by James T. Crouse on February 16, 2011

in Commercial Air Travel

If you have flown commercially at all, you probably have had one of those commercial airline flights which caused you to wonder if you were going to get to the ground safely.  In fact, you might have been scared almost to death.

It has happened to me.  I was on a regional propjet out of Indianapolis a few years ago when the flight crew decided to fly through hellacious en route weather, and put us into severe turbulence for over 45 minutes.  It was like we were a cork on the ocean in a hurricane.  The flight crew made not one announcement, and from what I could tell, did not try to divert around the weather.  A 200 pound man in front of me flew out of his seat and his head struck the overhead.  At the end of the flight, I paid a friendly visit to the flight crew (pre-911), who looked like they had just graduated junior high school.

Although my understanding is that the SAAB 340 in which I was a passenger underwent a complete structural inspection, when I complained to the FAA, the Operations Inspector for this particular airline said there was nothing wrong with this operation—nothing unsafe.  I challenged her to repeat the flight in my place, which she declined.

Even this pales in comparison to what clients of our firm recently experienced.  The family of five—with an infant and two other small children—boarded a regional jet in Atlanta for a flight to Moline, Illinois.  Ominously, the pilot told the passengers they were going to leave a few minutes early to try to beat some bad weather coming into Moline.  They left early, but they didn’t beat the bad weather.

Without any announcement warning of immediate impact from the violent storm, (the public address system was either damaged or simply inaudible once the plane was airborne) the pilot plowed into serious weather while trying to land at Moline, not once, not twice, but three times!  Fortunately, his regional jet was low on fuel and he had to divert to another airport, or he might still be trying to punch through the bad weather.

Not only were portions of the interior of the plane shaken loose and damaged by the turbulence but also drinks and personal items flew through the cabin.  These projectiles struck passengers, some of whom were holding ceiling panels in place at the flight attendant’s direction.

Even more alarming were the passengers injured due to the careless, land at any cost attitude of this flight crew. The father of the family I mentioned earlier suffered spinal injuries, and bones in his infant daughter’s hand were broken,  and massive contusions erupted around her kidneys due to the unannounced, violent course the plane took as the violent weather  threw them against the aircraft’s walls, ceiling, and even floor.  Their thrashing about from the turbulence was so intense, one hit broke the lavatory seat.   The wife/mother was also seriously injured.  She was told by ER doctors she is lucky to be able to walk after the injuries she sustained at the flight attendant’s direction.  This flight attendant–who remained safely seated–instructed the wife/mother to go get her husband and baby out of the rest room.  As the mother ran to the rest room, she was lifted into the air and slammed headfirst into the back of the aircraft.  Watching his mother catapult into the rear of the aircraft and knowing his dad and sister were in danger was too much for their young son.  He was traumatized, and is still in treatment.

And, what about other passengers of this flight? There was a young mom-to-be who went into early labor.  Many passengers reached for cell phones to make tearful calls to their loved ones.  The  23rd Psalm, “The Lord is My Shepherd” was prayed aloud as others called for, “Sweet Jesus.”  At what cost is it appropriate to try to beat bad weather?

The airline’s insurance representative claims he has no knowledge of anything wrong on this flight.

So, what should you do when you have this or similar experience on a flight? Do the following immediately:


First, find out where the airline’s FAA operations inspector is located and advise the inspector of your concerns and ask that person to start an investigation.  Usually these inspectors are located at an FAA office near the headquarters of the airline.  Get the office’s fax number and follow up with a fax.

Second call the FAA’s Air Traffic Organization (ATO) System Operations Services, http://www.faa.gov/about/office_org/headquarters_offices/ato/service_units/leadership/, and ask it to preserve all air-to-ground communications (Called the NTPP package).  Get the office’s fax number and follow up with a fax.  Try the general FAA number at Headquarters in Washington, D.C. 1-866-TELL-FAA.

Third, call the airlines safety department, tell it of your concerns and ask them to reserve all records of the flight. Get the office’s fax number and follow up with a fax.

Fourth, call and write the FAA’s Office of Safety and tell it of your concerns. (Officials: http://www.faa.gov/about/office_org/headquarters_offices/avs/key_officials/).  Address: U.S. Department of Transportation, Federal Aviation Administration, 800 Independence Avenue, SW, Washington, DC 20591.  1-866-TELL-FAA (1-866-835-5322) Follow up with a fax.

The flying public does not have to tolerate such uncomfortable and unsafe flight operations from the airlines.  Make sure that the government officials who oversee the airlines and the airlines themselves are told about your bad experiences, and let them know you intend to fight for better treatment.

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: