Photojournalism by me (nomination forms for Pulitzer Prize
photos are at http://www.pulitzer.org/)
So Tuesday morning we bade farewell to Rachel and Will, thanking them for the hospitality and a nice veal piccata birthday dinner the night before, rode the Metro to National where we caught a flight to JFK and then caught Delta #721 to San Francisco.
The flight was, um, interesting, from the start...a PA explanation of the moisture dripping from the ceiling, the entertainment system not working, the wifi system not working.... Somewhere in Illinois, maybe 4:30 PM local time or a bit later, the plane turned sharply south (I was watching the little flight-tracker screen) and descended, without explanation, from 38,000 feet to 24,000 and then lower. I had just said to Vicki that I thought we were going to land in St. Louis, when the PA came on and the pilot announced an "unscheduled" landing in STL due to odors in the rear of the plane. (No one I talked to smelled or otherwise pereceived anything unusual). The landing was relatively uneventful, despite the quick and direct descent. Fire crews were waiting on the ground.
After 15 minutes of uncertainty, we were told to debark, and two (2) small busses, carrying 30 each of the 171 passengers, took us, in several trips, from the isolation tarmac to a terminal. We were told to wait there while they sorted things out. At length (hours), some few people got re-routed, many opted to spend the night in STL and re-book the next day (Easter weekend?!), but we, and most others, opted to wait for a new plane, which arrived about midnight from Detroit, and continuation of the flight. The continuation included another stop, in Salt Lake, ostensibly to change crew, but really, we suspected, to pick up more otherwise stranded passengers. We landed in San Francisco about 4:15 AM, after 24 hours of travel.
I don't mind safety-based changes and diversions, not at all, but there was plenty of other suspicious stuff going on with #721. Airline staff as well as TSA were understanding and courteous and apologetic. The $7 (seven) dinner allowance given the stranded passengers was ridiculous, however, especially just as all the restaurants in the terminal were closing. I expect Delta will be receiving a good deal of correspondence about this flight, not least from us. We have gone on somewhere between 40-50 incident-free flights in the past year and a half (except for a cancelled flight, quickly re-routed, in China; I don't count the 2 week airport closures in Thailand). Not this one. And Delta's handling of the matter, from start to present, has left much to be desired.
Most interestingly, FoxNews' account of the matter (bold italics above) said that smoke had filled the cabin. Vicki and I were sitting just a few rows forward of the galley (at the rear of the plane, where all the activity was), and we never saw any smoke nor noticed any unusual odor...standard Fox reporting, one assumes.