By James Wysong Travel columnist
updated 10/2/2007 12:16:31 PM ET 2007-10-02T16:16:31

Passengers frequently demand to know the reason for a flight delay, especially a mechanical delay. Now, maybe you can handle the truth, but I know from experience that I can't always stand to listen.

  1. Don't miss these Travel stories
    1. Lords of the gourd compete for Punkin Chunkin honors

      With teams using more than 100 unique apparatuses to launch globular projectiles a half-mile or more, the 27th annual World Championship Punkin Chunkin event is our pick as November’s Weird Festival of the Month.

    2. Airports, airlines work hard to return your lost items
    3. Expert: Tourist hordes threaten Sistine Chapel's art
    4. MGM Grand wants Las Vegas guests to Stay Well
    5. Report: Airlines collecting $36.1B in fees this year

I mean, if politicians had to tell the truth, would you really want to hear it? Of course not.

When it comes to mechanical delays, ignorance is bliss. Most of the time, the cockpit doesn't know what's wrong, only that they can or cannot go. If all pilots told you the exact truth and held nothing back, it would sound something like this:

"Ladies and gentlemen, this is Bob from the cockpit. God, I love the way I sound over this passenger address system. Anyway, we have a little blinking light that's not supposed to be blinking. We have tapped it a couple times and it still seems to be blinking. So we are going back to the gate to get a blinking light specialist to put a sticker on it stating that it's OK to blink. None of you will make your connections, but we appreciate you flying Honest Airlines."

"Our lead mechanic is on his lunch break and won't be back for two hours. Since we need his signature and the mechanics are currently in contract negotiations, we will not be going anywhere for another one hour and 59 minutes."

"Ladies and gentlemen, this is generally a crappy airline and today is no different from the rest ..."

"We don't know what's wrong, but for some reason the airplane is not starting."

"Every time we push the throttle forward, fuel gushes out of the left engine. This can't be good, so we are having someone check it out."

"Management didn't plan right this month, so ... we don't have anyone scheduled to fly you to your destination."

"We are canceling this flight because we need this airplane to fly to a more lucrative destination with more booked passengers."

"The whatchamacallit won't fit into the doohickey, so we have to have a new doohickey flown in from Missoula, Mont., but the next flight doesn't leave from there until tomorrow night."

What I'm saying is that too much information is not always a good thing. The truth can be off-putting and many times not too reassuring. I agree it is important to tell it like it is about the general nature of the problem, and how long it will take to fix it, but I also feel that the specifics can, and probably should, be avoided.

I got inspired to write this column after a captain, adhering to a new passenger rights policy, disclosed some information that made everyone feel very uneasy, including me — and I was the flight attendant. The only thing he accomplished was to generate a consensus of doubt about his flying competency.

So next time you experience a mechanical delay, ask yourself one question: Do I really want to hear the truth?

I think maybe not.

James Wysong has worked as a flight attendant with two major international carriers during the past fifteen years. He is the author of the "The Plane Truth: Shift Happens at 35,000 Feet" and "The Air Traveler's Survival Guide." For more information about James or his books, please visit his Web site or e-mail him.


Discussion comments


Most active discussions

  1. votes comments
  2. votes comments
  3. votes comments
  4. votes comments