Broken Plane

It’s six in the evening and I’m stuck inside a hot and stuffy DC-9 flying above Illinois. After a quick layover in Indianapolis we’re heading for Kansas City. I’m scheduled to participate in “ORDER UP! Tales from the Dining Room,” a program sponsored by that city’s public library. It’s my first trip as a published author. It might also be my last. Cue the Airport 77 music!

“Man, it’s hot in here,” my seatmate says.

“The A/C hasn’t worked since we got back on the plane in Indianapolis,” I reply. “I wonder what’s wrong?”

“Who knows?” my seatmate says, shrugging. “This plane’s probably older than either of us.”

I look around the cramped confines of the narrow bodied jet. This plane’s so old that I’m surprised the pilot didn’t yell “contact” before we took off.

“You might be right,” I reply. “But I assumed things would start cooling off once we got higher the air.”

My seatmate glances out the window. “We’re not flying very high,” he says. “Not even 9000 feet. And we’re flying very slowly.”

“Oh well,” I say, wiping the sweat off my brow. “I’m just glad I remembered to use deodorant this morning.’

“Me too,” my seatmate replies, chucking softly.

Several minutes elapse. The passengers start muttering. The stewardess is sweating bullets. It’s obvious something is wrong. The captain comes on the plane’s PA system

“Good evening ladies and gentleman,” the pilot says in reassuring tones. “You’ve probably noticed that we’re having a problem with our air conditioning. That’s because we’re experiencing a cabin pressure issue. There’s no danger. The plane’s flying normally but we can’t climb to our scheduled cruising altitude of 36.000 feet because we can’t pressurize the cabin. We’re troubleshooting the problem with our mechanics on the ground and we’ll let you know more as the situation develops.”

My seatmate turns and looks at me. “Cabin pressure issue?”

“The late, great George Carlin would’ve said ‘BROKEN PLANE!’” I reply.

“The pilot’s gonna turn around and go back,” my seatmate groans. “I know it.”

“But we’re halfway there.”

“Doesn’t matter.”

As if he’s listening to us talk, the pilot starts executing a fairly sharp 180 degree turn. Suddenly the passengers on the left hand side of the place are sitting higher than me.

“He’s turning around,” I say, stating the obvious.

“I hope they can fix this fast,” my seatmate says. “Because it’s a six hour drive to Kansas City.’


My seatmate and I sit quietly. I know I’m not in any real danger, but my brain starts crunching the probabilities of us losing our aeronautical fight with gravity anyway.

“If there was a serious problem,” I whisper to my seatmate, “Do you think they’d tell us?”

“No way.”

“If I was them I wouldn’t either”

“No use having a plane full of panicked passengers.’

“Yeah,’ I say, grinning. “But if the stewardess starts asking ‘Who didn’t have the fish?’ then you know we’re screwed.”

My seatmate picks up on the Airplane reference and starts laughing. Suddenly, a baby starts crying loudly.

“Just great,’ I say. “Now all we need is a nun playing a guitar.”

Twenty minutes later we land back at Indianapolis. I take the fact that no fire engines greet our arrival and the stewardess isn’t screaming “Get out! Get out!” as a good sign. As the plane taxis towards the terminal the passengers start whipping out their cell phones and start making calls.

“Now the stories are gonna start,” my seatmate whispers. “People will start making a bigger deal out of this than it is.’

“They’ll call it Terror Flight 2008! or something,” I reply.

“Some guy’ll say there was a hole in the plane. That we might’ve crashed.”

“Our stewardess was sucked out the window!”

“I swear boss, the wing came clean off!”

The plane reaches the terminal and stops. Several passengers jump out of their seats and march towards the front of the plane.

“I want to get off right now!” an imperious woman snaps at the stewardess.

“You have to wait for the skybridge, ma’am,” the stewardess replies.

“Why do we have to wait for the skybridge?” another passenger, a choleric looking fellow in a loud shirt, yells.

‘Because we don’t want you to fall twenty feet onto the runway, sir,” the stewardess replies, deadpan.

“Move the line!” another impatient man shouts. “Move the line!”

As I wrote in my book, 80% of restaurant customers are nice people just looking for something to eat. The remaining 20% are entitled sociopaths. That ratio seems to hold true for airline passengers as well.

