Allen On Travel

A 30 year veteran of world travel (but knows nil about Orlando-area attractions), Will Allen III writes about his weekly odysseys by air on business and how the airlines rob him--and you--of time, the most precious commodity on earth. Time: It's all we have, and the airlines routinely take it from us. This blog challenges the airlines to keep their basic promises.

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Location: Raleigh, North Carolina, United States

Born 1948 in Kinston, NC and raised there in beautiful eastern North Carolina, I now live in Raleigh and commute around the country and the world.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Smoke-Filled Cabin Postscript

Last week, as I boarded another American Airlines (actually, Eagle) Embraer RJ from Raleigh to Columbus, I happened to run into our pilot du jour. I literally bumped into him as I boarded--easy to do in the cramped confines of an RJ cabin--as he suddenly came out of the cockpit. He smiled, breezily welcomed me aboard, and wished me a good flight.

As this was my first flight back on AA since the smoke-filled cabin incident (see two previous blog posts), I was a bit nervous, and in reply to his good wishes I muttered, mainly to myself, an offhand quip about hoping we at least didn't catch fire. Murmured, yes, but apparently loud enough to catch his attention.

The pilot reacted with a start, whipped around, and asked, "Were you on THAT flight last Sunday night?" His demeanor had turned from sunny to grim.

"Yes," I said.

Turned out he was the pilot of our smoky-cabin airplane. I was surprised we didn't recognize each other, but I guess I didn't take in his face in the aftermath of the incident.

We found a place out of the way of the boarding passengers to chat for a few minutes, and the pilot gave me the highlights of what happened:

For the record, it was tail number 302. He and his co-pilot and the RDU crew chief surmised that somehow burned engine oil crossed over a supposedly impermeable barrier inside one of the engines to the cabin air system. It wasn't supposed to happen, of course. Spooked, the two pilots refused to take it up again (smart move, if you ask me--shows they care more about living than about the thrill of flying).

AA found somebody qualified to fly, he told me, and the airplane was ferried empty to Columbus. There both engines were replaced as a precaution (I wonder why the same precaution had not been taken in Raleigh).

With its new engines the plane was ferried from Columbus to Dallas. The pilot said that it was being examined in the DFW maintenance base to determine the root cause of how smoke breached the system and entered the cabin.

After our chat, the pilot and I boarded the plane again, and our subsequent flight to CMH was, as we all like to say of good flights, uneventful. For which I was grateful. En route I pondered again, for the umpteenth time, the unnerving incident that this cockpit crew and I shared 8 days earlier. I ride scores of airplanes each year and take each flight's safety for granted.

Or I did, anyway. Now I don't feel quite as sanguine as before.


Blogger Tara said...

Hi, Will.. So sorry about the malfunctioning plane. I had a similar incident on a regional jet flying from Minneapolis to Cleveland. The smoke didn't start until two thirds of the way through the flight. I was in the exit row. I always book exit row for the extra room but have rarely considered that I may have to assist. (my exit row neighbors marveled about this as well, in a sort of "gallows-humor" kind of way.) We divereted to Detroit and, luckily, we were able to get to the gate without incident, though we were met by a slew of ambulances, fire trucks and cop cars. They took it very seriously.

They found another plane within an hour or so and we made it to Cleveland that night. A few days later, I received an e-mail from Continental, offering me 500 miles for my trouble. It seemed kind of silly, but at least they recognized that the incident was a problem.

I have been flying regularly for only a couple years and I already find myself taking it for granted that the plane will land. This was a good reminder for me to be thankful when it does.

5/04/2007 12:11 PM  

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