you can buy posh new busses from us."

    Its time to bring trolley cars back! Some cities actually built roads over the lines and we would just need to tear up the roads to find the great trolley car lines again. If we can't go back to trolley suburbs in America (that had grocery stores and schools near the trolley stop and homes within a comfortable walk) – we can at least have park and ride systems in place for people to drive from suburbs to parking lots and take a train/trolley downtown.

    The point is nothing like this is ever going to happen in America – surely not on the Federal level and most municipalities have made smart growth illegal on the local level with insane zoning laws. To address Hannity specifically – I bet Obama knows about these issues, but due to his incremental, conservative nature – he wouldn't dare talk about any of it. Hannity is either trying to sell his crummy new book or he actually believes what he is saying, either way I think he should be taken off the air.

  13. Crazy for Urban Planning Says:

    Sorry about my long rambling post. My god do I hate Sean Hannity.

  14. displaced Capitalist Says:

    It was nice knowing you Ed. I hope the end is quick and doesn't involve too much fire.

  15. Tinamou Says:

    Wait, is The Baffler publishing again?!

  16. moonbat Says:

    Stories like this remind me of tales we heard of Aeroflot, the airline of the old USSR. We're emulating our old rival in terms of propaganda, but there are some differences. Everyone in the USSR knew the government was lying, here, people like your retarded seatmate haven't figured out they're being played.

  17. Prudence Says:

    @Crazy: I hate Sean Hannity as much as the next sentient being, mostly because I believe that, like Coulter, he's just playing along for the money and attention, but does he really read G&T? Surely there are too many big words and logical conclusions?

  18. Nan Says:

    I doubt Hannity reads anything unless the print is real big, all the words are one syllable, and the book comes with crayons.

  19. Crazy for Urban Planning Says:

    Pudence and Nan: In regards to what Hannity reads. I seem to recall someone accusing him of using talking points straight from his bosses (roger ailes) office during the campaign. I don't think that is likely because he says the same thing ever single day, to me that would imply he actually changes his message on a regular basis – it never ever changes…

  20. JKP Says:

    I think the airlines do a terrible job of running their businesses. And, your frustration at your experience is completely warranted. I have been there myself. But, here's a great perspective on modern technology from Louis C.K. that will, hopefully, brighten your mood. The whole thing is hilarious, but the airline stuff starting at 2:40 is especially relevant.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9AnU33VNEFc

    You've got to be able to laugh when things go shitty.

  21. Katie Says:

    "Still, a plane doesn't just go from "maintenance" to "carrying Ed"."

    I was a flight attendant for NWA, which is now under Delta. I have no idea what the h you are talking about, because I've sat on planes filled with passengers on the tarmac while they were still doing maintenance. (My first flight ever, we spent two hours on a full plane while maintenance banged away on a cargo door.) I don't know how many times we made it through boarding before it was determined that the plane wasn't in any condition to fly.

    Yes, there *are* checks. No, they don't always happen the way they are supposed to. Underpaid, undertrained people? More likely to cut corners and make mistakes.

  22. Hazy Davy Says:

    Katie…nothing you say contradicts what I have written.

    It is possible that the FAA guidelines have changed since I last read them. It's possible that the passenger jet/commercial maintenance requirements are different than the private SEL requirements.
    It's certainly possible that there's a difference between engine maintenance, and cargo door maintenance.

    Even still, I suspect that the FAA has to certify any 'maintenance', whether it was done on the tarmac, or done in a hangar. But it sounds like Kulkuri has some experience with lackadaisical FAA inspections, as well…

  23. Robert Says:

    A Federal agency that cuts corners and suffers from short staffing?

    Oh noes! No in MY America! I want my country back!

    Full disclosure: I worked for the Department of Veterans Affairs from 1984 to 2009, and one of my catchphrases, when faced with yet another clusterfuck of some sort, was, "We work for the government of the richest and most powerful nation in the history of the world, and THIS is what we have to work with?' None of my colleagues ever disagreed.

  24. J. Dryden Says:

    I find it both sad and funny that I have no trouble believing that Ed's seatmate did, in fact, speak in all caps.