“Let us off!” the imperious woman yells. “You can’t keep us here!”

“Ma’am” the stewardess says. “You cannot disembark until the skybridge gets here.”

“And when will that be?”

“When it’s here.”

“That’s not acceptable.”

The stewardess decides to ignore the huffy woman. Long gone are the days of “coffee, tea, or me.” Failure to comply with flight attendant’s instructions is a federal offense. I idly wonder how the cranky passengers clogging the aisle would fare at Guantanamo.

Soon a trio of technicians clamber aboard the plane and start fiddling with the knobs and dials in the cockpit. I find it mildly disconcerting to see one of technicians leafing through a big green manual and scratching his head. The air in the cabin is hot and uncomfortable but not life threatening. There are no people in imminent medical distress. The stewardess lets the young mother with the baby stand near the cockpit door so the child can get some air. That overheated baby’s the only passenger entitled to be crying.

“Let us off of here!” another cranky passenger shouts.

“Sir,” the stewardess says. “The technicians are close to fixing the problem. If you get off you’ll just be getting back on again.”

“I don’t care. I want to get off now!”

The gantry arrives and about 20% of the passengers get off the plane. The technicians quickly fix the cabin pressure problem and the air conditioning kicks in. We can’t leave promptly, however, because several of the disembarked passengers refuse to get back on. The wimps are freaked and want to go to Kansas City on another flight. Because they and their luggage are gone, the ground crew has to reweight the aircraft so we don’t roll over and crash on take off. Another delay. I sigh loudly. Flying is just like eating out in restaurant. It’s the difficult and entitled idiots who make it tough for everyone else.

Eventually we’re back in the air and the captain comes on the PA again.

“Sorry about the delay, folks,” the captain says in that clipped Right Stuff accent all pilot seem to cultivate. “We had to turn around because we didn’t have enough fuel to fly to Kansas City at 9000 feet.”

I run some basic science though my head. The air is denser at 9000 feet than at 36,000 feet. Therefore, a plane would need more fuel to power through the air resistance at a lower altitude and finish the trip. What the …..?

“Jesus,” I say to my seatmate. “You mean they don’t fill the tanks to the brim every time we go up?”

“No way,” he says. “They do everything to try conserving weight and gas,”

“But that’s cutting it kind of close don’t you think? Having to fly at 36,000 and not 9000 feet in an emergency?”

My seatmate shrugs. “Ever since they stopped giving away free peanuts, flying sucks.”

I say nothing and look out my window. The darkening Missouri countryside rolls beneath us we fly towards the setting sun. I think about plowing into an anonymous cornfield at 600 miles per hour because some corporate bean counter wanted to save a few bucks.

For the first time during the entire flight, I’m scared.


NEWS FLASH! Wow! Talk about timing! I swear I didn’t read this article before I wrote this!

74 thoughts on “Broken Plane”

  1. Bekah says:

    Well, I doubt they’ll compromise safety very much, bc that would prove to be an even greater revenue loss. But the lack of air conditioning does sound unpleasant (as well as the bratty passengers…. maybe there’s an angry stewardess blog out there 🙂

  2. Booply says:

    Yep, most people have no idea how many different things the airline company must do to get a plane in the air so they just assume they can get on and off as they like and no repercussions will be had by those who are left behind, patient and calm. I’d like to think that most people who tolerate the assholes get rewarded, but most of the time it’s they who suffer the most, and nothing rarely happens to the ones who push others to get what they want. There needs to be a boondock saints movie not about moblords and other more nefarious evildoers, but about the pushy “need-their way every day” types. I would see more people lining up for that cause since more people see and despise these people on a daily basis.

  3. Wilhelm says:

    After finishing my copy of “Waiter Rant,” I decided that I should read “Kitchen Confidential.”
    Waiter, yours is much, much, much better.

  4. Dr. Electro says:

    That fuel issue has come into the new lately. The bean counters say they are computing fuel loads very carefully. I say they are just trying to maximize profits in a neoconservative economy.

    Either way, I’m glad you made the trip OK. Those DC9s are real workhorses. Everything on them was overbuilt for safety reasons. That is precisely why they are still in the air and not in a scrapheap.

    I hope your trip home is less adventurous!

