This American Flight From Sunday Sounds TERRIFYING

Flying is incredibly safe. I feel as safe on a plane as I do sitting in a hotel room. However, that doesn’t mean there aren’t instances where people get scared on planes. After all, one of the reasons people have an irrational fear of flying is due to the lack of control they have over their situation. Most people don’t mind driving down a bumpy road in a car, because they’re in control, while they’re terrified of turbulence on a plane, because they’re not in control and can’t see what’s causing it.

So while aviation accidents only happen extremely rarely, there are exponentially more incidents where something goes wrong, but the plane still lands safely.

For example, last July a Cathay Pacific flight from Hong Kong to Los Angeles had a terrifying diversion. There was smoke in the cockpit about halfway over the Pacific, so the passengers had to put on life vests in preparation for a water ditching in the Pacific. Fortunately the plane managed to divert to Eareckson Air Station. Here’s a video of the terrifying incident:

I think even the most experienced and calm flyer would have been terrified in the above situation.

While perhaps not quite to that level, on Sunday night an American Airlines plane was flying from Boston to Miami, and diverted to New York due to some serious mechanical issues.

flightaware

Per the Boston Globe:

The first boom came about 30 minutes into the flight. Moments later, another shook the plane as it flew Sunday night from Boston to Miami with 180 passengers aboard. That’s when passengers reported seeing fire shooting out of the engine on the left wing, and the cabin filled with smoke.

“The plane started to shake and rattle, and people really started to freak out,” said Drew Nederpelt, a Miami business executive who was traveling with his girlfriend. “There was a lot of crying and screaming. One of the flight attendants was literally shaking and sobbing, and we looked at each other like, ‘Somebody else has to speak through the PA.’ ”

I wasn’t initially going to write about the incident, though a long time blog reader emailed to say his brother was on the flight. Here’s what he had to say about the incident:

My brother was on the flight with his wife and 3 year old daughter. He said that first they heard something that sounded like an explosion that rattled the plane. Then smoke started coming out of one of the engines. There was another explosion sound and the cabin filled with smoke. At this point people were frightened but not panicking yet. But then the flight attendant started speaking over the PA while CRYING and then everyone on the flight started to panic — people screaming that they were going to die, etc. After they landed they were provided with no information, apology or anything besides a new flight and some sandwiches by AA.

He also shares the email American customer relations proactively sent to his brother after the incident:

We are writing to follow up with you about the situation you encountered as a passenger on our flight 1086 on June 19. While we are sure you can appreciate our decision to land in New York was motivated by our commitment to your safety, we also can appreciate that many of our customers’ important plans were significantly affected, and for that, we are sorry.

In appreciation for your patience, we have added 7,000 AAdvantage® bonus miles to your account. You should see this mileage adjustment in your account very soon, and you can view this activity via our web site, www.aa.com.

Your loyalty is important to us and we would like to assure you that we are committed to getting you to your destination as planned. We’ll do our best to provide a smooth trip the next time you fly with us. We will look forward to welcoming you aboard again soon.

While I can appreciate airlines want to downplay situations like this, I think this takes it too far, and completely ignores how terrifying this situation must have been for those aboard. I’m not suggesting American should apologize for what happened (mechanicals can happen on any airline), but rather simply to acknowledge that this was likely a very traumatizing situation.

Any of these things individually probably wouldn’t have scared me. But even as someone who has flown millions and millions of miles, I’d be terrified if I were on a flight with two explosion-like sounds, rattling, smoke in the cabin, and a crying flight attendant.

Just because flying is safe doesn’t negate the fact that there can be some terrifying moments.

At least the plane landed safely!

Would you have been terrified in the above situation? Do you think American handled the situation correctly by not acknowledging what happened onboard?

Comments

  1. I would be terrified if a situation like that happened to me during a flight. I think AA should have credited at least 50 k miles for each passenger as a single compensation form….

  2. Give me a million it would not matter because I would not be on a plane for a long time.

  3. B757 or A321? The image of data from FlightAware says A321, no? To some extent, I would think a mechanical problem may have been more likely on an older AA B757, but this may be a newer-ish plane. Glad everyone is ok.

  4. A similar event happened on my flight from JFK to Zurich last September (also 757). 30 minutes into the flight there was a loud boom. No shaking, but after the boom there was a loud noise – sounded like drag or landing gear door was open. The captain made an announcement (with the emergency alarm going off in the background) that the airplane computer was malfunctioning. We headed back to JFK and it was the most terrifying 30 minutes of my life. The noise eventually stopped and started again. We landed, everyone clapped. They took us to the gate and examined the plane. We all deboarded and they swapped out the plane for another 757. We recieved a meal voucher and a similar email with 5K miles two days later. It was really terrifying the whole experience.

