What’s the most embarrassing thing that can happen to a traveler? Getting locked out of your hotel room while wearing only a towel (or less) is probably the worst, but a close second could be doing something to an airplane that requires the pilot to taxi back to the gate.
I was that guy -- almost.
It started out as a good-luck flight. Booked into Air New Zealand’s Premium Economy, my wife and I boarded the plane in Auckland and discovered that it was one of the new 777 configurations with the carrier’s spacious new seating modules. These are angled seats with a measure of privacy, loads of legroom and lots of gizmos -- pretty much what business class looked like a few years ago before the advent of flat beds -- and they still had that “new car smell.”
There was a rush of excitement in the cabin as everybody settled in to sample the new gear. “Hey, this is a reading light…oh, cool, look at this.”
The two center seats in the twin-aisle cabin faced slightly away from each other, leaving a triangular space for two large armrests that could be raised to elbow height or lowered to the same level as the seat. So we raised ours to check them out — click — and one of them stuck in the up position. The release mechanism wouldn’t release.
The flight attendant came by and asked us to lower it for take-off, but we explained that it wouldn’t go. So she tried it. Push. No go. She asked for help and another attendant sat on it. Bounce. No go. The purser tried it. Bam. No go. His verdict was chilling: “Well, it’s a safety issue; it has to be lowered for take-off. We’ll have to get an engineer.” At that point, we were already taxiing toward the runway.
Then came the dreaded announcement from the cockpit that we were making a U-turn and heading back to the terminal because of a “problem.”
Fortunately, nobody except a few passengers in our immediate vicinity had a clue that we were the problem.
As we sat there, drowning in mortification, some crewmember got the bright idea of moving us to two empty seats during take-off, so the plane did another U-turn and we took up temporary residence elsewhere.
Once airborne, we returned to our assigned seats and I continued to fiddle occasionally with the armrest. Eventually, somewhere over the dark Pacific, it clicked and returned to the stowed position. We kept it there.
Various crewmembers stopped by to look at it, asking, “How did you fix it?” and all I could say was “I just kept fiddling with it.” Brilliant.
Because of the U-turns on the tarmac, our departure was delayed, and I understand that some passengers arriving at Los Angeles may have missed their connections. I’m sorry for that, but, hey, I fixed the plane.
-- Bill Poling