  5. Alan Aguilar says:

    Good to see you can still write after publishing 😉

    Wish i could read your book, but it’s kind of hard and i am too lazzy to import it here in Mexico, so please keep updating, and the best of luck in your new life cycle…you do deserve it.

  6. Natalie says:

    I hope the rest of your trip to KC went well? I’m from a small town about 30 miles west. I wished I had checked the site sooner, I would’ve made the drive into the city!

  7. Reid says:


    What the pilot meant by “not enough fuel to get to Kansas City” was that there was not enough fuel to get to Kansas city AND THEN to the first alternate city specified by the flight plan AND THEN to the second alternate city specified by the flight plan AND THEN circle around for an hour, all at 9,000 feet. There was no need to worry.

    Required fuel buffers have not been changed due to declining profits (and they’re set by the FAA, not the airlines).

    There’s a great blog called Ask the Pilot on these topics.

  8. Ricky says:

    FWIW, I don’t think the fuel thing is particularly new. Fuel does add up in weight, by the time you talking about the amount needed to fly a jet, and if you have too much weight, you can’t always land the plane safely (if you recall the JetBlue flight last year(?), they had the circle for something like four hours before they could land because they had te burn up the excess fuel — otherwise they were too heavy to land).

    By law, planes need to have enough fuel to travel to their destination, the next nearest airport that can handle them, and I think the next nearest one after that, and still be able to circle for 45 minutes. However, it really is very different flying at 9,000 ft vs. 36,000 feet in terms of fuel efficiency — in part because jet engines are totally fuel wasters until they get going fast enough, and they can’t get fast enough in the thicker atmosphere.

    I guess what I’m trying to say is that a) you don’t necessarily want the tanks filled to the brim anyway, and b) I don’t think that this is anything new…

  9. Devin says:

    Actually, fuel is HEAVY. And, of course, it takes fuel to carry fuel, so the problem compounds itself…

    You’re much safer flying in a plane that’s got enough fuel to get where it’s going but is also light enough to do a touch-and-go aborted landing (just to pick something I’ve been through*) than you are in a plane that’s landing carrying two-thirds of a tank of flammable dead weight.

    For this reason, planes will actually dump excess fuel before landing, because accidents during landing are a LOT more common than running out of fuel, and a lot more recoverable if you’re light than if you’re really heavy.

    *It was pretty scary, heavy crosswind during landing, you could see the wings flex and the pilot couldn’t seem to keep the landing gear stuck, so he took off again and gave it another go in a few minutes and that was fine. Would have been a lot scarier if he’d been carrying excess fuel, I’m sure.

  10. Narkito says:

    Jesus! That’s why they say ignorance is bliss, when I get into a plane I don’t want to know the math behind, I just want to think it’s maginc.

    Your story reminded me of a flight I had between Mendoza, Argentina and Santiago, Chile, like 8 years ago. There was a snow storm in Los Andes and someone forgot to warn us about the turbulence. It was also my first time on a plane.

    Glad everything was okay for you Waiter.

  11. LA Ex-Waitress says:

    I’d guess that the entitled crowd on an airplane is even higher! Air stewards do a hard job and mostly pretty cheerfully. Glad you made it OK and with sense of humor intact.

  12. sam says:

    According to air is about 2.5x as dense at 9000 ft than at 30000 ft at the same temperature. I’m sure there’s a bunch of other factors that some others have mentioned that have to be taken into account as well, but 2.5x is a lot.

    It is freaky to be on a plane when they have to turn around, though in my case it sort of re-enforced how well designed planes are. Had an engine explode on a 727 out of San Jose a couple years ago. About three minutes into the flight. Pretty freaky, but the pilot came on, explained what happened, told everyone that sure enough, these planes are designed to fly on one engine, and got us back on the ground safely.

    Good times. In retrospect 😉

  13. C. Fish says:

    One more technical point — you’ll find that mechanics and technicians fixing anything authentically complicated always have the manuals at hand. Just like with the fuel buffer, which is specified by regulations. You don’t want techs “fixing” complicated pieces of technology on which people’s lives depend by memory.

    What’s more, high performance equipment like engines and airplanes needs to be fixed according to the specifications — bolts tighened to a certain torque, and so on. That’s why they use the manual. Not because they’re dumb of confused, but because they’re smart enough to know they can’t remember everything important.

  14. admin says:

    I will certainly defer to everyone who has more knowledge about aircraft that I!

