This week I have been abroad on business, and suffered a major delay of about 5 hours coming home when one engine of the aeroplane failed to start during the takeoff procedure.
When this happens on a long-haul flight, the passengers are subjected to something rather odd: They are asked to stay on the plane. In the dark. With nothing to do.
From asking around, it seems the explanation for this has two key components:
- Pilots are only permitted to work for a certain number of hours, so they can guarantee alertness. For this reason, letting people back into the terminal building when there is a race against the clock could be disastrous, as one lost passenger could cost the entire flight.
- The main cabin lights, entertainment system and microwave/fridge for food and drink are powered by an alternator in the jet engine. No engine = no power (well, OK, some power but just enough to keep low-level lights on and a tantalizing flight information screen saying “Ground speed: 0 mph”).
The in-flight experience on a 747 is a very pleasant one. There is an entertainment system with hundreds of films & TV programmes to choose from. Staff walk through the cabin and offer you cold drinks and hot meals. And there is a galley where you can go at any time and request snacks.
Unfortunately, when you are grounded at the airport all of these luxuries vanish (evidently) because of the lack of power. This seems like a major oversight for the passenger experience!
I’m not sure if there’s a good solution to problem number 1. But surely number 2 could be solved in some way. Maybe the airport could have ground generators that the aeroplane can connect to?
I’m sure this is a common enough problem that someone should have come up with a solution by now!