An Adventure In An Otherwise Routine Flight: Why The Airline You Fly Matters


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Yesterday morning I boarded an American Airlines 767-200 aircraft at JFK Airport in New York, for the 5 hour 46 minute flight to San Francisco, California.  It was a beautiful day for flying and I tweeted as much once I sat down on board the aircraft.  The 767 is one of the best aircraft ever built with an impeccable safety record.  As it turned out, the flight across the country was one of the smoothest and most uneventful flights I had ever been on.  Flying transcontinental is always fun because you really get to see the incredible differences and beauty in the US topography.  As you leave New York City’s JFK you have wonderful views of both the ocean and the one-of-a-kind NY skyline.  Flying west, the landscape varies between mountains and prairies and the occasional large city, i.e. Chicago.  As you head further west, you fly over the beautiful Rockies with her snow-capped mountains and numerous ski areas.  And finally you see the deserts and canyons that make up the far west of this incredibly beautiful and diverse country.SF1

When the pilot announced that we would be landing in 20 minutes, I put away my laptop and was grateful that I would be on time for my first meeting which is never a given despite building in what would appear to be enough time.  Ten minutes later, we hit a fairly severe pocket of weather, although the plane didn’t experience much turbulence, despite the zero visibility and pouring rain as we made our way down through the heavy cloud cover.  As we lowered enough to see the approach I couldn’t help but think of the Korean Air flight that had crashed earlier this year, as we would be landing on the very same runway.  On approach, you see what appears to be a long dock and then a jetty that marks the beginning of the runway; the very same jetty that the pilot of the doomed airliner had hit, causing the accident.  Anyone who flies regularly, understands that the most dangerous or difficult time of any flight, is the landing.  Pilots, due to experience, make it seem easy, or routine, but there is nothing routine about it, especially in poor weather conditions.

In this case, we were coming in exactly as we should.  Everything was going perfectly except for the driving rain and heavy wind which could be felt as we lowered to 100 and then 50 feet off the runway.  Now that you can use cell phones all the way to landing, I used the opportunity to snap photos of the approach and landing, featured here.  It was in fact feeling very routine until we were 10 feet above the runway.  Then, in a surprising moment, the engines roared to life, sounding no different than they sounded when we took off.  It was clear we were not going to land but less clear about the plane taking off again.  The weather was horrific.  There was a tense moment or two.  The pilot made the correct decision to abort the landing and try again but getting a huge aircraft from landing speed to take off speed is not a guarantee given the weather conditions.  Fortunately that big bird reacted beautifully and she took off just as she should.  Of course many on the plane were shaken and remained so until we landed.  I was certainly less than thrilled but with thousands of flights under my belt, I know that the aborted landing is part of any pilots training and I knew we were in the very capable hands of the flight crew.  Once we were up in the air and out of harms way, the pilot announced that as the wheels were about to touch down there was serious wind shear and he didn’t want to risk setting down the plane at that time.

The only issue left, was that we would have to do it all over again with the weather showing no signs of breaking.  We flew for approximately 25 minutes as the crew brought us around for the another shot.  This time however, despite the poor weather conditions, the crew was able to land the plane without incident.  Although I love to fly, it was great to be back on the ground.  Rather than instill fear, what this incident did was instill confidence in the safety and training of the crews who fly our aircraft.  One of reasons for my loyalty to American Airlines over the past 15 years is my belief in the people flying the planes.  Their flight crews are second to none.  If for some reason I couldn’t fly AA, I still would only choose to fly on other American carriers despite the fact the fact I always hear about the quality of service given by the European or Middle Eastern carriers.  American pilots and officers are simply the best in the world and that’s all that matters, especially when the situation demands such training.

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