Winter is just around the corner and so are the inevitable long flight delays that go hand in hand with crappy weather. These days, in the US at least, passengers can expect better treatment because of new legislation that actually forces the airlines to look after them. After several well-publicised incidences where people have been stuck on airplanes for several hours with not even a glass of water, there is even a timetable detailing when refreshments must be served. Non-compliance with any of the new rules results in eye-watering fines, so the airlines make the effort and delays have become more bearable. There will always be the odd person who believes the airlines can actually control the weather, but most folk grudgingly accept a delay as part and parcel of travelling in wintertime. That said, occasionally a flight doesn’t depart on schedule for a reason so incredible that the airline may as well claim it was due to snowfall in Florida. Here are a few of those…
Turtles on the runway
Runway incursions, which are unauthorised entries to an active runway, generally involve stray vehicles or other aircraft, but that’s not always the case. As a major international hub, New York’s JFK airport has its fair share of incursions, but once every few years the offenders are diamondback terrapins. Jutting out into Jamaica Bay, JFK’s runway 04L acts as a highway for these little critters as they head to the beach to lay their eggs. If the airport cannot use a different runway when nature calls, the authorities have no choice but to halt operations. Although it’s true that a heavy jet wouldn’t even notice a few terrapins under its wheels, just one sucked into an engine at takeoff power would make one hell of a mess. Plus, if the papers were full of photos showing steamrollered turtles, the runways would soon be full of protestors. Which leads to…
People on the runway
When newspaper headlines announce ‘flights delayed due people on the runway’, they usually mean that someone has gained access to the secure area where the aircraft are parked. Whether accidental or not, the vast majority of cases involve passengers who have walked through the wrong door. Any subsequent delays are usually the result of security personnel overcompensating for their initial oversight. For a journalist, it just sounds better to write ‘runway’ instead of the more accurate ‘apron’. Once in a while, though, the moniker is spot on. In July 2015, a group of protesters cut through the perimeter fence at London Heathrow and installed themselves on a runway. They were angered by the decision to build a third runway at the airport and wanted publicity for their movement. Unfortunately, their little stunt caused huge delays and many hours of airborne holding, not to mention the additional fuel that was burned by the police helicopters and vehicles. Publicity was indeed achieved, but not without a lot of unnecessary carbon emissions that rather knocked the tree-huggers off their moral high ground.
Chemical (toilet) weapons
Anyone who has used a portable toilet knows that the stench of chemicals is almost as bad as the stuff they are supposed to be dealing with. Whether an aircraft toilet uses a vacuum-based system or the classic ‘long drop’ method, it is basically the same thing — a hole leading to a tank full of some nasty shit. Sometimes the onboard loo just cannot cope, and that’s when it gets messy. In March 2015, a BA jet bound for Dubai had to return to London when a still-to-be-identified passenger used the restroom. Their unholy dump stank out the whole cabin to such an extent that the crew had no choice but to turn back toward home and fresh air.
Crabs on a plane
What with the huge popularity of the Hollywood and Brazilian wax destroying their natural habitat, you rarely hear anyone complaining of crabs down below these days. But that is exactly what delayed a US Airways plane at New York’s La Guardia in October 2014 when a box of live crabs broke open in the cargo hold. The airplane was subsequently delayed for around 30 minutes while airport workers rounded up the escaped crustaceans. This was only one of a surprising number of delays that are caused by errant wildlife. In the past, these have included rodents, cockroaches, cats, dogs and, yes, even snakes.
You came back to the gate for WHAT?
In December 2014, a Korean Air executive achieved infamy when she was arrested for forcing an aircraft to return to the gate. The reason? Because the chief steward had served her nuts in a way that displeased her. Apparently, Her Preciousness objected to her nuts being in a bag rather than presented to her on a plate; most likely a silver one. Back home in South Korea, this didn’t go down too well and she was sentenced to one year in prison for interfering with the safety of an aircraft. Of course, the typical reaction to hearing this story is to ask why on earth the pilot returned to the gate in the first place, for something so trivial that it deserved a slap.
Did we mention that her dad owns the company? Yeah, that’ll be why.
What’s the most bizarre reason you’ve ever heard for a flight delay? Let us know in the comments section below.