Sunday, May 8, 2011

An airline whine

I had the ambiguous fortune to visit Phoenix, AZ for a talk. The talk went well (thanks for asking) but this rant is about how I got to Phoenix and back.

Of course, I flew. I took a major airline and things proceeded fairly smoothly on my outbound flights.

This was not true of my return journey. I flew Phoenix to SF, and SF to Boston.

On my Phoenix-SF flight, a part of the plane fell off from the cabin roof. We were lucky that this happened (a) While the plane was on the ground and (b) for a relatively unimportant component of the roof. The pilot came back into the cabin, and pushed the part into its place and it sort of "clicked" back in.

Little did I know this would not be the last time I saw such complex mechanical engineering in action that day.

In SFO, I just managed to catch my Boston flight. I sat in my seat, relieved, and read my Kindle till it was time to turn off digital devices. As the plane taxied I suddenly noticed, to my horror, that the entire frame of my window was detached.

It was hanging, literally by the skin of its clamping teeth. What I'm talking about was a whole window frame and a layer of clear window plastic. It was an inch thick. It did not seem like a trivial issue.

I immediately contacted the airline staff. The plane parked itself near the runway while the pilot announced on the intercom that a passenger had made a "cosmetic" complaint and we'd be delayed. Groans filled the cabin as a few passengers gave me the evil eye.

One of the staff sat in my seat and sort of prodded and pushed the window frame. Sure enough, it "clicked" into position. The entire fleet must be made of Lego.

They made a note of where the damaged part was, and we flew off.

I safely made it back home.

I did a little research, and the aircraft I flew in were first released in the late 80s, and most are reliable workhorses of the sky. I wonder if the airlines are cutting costs and wholly depending on the "robustness margins" built into these old machines. These margins are basically how much the aircraft can fly with "missed" maintenance. Its the sort of thing that keeps your car working when you skip 10k checkups.

I hope that is not true. Anyways, next time you get in an aircraft, scan around and make sure its all in one piece.

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