  25. Prudence Says:

    I think the first time I had a "wait, what?!" moment on U.S domestic aviation was when someone told me how much the pilots make– the number seemed impossibly low. London bus drivers should not make more than commercial aviation pilots for any number of reasons.

  26. Kulkuri Says:

    @Hazy Dazy, when the FAA "certifies the maintenance", what FAA inspects is the paperwork, only very seldom does the FAA inspect the actual aircraft and then it is a surprise inspection where they will inspect an airplane either in operation or in a hangar and then is pretty superficial. The inspections of the work is done by company inspectors. The FAA inspectors come around every so often and look at the maintenance logs and other paperwork on the aircraft and as long as it looks good the airline or FBO is go to go!!!! The FAA doesn't have enough people to inspect the all the work being done, in fact they can barely keep up with the paperwork. I once applied for a job with the FAA and they were not interested in whether I could do the work I would be inspecting, they wanted proof that I had experience doing the paperwork!! Think USDA and meat inspections and you'll get some idea of how the FAA works.

    As for the "difference between engine maintenance and cargo door maintenance", it doesn't matter where the problem is when the plane is not fit to fly.

  27. Shane Says:

    We know you are conferencing and all, and are likely busy, but is Friday morning. I need my new G&T fix. I demand satisfaction.

  28. Chris Says:

    Yeah, it is all sort of important at 30,000 feet and 400MPH…

    Ed, did you try your 'no libertarians at 30,000' test?

    I was on a plane once that just…quit. Luckily we where spinning up the engines for take off when it happened, not taking off, not 75' up. The flight crew all looked spooked, the captain came on and stammered a 'hold on a min.' and a little repair truck came out to jump start us. While I have had many cars that did things like this, it is far less stressful to coast to the side of the road than it is to coast back to the ground. I was terrified the rest of the flight.

    Swearing flight crews? Heard it. Lying to my face, ignoring people, the list goes on. I figure they have a worse job than gas station attendants, and they act the part. Mostly it seems to be frustration- passengers who behave like spoiled children, long hours, crappy compensation packages, etc.

    I watched the 1968 Oliver! last night. It seems like a teabagger/FoxNews fantasy. Hannity probably likes it.

  29. Patrick Says:

    Yeah, it is all sort of important at 30,000 feet and 400MPH…

    Ed, did you try your 'no libertarians at 30,000' test?

    I was on a plane once that just…quit. Luckily we where spinning up the engines for take off when it happened, not taking off, not 75' up. The flight crew all looked spooked, the captain came on and stammered a 'hold on a min.' and a little repair truck came out to jump start us. While I have had many cars that did things like this, it is far less stressful to coast to the side of the road than it is to coast back to the ground. I was terrified the rest of the flight.

    Swearing flight crews? Heard it. Lying to my face, ignoring people, the list goes on. I figure they have a worse job than gas station attendants, and they act the part. Mostly it seems to be frustration- passengers who behave like spoiled children, long hours, crappy compensation packages, etc.

    I watched the 1968 Oliver! last night. It seems like a teabagger/FoxNews fantasy. Hannity probably likes it.

  30. Steve Says:

    I think the first time I had a "wait, what?!" moment on U.S domestic aviation was when someone told me how much the pilots make– the number seemed impossibly low. London bus drivers should not make more than commercial aviation pilots for any number of reasons.

  31. Airline AL Says:

    WHAT A STUPID, ERRONEOUS ARTICLE.
    YOU DUMBFUCK, DELTA DOESN' FLY 717's !

    Fucking Airtran does….

    ANOTHER THING…DELTA DOES NOT HAVE MAINTENANCE BASES ANYWHERE BUT ATLANTA MINNEAPOLIS DETROIT AND CINCINNATTI…NOT ST LOUS…DUMBFUCK.

    DELTA MAINTENANCE IS NOT UNIONIZED…PERIOD. ALSO THE DUMBFUCK SAYING THAT DELTA DOESN'T HONOR SENIORITY OF UNIONS IS PLAIN UNINFORMED.

    THIS IS THE DUMBEST ARTICLE I HAVE EVER SEEN.