  15. JR says:

    Ah, finally a real post 🙂

    Once again I am entertained… but i guess that since you are no longer waiting tables, if i want to read more about cranky diners and poor tippers I’ll have to buy your book…

    Is there any way I can buy the book direct from you? I’d feel better if I knew that more of the money went to the author than to Amazon… plus I’ll be able to add a 20% tip 🙂

  16. admin says:

    Click on the Amazon link on my blog! That’s kind of like buying it from me!

  17. joe says:

    A couple of years ago I had a nonstop NYC-SF flight make an unscheduled refueling stop in Salt Lake City for no reason other than “unusually strong headwinds”. Had flied at normal altitude, no idling or circling….just didn’t have enough fuel. And this was long before this year’s “high fuel prices” shenanigans.

    On the bright side, I got a $40 voucher for my next flight with that airline.

  18. nr says:

    “Failure to comply with flight attendant’s instructions is a federal offense.”

    That’s right–I’m AMAZED that thing Joel Osteen calls “wife” simply got off with a $4,000 fine from the FAA for assaulting a flight attendant for not cleaning a quarter-sized spill on her seat fast enough! [I’m not kidding]. It’s OK though–the legal process will run it’s course–the flight attendant Mrs Osteen assaulted [a Ms Brown] filed a civil complaint and the jury was just seated a few days ago… Should be interesting how it all plays out–flight attendants (what happened to Ms. Brown was witnessed by a second flight attendant) vs snotty pushy [literally!] rich b*tch. I hope Mrs.Osteen loses her a$$ and is publicly humiliated….

    I used to think well of Joel Osteen–now I wonder about his judgement continuing to associate with someone so lacking in character.

    Sorry about your flight Waiter and didn’t mean to get off track but the talk of dealings with flight attendants got me thinking about the Osteen case.

  19. WVKay says:

    Bless your heart. That is just not right. Entitled assholes seem to rule the world. I, for one, am going to do everything in my power to put a stop to it. As I told you before, I’m here for the writing, and you didn’t disappoint.

  20. Colossal_Beast says:

    Tombstone technology, ain’t it grand?

  21. witchypoo says:

    Wicked! And I’m sure you won’t become an entitled arsehole when you are feelthy rich from your #1 bestseller!

  22. Taylor Ellwood says:

    Found your blog after reading your book, which was excellent by the way. I’m curious if the workers or your boss from the Bistro have contacted you after it came out and if they said anything about your depiction of them?

    I know all too well about the dangers of flying, including how much they skimp in general.

  23. Moshizzle says:

    Waiter (can I still call you Waiter?), “stewardess” is no longer politically correct. They’re flight attendants or cabin crew. And yes, Ask the Pilot is great too.

  24. CJ says:

    Something similar happened to me flying home from Chicago a couple weeks ago. Same pressurization problems– we had to turn around and go back. I think one of the better moments had to have been when the pilot told us not to worry if the emergency equipment deployed..

    I’d never been truly scared on a plane before, either. It’s terrifying being that high up and knowing that something’s wrong with the plane.

    Is it just me, or have these kind of incidents been happening more and more often lately?

  25. another Denise says:

    I am glad you are safe and I hope you made it in time for your program. Congrats. on being on the NY Times best seller list. You deserve it.

  26. Karen says:

    As the daughter of one of the aforementioned “Technicians”, I know for a fact that delays are simply a part of life. Would you rather the problem be ignored and risk your life or take a delay and fix it? The job is not an easy one, and, additionally, modern society and economic strains on the industry are making it even more and more difficult and more and more miserable to be an employee of the company. Flying is mostly a pain, but please don’t take it out on the employees you see. They didn’t make the rules and they know what it’s like to be in your position.

  27. Dan says:

    At least they knew they didn’t have enough fuel. Read about the ‘Gimli Glider’ over at Damn Interesting. That’ll really make you think twice about flying.

  28. Jimmy says:

    Usually I love all your stories, but I feel like the out-of-place Guantanamo comment kind of darkened my mood. It’s real blemish on our country’s good name and it’s also a place where no one “fairs” all that well.

  29. Food Service Ninja says:

    Waiter I can relate to flying on an old plane -went to my lil bro’s wedding in Denver-cant rem year but we left a couple days before the old Denver airport closed and the new opened up.