  5. Probably would have taken five years off the tail end of my life going through that. Only 7,000 miles!!!!! Free RT domestic flight would have been appropriate.

  6. Looks like the original aircraft on which the incident occurred was actually an A321… the B757 was the ferry plane that picked everyone up at JFK and took them the rest of the way.

  7. Pretty sure it was an a321.

    The 757 was the replacement plane that continued the journey from JFK to MIA?

  8. Gotta go with enough for a oneway flight, at least. Something that is good on its own at least.

    12.5k or 7500 would make some sense.

  9. I get a bit giddy in tense situations, I guess that’s my inner way of dealing with anxiety/stress. But hearing the FA crying over the PA would send anybody, including me, into a swirling eddy of despair!

  10. As terrifying as it probably was for the passengers, it was a “standard event” in terms of engine safety design. Google blade off containment requirements if you want to know more.

    Engine stalls and blade off events CAN happen (and be a result of the other), likely resulting in the loud bang that could be heard in the cabin. Those events can cause smoke ingestion through the bleed air system. Simple solution: Turn the engine off.

    I realize not everyone knows a lot about planes, which is why I think AA should have followed up with at least a bit of information on what happened. Something along the lines of “We experienced a malfunction in the left engine which was subsequently shut down.” followed by generic statement about the commitment to safety could go a long way.

  11. I think the compensation miles depend on your status. I’m ExP and received 10.000 miles because the entertainment system did not work on a 10 hour flight.

  12. Flight attendant should have maintained composure.

    What we don’t know is how much smoke was actually in the cabin, and for how long.

    Engine flame outs are standard procedure for crews.

    Doesn’t sound like the smoke was persistent.

    This was a case of hysteria from an ill trained flight attendant.

  13. By expecting/accepting the “shut up and go away” free miles, the true human cost of the experience is cheapened. It is a bigger social issue of the degradation of basic decent human/corporate values when everyone can be paid off, and often expect to be paid off. It would have been so easy for AA to simply acknowledge there was a problem with the plane, and empathise a bit with passengers’ experience; without the need to apologise or go into any specifics about what went wrong.

  14. American carriers suck when it comes to customer service. That’s why I never fly them! But there is no excuse to not provide any apology or follow up information.

    Years ago, I was on a CX flight from HKG-JFK and we had to divert to Toronto because of a blizzard at JFK. They gave us a hotel with meals all paid for. Then the next day, we flew from Toronto to JFK with a new set of crew locally based in Toronto, but were stuck on the tarmac for 8+ hours. The crew kept us informed of what was happening. Once we disembarked, we had to wait another several hours before the bags came off the belt because the door of the baggage compartment was frozen!

    We were given free round trip tickets between any destination which was more than enough!

    It just shows you that non American carriers do more for their passengers during times like these.

  15. Here is some more info…

    An American Airlines Airbus A321-200, registration N142AN performing flight AA-1086 from Boston,MA to Miami,FL (USA) with 189 people, was climbing through FL330 out of Boston about 50nm east of New York JFK,NY (USA) when the crew reported smoke in the cockpit and decided to divert to New York JFK. While descending towards JFK the crew reported it appeared the smoke was dissipating. The aircraft continued for a safe landing on JFK’s runway 22L about 25 minutes later. Emergency services reported smoke from the left hand engine (V2533). The crew responded they had experienced a #1 engine stall and smoke in the cockpit, but everything went away and they wanted to make sure everything looked good. The crew taxied the aircraft to the apron.

    Passengers reported there were two loud booms, the aircraft started to rattle, some passengers observed streaks of flames from the left hand engine, then smoke started to enter the cabin. The rattle, streaks and rattle subsided soon after.

    The airline reported there was a problem with one of the engines, the aircraft is now being examined.

  16. I suspect their general counsel’s office would not let them write any further acknowledgement of what happened beyond generically describing it as a “situation” and the delay being “motivated by our commitment to your safety”. Don’t think it would be prudent to put into writing anything about people being “terrified”, and certainly not being at risk of imminent harm.

  17. 7000 miles is a disgrace. It just shows how poor AA customer service is at the moment. Doug Parker is the worst thing that could happen to AA.

