March 18, 2007
With 3,200 Flights a Day, a Few Problems
Fred Taylor Jr. checks flight delays and then drafts explanatory letters to
passengers on paper.
By Jeff Bailey
Even when skies are clear and the nation’s air traffic control system is
running perfectly, airlines have to contend with problems that cause delays.
The 482 Boeing 737s that Southwest Airlines operates make about 3,200 flights a day. As at
other airlines, something is always going wrong.
In daily internal reports, Fred Taylor Jr., senior manager of proactive
customer communications at Southwest, gives a lighthearted, at times sketchy
recap of the operating mayhem that is airline routine. The reports are used by
others at Southwest to explain delays to customers. Excerpts from December
DEC. 5 A belt loader that conveys luggage ran into a plane in Baltimore. Flight to Hartford canceled.
DEC. 9 Salt Lake
City-to-Los Angeles flight took off and then returned after “a rather
large bird took the scenic route through the left engine.” Inspection found no
problem. Departed again 1 hour, 15 minutes late.
DEC. 10 Las
flight “delayed while a customer spoke with the airport police about his ‘hot
pocket.’ Apparently, this dude is a nervous traveler and somehow a book of
matches in his pants caught fire by accident — which reminds me of a similar
concern that I had when I caught my kid brother (2 yrs old at the time) trying
to pee in a light socket.” Matches extinguished. No injury. Passenger allowed
to travel on.
DEC. 11 Chicago-to-Phoenix flight diverted to Denver for medical emergency. CPR was performed and the
onboard defibrillator was used.
flight lands with an “unresponsive customer.” “Not sure if we got a deep
sleeper, someone with an extreme hangover, or otherwise.”
Chicago-to-Louisville flight, after takeoff, returns to Midway Airport when “another unresponsive customer” is found.
DEC. 16 Norfolk-to-Orlando flight. “Unruly customer” having difficulty following
crew instructions and staying in his seat during the approach. Police met the
flight “and they took the disruptive person downtown to provide him with a more
thorough explanation of the do’s and don’ts while onboard a commercial
flight taxied back to gate. “A customer appeared to be having a heart attack.”
Jacksonville-to-Philadelphia flight delayed. “During the boarding process, a
customer had a couple of seizures.”
DEC. 18 Tampa-to-San Antonio flight diverted to Houston for electrical problems. Passengers continued on
after an airplane switch.
Houston-to-Philadelphia flight diverted to New Orleans for malfunctioning oil gauge. Planes swapped. Flight
El Paso-to-Dallas flight stopped in Lubbock to pick up passengers from a flight canceled for
Philadelphia-to-Oklahoma City flight aborted takeoff while at about 100 miles an
hour because of errant flap indication. Stopped safely, swapped planes, flight
DEC. 21 With Christmas approaching, planes are full and weather is iffy. Denver was closed and 78 Southwest flights canceled.
Oklahoma City-to-Kansas City-to-Baltimore flight diverted to Wichita after a battery charger overheated, “emitting a haze
that drifted into the cargo hold.” Southwest does not operate in Wichita, so a replacement plane is flown in to continue the
Las Vegas-to-Albany flight arrived “with law enforcement meeting the
aircraft to chat with an unruly customer.”
flight diverted to Indianapolis to avoid heavy winds.
DEC. 22 On an Orange County-to-San Jose flight, “flaps failed to deploy on
landing. Emergency declared, routine landing.”
Denver reopened. Extra planes flown in to get holiday
In Burbank, Santa Ana
winds limited takeoff weights. Six flights stop to refuel in Ontario.
Austin-to-El Paso flight “had an upset customer who was arrested” upon arrival.
DEC. 23 “On a serious note,” a Manchester-to-Baltimore flight “had a customer pass away upon arrival.”
“On a less serious note, the Burger King in the [Sacramento] airport had a grease fire causing a five-minute
evacuation — no fries, chips.” (A spokeswoman for the Burger King outlet, Bryn
Punt, said there was smoke but no fire.)
DEC. 24 “One woman was full of the Christmas spirit of peace and good will
toward mankind, and while traveling,” Phoenix-to-El Paso, “she hit another woman. A nice way to spend
Christmas Eve in the [El
DEC. 25 Chicago-to-Tampa flight “had a customer text message her mother that
terrorists were on the flight. She saw two folks using their cellphones prior
to push. The flight was met by the FBI in (Tampa), who sorted out everything. As far as we can tell,
the flight was calm and routine.”
DEC. 26 Phoenix-to-Reno flight hit “severe turbulence on approach” to Reno and diverted to Oakland. Three hours later, flight canceled and passengers
bused to Reno.
Two planes pushing back from the gates in San Diego bumped into each other. Both returned to the gates
and passengers were put on other flights. “Our folks are conducting an
investigation and working with the” National Transportation Safety Board.
DEC. 27 Oakland-to-San Diego flight returned after takeoff “to have the left
engine inspected for a possible bird strike. The engine was given the thumbs
up.” Flight left an hour late.
flight diverted to Phoenix for a lightning strike. Swapped planes and continued
DEC. 30 Orlando-to-San Antonio flight returned to gate “for a suspicious liquid
found in a seatback pocket (it turned out to be a small jar of sea water —
probably stuck there when the customer realized it was more than 3.4 oz.) The
flight was delayed while the feds examined the stuff and its location.”
DEC. 31 Los
Jose flight, with a malfunctioning landing gear indicator, flew by the tower
twice to get visual confirmation that the gear was down, then had passengers
“in the brace position on arrival.” Only the signal was bad. “Will send a
heartfelt apology for the tense moment.”