    On the way home I get a headache and notice its a bit stuffy in the cabin so I reach up to turn on the air jet thingie and discover there wasnt one.

    I flew every few years as a kid on vacation as my extended family lives on both coasts and in the southwest so I was shocked to not have the ability to point a jet of ACed air into my face. I started looking around and noticed the was the most bare bones plane I had ever flown on. I think it was a 737 might be even older.

    Week or two later the FFA shuts down the airline because it lacked enough executives and senior level maintenance men. So I felt I had dodged a bullet. Other than that I never had more trouble than clear air turbulance and the odd rain storm.

    And as a server I have to take my hat off to the poor stews since most of my flying was done when I was a bratty child and I can never remember a bad experience from the crew-think I once even got to go up to the cockpit and say hi to the captain.

    And yes Olsteen’s wife’s civil trial is ongoing and there has been mentioned the race card since the attendant assualted and possible the witnessing one are black and allegedly she demanded to be served by another “white” one.

  30. Joe C says:

    It’s why I always drive everywhere.

    Finished reading the book. I like the fact that it’s less of a tell-all, and has great story and character. Well done, sir!


  31. Joni says:

    Now, all you need to do is come here to Ireland and the UK and do your book signings. C’mon jump on that plane for a nice loooong flight, you know you want to! 😉

  32. Becs says:

    My sympathies – I hate flying, too.

    Off topic, I think your writing is getting better and better. Waiter, I think this is just the beginning. I have a feeling (and I hope) that we’ll be hearing from you for a long, long time.

  33. Adiva says:

    I am very happy for you, I caught the Matt Lauer show piece and you were pretty good. Congrats on making it to here, hope you keep going upwards. You are a great writer.

  34. bethanythemartian says:

    Wow that sounds pretty stressful- also sounds like you kept good spirits. Traveling in an airplane is a lot safer, statistically speaking, than traveling in a car. Of course, you pick the wrong plane…

  35. Tasha says:

    UGH, this doesn’t help my fear of flying at all. I’m glad you had a safe trip overall though, and so good to see you sharing stories. Hearing about these idiots on the plane made me wonder if there’s a flight attendant out there somewhere writing a blog…

  36. trsh says:

    i waited all day yesterday for this post, and i’m glad i did, it’s a good one! interesting discussion in the comments, too. love this site, loved the book (which, btw, i finished a few days ago- bravo!) can’t wait to read more.

  37. BigSexy says:

    Waiter! You are number 15 on the NYTimes Best Selling Non Fiction Hardback! CONGRATS! My hubby read the book loved it and now my parents are reading it….

  38. grammar gestapo says:

    Dear Waiter….

    now that you are published writer- PLEASE take heed on rules of English grammar and spelling!Even if it is only for your posts. You look/sound ignorant- yes, I know that is how everybody sounds, but as an author using the English language- you now have a standard to uphold! ha-ha.

    Subjunctive: a hypothetical situation (If this plane WERE to crash…., If I WERE you….)

    Please note, one uses the subjunctive of the verb to be in a possible situation: WERE not WAS. If I were to write a book, I would make sure it had correct grammar throughout. If he were to land right now, we could get off!

    enjoy the examples!

    for goodness sakes!

  39. dethmama says:

    Thank you, waiter!! Reading your wonderful stories over the years has given me the courage to start my own blog. You’re my inspiration!!

  40. barb says:

    Great story waiter, love that your sense of humor is still the same & even better if anything. Please keep writing? Also, glad you are safe. Now you can come to Anchorage, it’s only a 5 hour flight from Minneapolis!

  41. calbear says:

    The topic of airlines skirting on fuel seems to be everywhere these days. I wonder if they really save that much or if situations like yours will turn out to cancel out the gains (in both actual costs and goodwill).

  42. Marc Giangrosso says:

    Hello and thank you for putting down on paper your experience as a waiter. I never read your Blog but have spent the last 4 years waiting tables in New Orleans. I enjoyed the book very much and much like the experiences of men at sea are similar no matter whose navy you are working for, it echoed mine. Standing offer, If you come down to New Orleans some time, myself and my wife would love to take you to dinner. Regards

  43. Kate says:

    I have a pilot friend and, at least in the UK, the pilots are the ultimate decision as to how much fuel a plane will carry. Obviously corporate wants the plane to take just a tad bit more than is necessary to get the plane from point a to point b, because it costs more money (and fuel) to carry more weight than is necessary. However, all the pilots that my mate knows carry more fuel than they need, because, well, running out is bad…he says they get yelled at all the time about it, but it won’t stop them from being safe–it’s their lives on the line, too.

