Some guy in his twenties who occasionally reads my blog texted me from Philadelphia International Airport a couple weeks ago.  He was flying on American Airlines and wanted to tell me what happened.

Long story short, he had boarded the plane and they were soon to depart but then the cabin filled with a very bad smell.   All the passengers were off-boarded from the plane.


My friend was surprised by two things.

American Airlines Gave a Reasonable Amount of Information

We all hear (or have experienced) the stories of a flight delay/interruption with ZERO INFORMATION.  Based on this guys data point and one of mine from this summer, it seems like American Airlines is getting better.

AA told the passengers they did not know the source of the odor and were going to take the plane out of service and get a different plane for the flight.  They gave a revised departure time (1 hour 35 minutes although they had to up it some more).  All things considered, not a bad outcome.

His story reminded me about a flight I had on AA this past summer.  The east coast was getting really bad storms.  Both the gate agent and even the pilot gave the passengers updates maybe every 30 minutes on the weather, air traffic, and likelihood of going. They also gave the passengers some options to re-book for the morning if they chose.  Better yet, AA brought out quite a spread of complementary food, snacks, treats, and drinks for the passengers. I waited it out and we did in fact fly that night (maybe 4 hours late).

Gate Area Re-designed for Millennials

As I said above, my friend was surprised by two things.  The second thing that surprised him was how much the Terminal B gate area had been re-designed.  It was no longer just rows of chairs with a single (usually full) table for charging.

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Tomorrow’s Airport for Today’s Passengers

The gate and the concessions are now one experience.  There are a lot of tables with tablets on them that can be used for, among other things, ordering food from any number of restaurants. Swipe at a swiping station, no need to stand in line.

The tablets also allow you to cruise the internet, donate to charities, play games, read Russian Facebook posts, tweet, cruise Instagram and much more.  And plenty of chargers for your own devices.  The restaurants and stores are incorporated into the gate area, with convenient paying options at your finger tips.

It is great to see a couple steps forward.

Why Might an Airplane Fill With Really Bad Smells

There are many possible reasons.  Considering the plane was at gate, I have three guesses for the possible reason.

Guess #1:  The plane pressurizes when the doors close and the A/C kicks in.  Both systems use what is called bleed air.   If the air smelled bad from another plane or some other external source of bad odor, it could fill the cabin.

Guess #2:  Some rings or seals in the engines were wearing down and the bleed air was getting a bit too much jet-fuel smell.  I would think the airline would pull the plane to check for problems.  Though not knowing the source, they probably assume #2 to play it safe.

Guess #3:  Way too many passengers on the flight went to the Popeye’s Fried Chicken restaurant 45 minutes before the flight……and they all got the spicy chicken.