Thursday, October 17, 2013

Emergency Landing and a Website Failure

When you travel a lot, the odds are in your favor that something is going to happen at some point at some time that delays you, jams you up, leave you stranded somewhere, and generally adds a bit of excitement to your life.

This morning was my morning to catch up on that.  I boarded a Delta flight headed for San Francisco from Indianapolis with a brief stop in Minneapolis.  Our MD-90 aircraft took off and I promptly dozed off.  I was awakened when a flight attendant rushed passed me bumping my shoulder.  A few seconds later, she said we were making an emergency landing in Chicago.

The announcement woke me up and I looked around trying to figure out why.  The ascent had been pretty bumpy due to some weather in the area but I didn’t notice anything else wrong.  She then came back on and said there was a problem in the galley and we would be landing in Chicago in 10 minutes.  She told us not to be afraid but as the flight crew walked up and down the aisle, you could tell they were nervous.

I tried to jump online to inform my faithful followers of the fun I was about to experience but the internet wasn’t on.  Either we never reached 10,000 feet or they left it off due to the emergency. It was difficult to tell what our altitude was as we were flying through clouds and a lot of rain.

With the nose of the plane pointing down we began one of the fastest descents I’ve ever been through on our way to land at O’Hare.  As we descended and all started feeling lighter I felt a tap on my shoulder from the kid sitting behind me.  He had to be a teenager.  I turned around and he had slipped off his noise cancelling headphones and due to the rapid descent had a pressing question.  He said, "Dude, what's going on." Before I could mess with him and say something like, "Nothing much, the plane is just going down." the guy sitting across the aisle from him told him the true story.

Our pilots declared an emergency so after our quick descent we landed with full emergency vehicle escort at O’Hare.  We landed hard, probably due to the plane being heavy with fuel, and then stopped briefly on the runway while the emergency vehicles on the ground surrounded the plane.  The pilot told us to stay seated. 

After a minute, we taxied off the runway and stopped.  The pilot then told us there was an item overheating in the galley and the fire department was going to inspect the plane.  He then reminded us to stay seated. I figured we were good since it was pouring rain outside.

A few minutes later, we started to taxi towards the gate.  The fire trucks stayed right with us.  The pilot told us when we got to the gate to leave anything in the overhead bins behind and quickly exit the plane into the terminal.  In no time, we were at the gate and quickly filing off as firemen walked around the aircraft.

I typically fly with a carry-on bag but this time all I had was my backpack as I’m going to be gone for over a week and had to check my bag.  I grabbed my backpack and walked off the plane.  The jet bridge was full of fire fighters and fire extinguishers.  Once in the terminal I breathed a small sigh of relief and then started working on my next problem – getting from Chicago to San Francisco.

I quickly jumped on my Delta app but was not able to login.  I tried several times but the app wouldn’t work so I wasn’t able to rebook myself. The lines at the gate were rather long as 120 people were also trying to get rebooked.  Therefore, I went old school.  I took a page from my 1997 playbook and actually called the 800 number for Delta while standing in one of the lines.

I found out later that Delta had a complete site failure and that no one could check in for a flight or do anything.  I’m pretty sure the two incidents aren’t related but trying to rebook old school and not being able to look up any data online was interesting to say the least.  Even the airport kiosks weren’t working and were unable to find my confirmation number. 

A quick side note, as an IT person who deals with system failures all the time it was nice to know that even the big guys have major issues. 

I was hoping to catch a direct flight from Chicago to San Francisco but Delta doesn’t have one.  The best bet for me was to continue on with the broken plane once it got fixed to Minneapolis and then catch a later flight to San Francisco.  That also kept me with my bags that were still on the broken plane.  All told, I would end up getting to SFO 3 hours later than originally scheduled.  Not only that, but she also provided me with guaranteed upgrades to first on both legs of the flight, to MSP and to SFO.  It sounded good to me, so I took the deal.  I had my problem solved long before the majority of the folks standing in the long lines.  The only variable was whether they would get the plane fixed in time for me to get to MSP to catch the later flight to SFO.

The folks at Delta in Chicago did a great job keeping us informed.  They replaced the part but they also had another part coming in on another flight from Atlanta just in case the fix they had already completed didn’t completely solve the problem. 

Two and a half hours later, they boarded the plane again to continue.  There were only 27 people left as most had been rebooked and I heard one guy say he wasn’t getting back on that plane no matter what.

When we arrived in Minneapolis, we were all given a $10 food voucher for our trouble.  As I write this I’m on a different MD-90 making my way west.  My thanks to all the folks at Delta who worked hard to keep us safe and get us to our destinations.  I hope that if you ever hear the words “emergency landing” over the PA on a flight you are on that you are treated as professionally as the Delta folks treated us.

Oh, I guess I should finish the story.  Turns out the module just behind the cockpit that controls the flight attendant intercom went bad and ended up melting a few wires.  We saw several of the wires that had the protecting coating melting off.  This module didn’t affect the PA but my guess is since the intercom is important during flight and since it got so hot do close to the flight deck that they thought it best to land quickly and get it fixed.  A fire in the air would have been a very bad thing.

Update: 10/19/13
Yesterday I received an email from the Delta VP of Customer Relations apologizing for the "report of smoke in the cabin" that caused our troubles.  The email acknowledged that such events can be disturbing and said we would each be getting 10,000 miles added to our accounts.  It would appear that Delta gets it.  Not only did they apologize profusely for something that wasn't their fault but they took responsibility and are compensating their customers.  This is why I fly Delta and will continue to do so.