    Dunno how it works in the states, though.

  44. Anonymous says:

    hahah I’ve had similar circumstances. Last spring I flew from Belize back to the East Coast and ended up in Mexico because the plane ran out of gas….

    Oh the airlines…will it ever be fun to fly again?

  45. gailsie says:

    The hubby travels for the job, and the rest of us have spent enough time on planes to recognize the idiots that will inevitably jump up as soon as the plane approaches the gate. Never mind the fact that the bridge has to meet the plane, and that there will be quite a few minutes before the doors are opened. Why the rush, I never understand, especially as you CAN’T GO ANYWHERE.
    I am frequently appalled at the lack of common manners with people who frequent airlines. So much of what goes on is out of our hands. Patience, a sense of humor, and a willingness to see that the airline personnel are trying their best to accommodate you will go a long way towards making the trip more tolerable.
    I always have to laugh that these “jumpers” (because they “jump” out of their seats), are also the same ones that will force their way up to the baggage claim carousel, and be a PITA there, as well.

    Oh well, on a more pleasant note, I tried to get your book at my local library. When it was discovered that the neighboring towns had copies, but my library did not, the circulation desk put a request in for immediate purchase. Yay! Another copy sold for you, and I get to be first when the book shows up later this week. Wheee!

  46. Alicia says:

    Now you have me wondering if there’s a Stewardess Rant type blog out there somewhere, they must have some seriously funny stories to tell!

  47. heather (errantdreams) says:

    Glad it worked out okay… and you’re definitely proving that you don’t need to write about waiting tables in order to write interesting things!

  48. Emily says:

    I once was on a plane that couldn’t had to be grounded because the fire alarm system was broken. Though there wasn’t a fire, an computerized voice kept repeating, “The cabin is filling with smoke. The cabin is filling with smoke.”

    People absolutely FREAKED OUT that their flight was being delayed.

    I was more confused about the need to for the alarm to tell us that the cabin was filling with smoke. I would think we’d all be aware.

  49. Lee says:

    Number 15 on the NYT best sellers list….

    Way to go Steve….!!!

  50. J says:

    I was recently on an international flight that almost ran out of fuel. Good times.

  51. pilotgirl210 says:

    Most airlines used to carry a fuel reserve of 45 minutes. Now it’s generally, depending on the airline, down to the minimum requirement of 30 minutes. A plane at 36,000 feet can still fly a great distance in 30 minutes. And you’re 17,000 times safer on a jetliner than you are in your sedan or SUV plying one of America’s interstate highways. I drive I-5 twice a day for 20 miles each way. Trust me. I’d rather be in a plane any day of the week.

  52. Rebekah says:

    I work in software and travel for tradeshows in Q1. I tend to go to Vegas a lot (which I really hate.) This past February on my way home from a show Vegas was incredibly windy- as in those like 50+ mph cross winds whipping through the canyons windy. Because of these dangerous wind sheer conditions everything in the whole airport was delayed. I had a 2 hour delay in the terminal and then an additional 5 hour delay ON THE TARMAC in my flight to DFW. At about hour 4, our pilot came on the speaker and said that we had to leave our spot in line to take off because we didn’t have enough fuel anymore to get to DFW. Sure I realize idling for 4 hours on the tarmac uses some fuel, but surely not so much that we had to go back to get more- unless there wasn’t enough in there in the first place.

    If that wasn’t terrifying enough, having the pilot say hey this might be a little scary going up because we don’t know when the cross winds will hit might have been a little overboard. That was the scariest take-off I’ve ever been through.

    When we took off, I looked out my window and saw over 60 planes in a traffic jam down on the tarmac- all waiting to take off.

  53. Jeff says:

    I doubt they are happening more often.

    Just getting noticed more.

    Interesting thing about cabin pressurization – even though the air is colder at altitude, as they compress it to bring it to a survivable pressure (somewhere between 5k and 10k feet I think) it heats it up. A lot.
    Therefore those air conditioners are required to bring the cabin temperature down to a survivable level. They don’t work… you don’t fly very high, as demonstrated.