  18. That AA FA probably needs to find a new line of work if she really was crying over the PA. Nothing calms people down like an overly emotional person who is supposedly in charge.

  19. I received a 15k mile compensation from AF which had an option for DL Skymiles, but I had to mail it in. Stupid me, I never copied the certificate – i mailed in the cert w/ a letter – and DL never credited me.

  20. Sorry. But that flight attendant must go. The #1 reason they are their is our safety. (As much we love them to serve us the 5 pieces peanuts and 2 oz soft drink).
    1 – Her behavior caused panic. 2 – if plane actually have a ditch in water or any other emergency, it is proven that she could not provide help due to her emotional instability during a false emergency.

  21. Don’t know about anyone else but I would have sh*t my pants. On a serious note though, there might be some liability issues preventing AA to mention anything about trauma or dramatic experience just in case anyone sues for emotional damages. Don’t blame AA, blame the litigation-happy system.

  22. Flight attendant should have known better – they’re supposed to be the leaders here and they break down. Very poor show by them. AA should reevaluate those attenedants if they can’t handle a crisis.
    It’s like a surgeon breaking down mid operation because it gets too hard. They need to persevere to save the live, and not give up

  23. A few things:

    1) Flight attendants are only human. None of us could say how we’d react in a similar situation.

    2) 7000 miles is a joke. But I suspect that those passengers who send an email or two or three to the right addresses can get more.

    3) This sounds similar to the aa flight from seoul to dfw several months ago that hit severe turbulence. In the videos, people were screaming and praying. Broken dishes littered the floor. It took several minutes after it ended for any announcements. The captain said only that they would see if they could continue to dfw or if they’d have to make an emergency landing, while the FA said only to be careful walking around due to broken glass. No one ever said anything reassuring.

  24. Incident: American A321 near New York on Jun 19th 2016, smoke in cockpit as result of engine stall

    By Simon Hradecky, created Monday, Jun 20th 2016 21:53Z, last updated Monday, Jun 20th 2016 21:55Z
    An American Airlines Airbus A321-200, registration N142AN performing flight AA-1086 from Boston,MA to Miami,FL (USA) with 189 people, was climbing through FL330 out of Boston about 50nm east of New York JFK,NY (USA) when the crew reported smoke in the cockpit and decided to divert to New York JFK. While descending towards JFK the crew reported it appeared the smoke was dissipating. The aircraft continued for a safe landing on JFK’s runway 22L about 25 minutes later. Emergency services reported smoke from the left hand engine (V2533). The crew responded they had experienced a #1 engine stall and smoke in the cockpit, but everything went away and they wanted to make sure everything looked good. The crew taxied the aircraft to the apron.

    Passengers reported there were two loud booms, the aircraft started to rattle, some passengers observed streaks of flames from the left hand engine, then smoke started to enter the cabin. The rattle, streaks and rattle subsided soon after.

    The airline reported there was a problem with one of the engines, the aircraft is now being examined.

    http://flightaware.com/live/flight/AAL1086/history/20160619/2055Z/KBOS/KMIA

  25. That response email was almost word for word identical to our response after multiple mechanical failures on an AA flight from Charlotte to Rome. Obvious corner cutting by inept customer service. Oh, and we received 25,000 miles for a 36 hour delay. If he plane had caught on fire and only 7,000 points offered, that would have been DEFCON 5 for me. Completely asinine.

  26. I agree with some comments above. This is an emergency management and communications issue. All contemporary best practice tells us to keep those involved informed about what is happening. Ignorance is what causes panic and resentment. What passengers want to know is that the crew know what is going wrong and how to fix it. They want to know that they are going to be taken care of, and that the professionals in charge are on it.

    Legals and liability issues are usually excuses rather than good communications tactics. You can acknowledge without attracting liability. And we know that potential plaintiffs – in this case the passengers, are more likely not to litigate if they are kept informed and apologised to. Lawyers who say otherwise are just being lazy – or trying to earn extra fees.

    On compensation – I agree with @JoeChin13. Points or flights, or free meals are no substitute for standard human compassion, politeness and respect. It doesn’t hurt to offer them, but it passengers are there to be engaged with, not paid off.

    On the crying flight attendant front. I’m sorry, although human, the behaviour is unprofessional and unacceptable. She should be leading her team in containing the passengers – and an announcement through a veil of tears won’t cut it. Re-training is required.

