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mother of all flights: arriving in germany
By Dennis Batchelder 19 March 1999

hi guys:

remember the snow we had on sunday? that was the day i had to fly back to frankfurt for the CeBIT show. if you're interested in flight horror stories, read on!

i was originally supposed to fly out at 9:40 PM, but the show was beginning to accumulate, and i was getting nervous. so i called united, and they said that there was a good chance that my flight was going to be cancelled, so they moved me to a 5:25 PM flight.

great. so i head out to the airport, check in, and get on the plane, ready to head off to germany. sounds easy, right?

right. we sat at the gate for 2 hours, because there was some problem with the water pressurization system. they could have given us bottled water, but we would have had to fly to germany without the use of the toilets (7 hours - i don't think so!). wisely, the captain decided to wait until it was fixed.

unfortunately, it didn't get fixed. they replaced a bunch of parts, and then tried to start up the engines to see if that would increase pressure, but they failed. so after 2 hours, they told us to go back to the gate; they had located a new airplane for us.

into the airport we go. over to the phone booths we go. onto the phones we go. then onto the new plane we go. well, most of us. one guy decided he didn't want to go afterall. they searched for him for an hour, then gave up; we would leave without him.

but not just him - also without his luggage. some security rule (a good one, i think) says that people can't send their luggage, and then not show up at the gate. it's safer, they say - someone could have checked in a bomb. i guess they only allow suicide bombers - not ones who wish to be caught afterwards.

so all the luggage was unloaded, gone through, then re-packed in the cargo holds. this took another hour (it was now 9:30 PM). but good news: we were close to flying. we taxied out to the runway....

... and had to go back to de-ice. twice. the captain told us that once was not enough - the first de-icing was to clear the ice; the second was to make sure the ice didn't build up again. this took an hour.

so now, at 10:30, we are taxi-ing to the runway. everyone is happy. especially me - i'm only 50 minutes behind my original flight. i'm going to arrive close to my original time, i think.

all of a sudden, a huge commotion breaks out 3 rows in front of me. some guy has brought his own alcohol on board, and has been using our wait time to lubricate his insides. the bad news was that he starts to slap his fellow passengers. when the flight attendant tries to calm him down, he throws his book at her, cutting her in the face.

panic call to the cockpit - don't take off yet. we slow down, they "upgrade" the drunk to business class, and hold a conference on what to do with this bozo. my vote was to put him in the cargo hold, but nobody asked for my vote.

the vote sent the plane back to the gate, where the drunk was arrested and hauled away. all well and good, except for three small details:
1) if you re-open an international flight, there's a ton of paperwork to do to re-seal it. this took a half hour (it's now 11:00)
2) somebody remembered at the last minute that the drunk's luggage needed to be unloaded. (it's now midnight).
3) united flight attendants have a contract that states that they cannot be compelled to work more than 15 hours straight. it takes 8 attendants to legally fly the plane, and we had 14. well, we did until midnight. then we only had 6 - 8 of them said good riddance. the other six signed some paperwork where they said that they wouldn't sue united; they gave up their rights for us (that was nice).

so united found two flight attendant managers (as management, they had no choice), and we had a crew of 8 again. and finally, at 1:45 AM, we took off for frankfurt.

ingmar was waiting at the airport, and we made a mad dash for brussels for our next meeting. i'll talk about belgium in the next email...


mother of all flights: arriving in germany - germany