    And yeah – it’s inefficient to carry a full belly of fuel around if you need less than half of that amount to get to your destination and have an adequate (and mandated by law) fuel buffer.

  54. Ellen-Mary says:

    It’s because you’re so cutting edge. That’s how you anticipated that article. Glad you landed safely.

    I’m thoroughly enjoying your book. As for the 80/20 thing I don’t think it’s confined to restaurants or airplanes. I think it’s just life. 20% of people are just that way. If only we could round them all up and stick them in one place. Maybe Macho Grande.

  55. Karl says:

    Rebekah – idling a jet engine takes a *lot* of fuel, a lot more than you might imagine. Jet engines are designed to run at maximum efficiency in the air, not on the ground.

    There’s a lot of bunkum being written about fuel loads. The FAA requirements haven’t changed – you still need anough fuel to make your alternate plus 45 minutes. What has changed is that in the old days, many pilots would take the dispatcher recommendation and automatically add 1000 pounds (or 5000, or maybe 10000 pounds). That’s a lot of fuel to fly around “just because”. If you fuel to requirements, sure there are going to be some additional diversions due to weather etc, but safety hasn’t changed.

    And, the captain by law always has the last word on fuel, so if they are really truly running short too soon on a regular basis, it’s really their own fault.

  56. Vile Smiles says:

    i was on a flight out of tunisia where they subdued a man bc they thought he was trying to light a bomb. turns out he was just smoking hash in the bathroom. neat

  57. meglena says:

    great post.
    I hate flying and I hope this incident didn’t spoil your trip – one of many as a published author, judging by your success.
    I loved the Airplane references and I am so glad that you can find the time to post here!
    Congratulations on all the great reviews and the bestseller listing. I can’t wait to read your book \it takes some time to get it delivered here in the Balkans\.
    I sincerely hope you’re enjoying yourself, you certainly deserve all the fame and fortune

  58. BusBus says:

    I have enjoyed reading your blog over the last couple of weeks. I am happy that you have a book out (congrats!) and I look forward to obtaining my very own copy someday.

    I am also a frequent flyer, who hates to fly 🙂 What keeps me in check while flying is to watch the flight attendants. If they seem calm, then I am sure all is well. I have also racked up a fair amount of airline horror stories (my favourite turn-around was when a bunch of birds got sucked into the engine….then we were served chicken for dinner…blech).

  59. intransigentia says:

    Someone already mentioned the Gimli Glider – if you want a truly scary airplane story, here’s a link to the original newscast:

    and interviews with the pilot, and a kid who was riding his bike on the abandoned runway when the plane made its emergency landing:

  60. Paul the First says:

    I have sympathy for people on planes, even more than those in restaurants. It’s barbaric what they do to you. Seriously, how long does it take to extend the accordion thingy and open the door? And how about building an aisle more than one person wide?

    I mean seriously, is there no place left where service is more important than safety and the customer is always right?

  61. BusBus says:

    and don’t call me Shirley

  62. Anonymous says:

    ….”Flying is just like eating out in restaurant. It’s the difficult and entitled idiots who make it tough for everyone else.”……

    well, if you mean airline EXECUTIVES who make these decisions, i agree with you.

    wouldn’t it have been better to have had more fuel and completed the original trip ???


  63. Anonymous says:

    Totally surprised it was a REDACTED County restaurant…and all the damn yuppies in REDACTED It totally makes sense!

    Been reading your blog since the beginning–

  64. schralp says:

    Unfortunately, inadequate A/C seems to be common these days. I fly >140K/yr and am noticing this more often; it does not seem to be linked to pressurization issues in most cases. Must be a money saving issue.

  65. sadi says:

    I’m so glad you made it back safely. I’m not a fan of flying at all – not due to fear of heights or crashing, but because it is such an ordeal these days and the “trapped like sardines” feeling I get.

    I’m boarding a plane for a 4.5 hour flight tomorrow morning. Pass the vodka, please.

  66. S says:

    Terrible! Good you’re safe! And I very much related to the feeling of being up there and scared – these corporate guys are a bunch of morons.