  27. @Josh

    Flight Attendants are professionally trained parts of the flight crew and it is simply unacceptable for them to be crying in this situation, especially over the PA. Their composure during emergencies is paramount to prevent panic and effectively lead the passengers. This FA should be disciplined and possibly terminated if it is determined that they are unable to perform the duties of their job. Were the pilots crying in the cockpit?

  28. There’s no satisfying everybody. AA doesn’t give miles, people complain. AA gives 7000 miles, people complain it’s not enough. AA gives sandwiches and pop, people want steak and champagne. So many people prognosticating on their high horses.

    An emergency is an emergency. Noone wishes it to happen, nor does anyone decent wish it on anyone. All we can ask is that it be dealt with professionally and competently.

  29. I think you guys are being overly critical here. Theres probably a long list of procedures at AA regarding how to handle such a situation with customers, and the best option at this point is to acknowledge, apologize and briefly explain. You dont want them going around saying they had a near death experience; you want them to think it was a small issue and also state that you’re commited to safety so they feel safe in the future with your airline. I also think 7k miles is an entirely reasonable compensation: noone was injured, and once you take away the terrifying part of it, it was a standard diversion that delayed the arrival by a few hours, something that sometimes doesnt even get compensated form Also @palermo: would you rather have Jeff Smisek as CEO?

  30. I am rather sure the events were exaggerated by the writer – if it had been something really serious AA (and most airlines for that matter) would have recognized it.

    I do agree that sometimes better communication from the cockpit could make a huge difference though, as many times flyers hear noises they are not familiar with and tend to panic.

  31. Typical exaggerated histrionics. Kind of like the lawyer who claimed the TCAS avoidance maneuver off Hawaii sent stuff slamming against the ceiling….

  32. 7,000 miles is a joke.

    Either AA should have given zero miles and a meaningful, sincere apology from a higher-up. OR they should recognize the traumatic experience and refund the entire ticket and then some.

    The important thing of course is that the plane landed safely, but the form letter and token mileage is pitiful. They give 7,000 miles for a seat that doesnt recline.

  33. I was on that flight and I thought I was not going to see my family again. It was more than terrifying… And I was incredibly insulted that AA sent that email. I responded letting them know how wrong it was to downplay the issue with a token 7,000 miles. What was wise was the fact nobody from AA was there to offer help or support after we deplaned.

    I had trouble getting into the next flight, and I am a seasoned flyer…

  34. AA flight attendants are all too fond of reminding us they’re there “primarily for safety.” That’s their excuse for delivering subpar service, hiding in the galley, ignoring uniform standards and generally conducting themselves as terrible ambassadors of the brand, particularly on longhaul flights.

    If they can’t keep it together in an emergency, then they literally have no purpose whatsoever. They and their union have reduced their job down to one function, and in this instance they failed miserably at it.

  35. If the stated primary duty of a flight attendant is for the passengers’ safety (rather than for handing out drinks, and hanging coats), then she should have maintained her composure, otherwise she is just a glorified waitress.

  36. I was a Delta flight in August 2014 from LHR to SEA on a 767-300. Typical British dreary weather that day, light rain and gloom. We were climbing to cruising altitude when there was a flash, loud bang, and a momentary burst of what looked like flame over the left wing. The plane rocked and dropped a bit and of course, some were screaming and quite upset.

    We circled LHR for another 45 minutes or so while the flight crew kept coming out of the cockpit to visibly inspect the left wing. Finally, they declared it as a failure of the wicks on the plane to fully discharge static build up and that it had not damaged the wing or flight instruments that they could tell and that we would be going on. They also mentioned that if something else came up they could divert to Greenland, Iceland, or Toronto. Several people around me felt that this was the wrong decision and they were more comfortable with going back to LHR, having the plane fully inspected, and taking up a new flight. The flight continued as normal with no further drama but everyone was quite on edge throughout.

    I received 10k additional miles but only after I pursued it with Delta customer service.

  37. What do you mean they didn’t acknowledge the terror? “We are writing to follow up with you about the situation you encountered as a passenger on our flight 1086 on June 19. While we are sure you can appreciate our decision to land in New York was motivated by our commitment to your safety, we also can appreciate that many of our customers’ important plans were significantly affected, and for that, we are sorry.

    In appreciation for your patience, we have added 7,000 AAdvantage® bonus miles to your account. You should see this mileage adjustment in your account very soon, and you can view this activity via our web site, http://www.aa.com.” The first paragraph is more than enough acknowledgement for me. And 7000 miles is if anything too much

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *