Airlines: disclosure and liability

Airplane loose panel

On February 11, I flew Delta 110 from Buenos Aires to Atlanta. Before the plane pulled away from the gate and after several minutes’ delay, the pilot announced that someone had dropped a Kindle between a seat and the wall, and that it had fallen inside the airplane wall through a panel, and that it would now be necessary for mechanics to come onboard to extract the Kindle because it was unsafe to fly with it inside the wall among various wiring. The pilot predicted that this would cause a delay of at least two to three hours. He sounded disgusted.

While other passengers groaned, I glanced at the wall next to my window seat and saw that a panel beside the seat in front of me was loose and gaping open. A dropped item could easily slip inside the panel and disappear into the wall.

What concerned me was the repercussions of the long delay; not only my own missed connections, but everyone else’s as well. I thought of all the potentially missed jobs (or weddings, or whatever events passengers might be flying to), and the financial and emotional havoc that would be wreaked.

The Delta pilot had specifically implied that the delay was a passenger’s fault. His tone, as well as his words, made this clear. No. The delay would have been Delta’s fault, due to poor maintenance. The wall panels are meant to be securely fastened to the walls, not gaping open.

In the end, it was announced that the Kindle had been “fished out.” Now the captain explained that he had to enter everything into his log book before the plane could take off. The flight was delayed only about 30 minutes.

Interestingly, I received a (random?) survey email from Delta two days after the flight, asking me to comment on my recent flight. I described the Kindle incident and mentioned that I had taken photos of the loose panel in front of my seat. 11 days later, still no comment from Delta.

What if the Kindle had not been “fished out”? What if the flight had been delayed those three hours, causing missed connections, late arrivals, etc.? Would the planeload of people be led to believe that a single clumsy passenger was to blame? Or would Delta step up and admit that its poor maintenance of the plane had allowed a customer’s personal property to cause a safety concern, thereby delaying all 150 (or however many) of us?

Any aviation lawyers out there care to comment on Delta’s liability in a hypothetical situation like this?

Would Delta have been bound to announce that the Kindle entered the airplane wall because a vent panel had not been properly attached? Would the airline then have to make good on everyone’s rebookings, hotels, and other expenses of the delay? If a plane can’t fly with an object inside the wall, is Delta then flying unsafe equipment? There were at least two loose panels on the plane: the Kindle passenger’s, and the one in front of me. How many more? On how many planes? What if a Kindle falls into the wall while a plane is in flight?

Delta? What do you say?

© Copyright 2008-2010 Bambi Vincent. All rights reserved.

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  • If the pilot felt that it was unsafe to fly with the Kindle there and all the wires, what if someone had spilt a drink in flight down there causing a short cut?

  • Airlines seem to have increasingly become ‘anti-customer’ over the past 10 years or so. It’s puzzling why an industry that used to be known for superior treatment of customers has become more and more condescending. All the stories you read about unfair treatment, missed flights, less legroom, lousy food – then no food, no drinks, rude flight attendants… ad nauseum. Couple this with the TSA incompetence, theft of passenger’s personal items, invasive searches, on and on and on. Flying has got to be one of the biggest things I dread in life anymore. And it’s a shame that we have been made to feel this way – it used to be something to look forward to. But no more.

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