    PS: Great writing; have just started with it! You’ll soon be blogrolled! 🙂

  67. melanie says:

    flying isn’t for wimps. thats for sure. and MAN aren’t you sick of the 20% entitled asses.. i say we put them all in a “resort” and let the rest of us happy go luckies enjoy our peace.

    can’t wait to read your book! Cheers.

  68. rc says:

    There is a fantastic sci-fi short story by Ray Bradbury (I think) related to this topic. It’s called ‘The Cold Equations’, and it’s only a few pages. Good stuff. Read it before your next plane ride and be encouraged 😛

  69. Jake Was Here says:

    Quote: “And you’re 17,000 times safer on a jetliner than you are in your sedan or SUV plying one of America’s interstate highways.”

    Yes, but I’ve never driven my car smack into the side of a mountain at 600 MPH.

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  72. Jer105 says:

    Jet fuel weighs 6.8 pounds per gallon BTW so it is heavy. Even if the plane was filled to the brim with fuel it may not have enough to make it to the destination at 9000′ compared to 36000′. The plane I fly burns twice as much fuel down low as up at cruising altitude. They always load enough fuel to make it to the destination plus do a missed approach plus do some holding plus make it to an alternate airport plus do the approach at the alternate. They plan the fuel at the cruising altitude not at the lowest altitude they may possibly ever have to fly at. They could add more fuel but then take less cargo and passengers. Fuel doesn’t pay for the ride, but passengers and cargo do. Every 1000 lbs of fuel decreases efficiency by about 1%. I don’t know what kind of plane you were on but lets say they burn 10,000 lbs an hour (not unreasonable for a jet) and it’s a 3 hour flight. 30,000 lbs just for the flight plus another 10,000 lbs reserve lets say. Now if they had to carry enough for a flight at 9000′ and they burn twice as much they have to carry 60,000 lbs plus 20,000 reserve. If they can carry that much. So an extra 40,000 lbs would be needed (actually more because the air is more dense and you are going slower but lets keep the math simple). 1000 lbs equals 1% efficiency so we are 40% less efficient with the extra fuel weight. Plus 40,000 lbs equals 200 paying customers that have to go on another plane. This means you have to split the cost of flying that plane with 200 less people. If the plane costs $10,000 an hour to operate on your 3 hour flight then 200 people lost means that is $150 per person lost that has to be made up by the rest of the customers.

    In the end remember….us pilots have just as much interest in not crashing, having a smooth flight, good landings, and not dying as you do.

  73. AvNerd says:

    Not having enough fuel to make it to the destination at 9,000 feet is not a safety issue, nor the airlines being overly stingy. As Jer105 points out the economics go against every flight being taken with full tanks.  Aviation fuel weighs about 6 pounds per gallon, and a DC-9 can carry about 4,000 gallons of fuel; taking off with an extra quarter tank would add another 5,500 lbs. Not something, if you’ll excuse a bad pun, to be taken lightly. And not only is it cheaper to fly lighter, but it’s also safer: particularly, takeoff and landing distances are shorter.

    For optimum engine efficiency fuel and air have to combust at a certain ratio; less air (at higher altitudes) needs less fuel, while more air (closer to the surface) requires more. And jet engines drink fuel like a thirsty elephant at lower altitudes, that’s why they fly so high. To get an idea what it would be like cruising at 9,000 feet, picture setting out on a road trip and finding out you can’t shift above third gear; you wouldn’t get as far before you had to fill up, right?

    So all in all, “filling the tanks” before every flight is not only not the norm, it’s not even desirable.

    (Yeah, I’m a dork.)

  74. Kris says:

    One flight, I walked down the long, skinny row, trying to find my seat. I was all the way in the back, next to the poopers. A huge red x in tape covered the back of my seat though, and I had to wait until everyone was boarded so the stewardess could re-seat me. They had one open seat, but as soon as I sat down the back collapsed. An older lady in the seat across the isle had the same problem.

    I would have started freaking out if they hadn’t stuck us in first class haha. I guess I can get distracted from thoughts of my life ending when I’m presented with something shiny.

    As we were seated in the front of the plane, I glanced around and told the woman, “Let’s hope they spend more money and time on their wings than they do their seats.”

  75. Jordan says:

    someone else mentioned that she now wondered if there was a stewardess rant. I wonder if that stewardess then decided to rant about that particular flight to someone HAHA

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