Saturday

November 18th, 2017

Insight

Airline industry's untold story

Glenn Reynolds

By Glenn Reynolds

Published May 24, 2017

Airline industry's untold story

Something happened to me the other day that wasn't at all newsworthy. And I think that's worth talking about.

Like so many stories in the news lately, it's the story of an airline flight, interrupted.

Returning from a business trip to New York, my wife and I were comfortably seated on a Delta jet that was about to push back from the gate. We'd made it to the airport with plenty of time to spare, breezed through security (at La Guardia!) with barely any line, and boarded our plane without incident. I had been a bit worried, because there wasn't another nonstop from La Guardia to Knoxville until that night.

But as I sat relaxed, sipping a plastic cup of airline Chardonnay, it looked like we were going to make it on time. Then, as the flight attendant pushed the button to close the door, there was a grinding noise followed by a loud crash that shook the entire airplane. "Oh, that's not good," she muttered.

There were numerous muted consultations at the front of the plane, none of them sounding happy. Then, after a bit, the captain got on the PA and explained what had happened: The cable that is supposed to pull the door up for closing had broken. That had caused the door to flop downward, smashing against the pavement.

The wire didn't have to be fixed immediately: They could still close the door manually. But they had to be sure that the door wasn't damaged, leaving it unsafe. (You don't want the cabin door to pop open, or even just spring a leak, at 35,000 feet.)

Naturally, this meant that we had to "deplane," so everyone got off the plane, looking pretty unhappy. My wife and I bolted to the Sky Club, where they were nice enough to make us a backup reservation on the later flight.

We went back to the gate, where the gate agent, whose name was Roger, gave us periodic updates: They were looking for mechanics, they were inspecting the door, the door was safe but they wanted to fix the cable, they had to go find the part in Delta's warehouse, etc. They distributed bottled water and snacks to the people waiting.

After a while, I got impatient and connected with Delta's customer service via Twitter. I pointed out that the plane was safe to fly to Knoxville, and that by keeping it at La Guardia to do a fix instead of sending it to Knoxville and fixing it there they were keeping passengers waiting for Delta's convenience, not for any reason of safety. They were very nice.

I doubt that my protestations did much, but someone at Delta must have had the same thought, because they found us another plane. Roger, the gate agent, called all the passengers together and explained another problem: The flight crew had been flying long enough that unless the new plane turned around very fast, they would "time out," and Delta would have to find another crew, meaning more delays. He organized the passengers in advance so that when the plane emptied out, we were able to board much faster than usual.

We took off with minutes to spare, and wound up making it to Knoxville only a couple of hours late. So why is this news? Well, it isn't.

It's news when passengers are dragged off of planes, beaten up by flight crews, forced to pee on themselves because of restroom prohibitions - well, you've heard all those stories.

But those stories are news because they're unusual. When everyone does their job, and is polite and efficient, that's not news. But, even in today's fairly crappy flight environment, that happens a lot more often than the newsworthy stuff. From following the news, you might think that every airline flight is an abomination and an ordeal. Which, maybe, actually does make it newsworthy - or, at least, worth mentioning - when everything is handled properly.

As my fellow Knoxvillian Alex Haley once said, "find the good and praise it." That's not much of a formula for success as a pundit, but it's worth pointing out that there's more good out there than you might think from following the news. And that's true whether you're talking about airlines, or, well, pretty much anything else.

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Glenn Harlan Reynolds, a University of Tennessee law professor, is the author of The New School: How the Information Age Will Save American Education from Itself and is a columnist at USA TODAY.

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