Lord of the Flies on flight 967

| Comments (0) |
For reasons which don't bear going into I had a truly horrible routing for my trip back from the NIST IBE Workshop. This routing involved spending 7 hours in LAX between the hours of 12:08 AM and 7 AM. Luckily, I got to IAD early and was able to reroute myself onto the 7:45 flight, which had a reasonable chance of letting me make a 10:50 connection in LAX. I say 7:45 flight, but actually it was a 4 PM flight which had been massively delayed due to extreme weather conditions (tornado? monsoon? who knows) in the greater DC area. Anyway, weather conditions were looking temporarily OK and so I figured the sooner I got out of DC the better.

This probably wasn't the best decision ever since before we'd even gotten everyone seated the announcement came over the PA we were likely to be delayed and the pilot didn't know when we'd take off. At this point I thought better of the whole "get on the plane" scheme since waiting in the terminal with the other victims is probably more fun than being on the plane, but unfortunately they'd closed the door so I was stuck.

90 minutes after we'd boarded, we finally pushed back from the gate and then hung out on the tarmac for a while. When the FAs came around handing out granola bars I figured that was a pretty bad sign and sure enough listening to Channel 9 it quickly became clear that almost nobody was being allowed to take off. Finally, at 8:00 the pilot came over the PA and announced that he had no idea when we would be able to take off and he wanted to put it to a vote whether we should return to the get and let people get off the plane. A pretty significant number of people were in favor of this but then the clarification came in that if we returned to the gate the flight would be cancelled (bad) and that this would be treated as a weather-related cancellation so no accomodation compensation (worse), and the pilot asked people what their opinions were with this new information.

Now, it's one thing to lose your slot in the departure queue, especially if it's not moving much anyway) and something totally different to have the flight cancelled and be stuck at IAD for the night, so at this point most of the people who wanted to deboard changed their minds, but a few held firm, raising the question of how many people wanting to get off is enough for them to turn the plane around, or, as the woman sitting near to me indignantly asked "you mean if three people want to get off, we have to go back to the gate and the flight is cancelled" (quoting from memory), which, while inartfully phrased, is an ethically sound question that I really have no idea how to answer. At one level, one is tempted to say that this is something that should be decided by democratic means, but on the other, it's not like being stuck in a metal tube sitting on the ground for 5 hours is part of whatever social contract you implicitly sign by getting on the plane so it does seem like the defectors ought to get some kind of veto.

Luckily, right about this time we go cleared for some sort of slot in the exit queue so people were sent back to their seats and the political crisis was averted. About 20 minutes later we finally took off, but of course we missed all connections in LAX so I got to spend a joyous 4 hours in the gate area, where I'm writing this now.

Leave a comment