My last day in San Francisco after the Dairy Goats Convention was amazing and fabulous. It was warm and sunny. And, I even got a chance to visit The Nova Studio. Lori Nova has been a force in the soapmaking industry for many years. She runs an adorable instructional studio and was kind enough to give me and my Mom a tour. The photo above is of me and Lori, in front of her “Classes Wall.” Everything behind us was made in a class that you can take at The Nova Studio.
After a lovely lunch in little Point Richmond, California, we headed off to the airport.
I’ve never really thought much about the mechanics of plane travel. Quite frankly, I don’t want to. As a naturally nervous flier who generally requires antianxiety medication just to get on a plane, I generally board the plane, belt myself tightly in, make small talk with the person next to me, put ear plugs in and start to pray. Sure, I look like I’m reading a magazine or a book, but really, I’m just repeating The Lord’s Prayer. Over and over and over. Sometimes, I’ll quit long enough to eat but generally, most plane rides are an exercise in deep breathing, self control and excessively cold sweaty palms.
If I had my choice, I would never get in a plane again. I however, do not have that option. I am gratified and humbled that I get asked to speak about and teach the art, craft and business of soapmaking all over the nation. So, I’m often on a plane to talk to the media, soap conventions or this week, the National Dairy Goats Association about Soapmaking, Lotionmaking and even Marketing 101.
This was one such week. Click here, here and here if you missed the week of posts on Goats, Soap & Cheese. On Friday, my Mother and I boarded separate planes in the San Francisco Airport to get back home to Washington. She was flying to Seattle and I was flying directly back to Bellingham on discount carrier, Allegiant Air. I did my Lord’s Prayer, tight seat belt, deep breathing thing as I was seated in an Exit Row (next to a delightful bank manager from Scotia Bank in Canada). We were told that the flight would be a quick 75 minutes. I breathed a sigh of relief because I had scheduled my husband and I to go to a dinner party at 8 p.m.
At 6:55 (or so), the pilot got on the loud speaker and said, “Well Folks, it looks like some weather patterns have changed since we took off in San Francisco and so we’re just going to need to touch down in Seattle to pick up some gas. We don’t have enough gas to make it to Bellingham Airport and land safely”
There was some murmurs on the plane as people struggled to understand this news. Pick up gas? Huh? What does that mean? Hey! Do we not have enough gas to make it to Bellingham?
Yes, that was indeed the case. It seems that Allegiant Air mis-calculated how much gas we would need to make it safely to Bellingham and just wanted to pop into Sea-Tac Airport to grab some more.
Except, we’re not driving a little 2-seater car going down the freeway. We’re in a huge jet, with 150 plus people, hurtling at 600 miles per hour, in the air, 40,000 feet above land! Airlines aren’t supposed to miscalculate the gas when the odds are that poor!
So down we went into Seattle. My Mom texted me that she was safe in Seattle. I texted her back that I too, was safe in Seattle. She was surprised to hear of the unscheduled stop. I was more than a little surprised and worried; the late dinner party seeming more and more trivial by the minute. The man seated one away from me started yelling obscenities, calling the pilot a “Flying Sack of [Excrement]” and generally making himself out to be a nuisance. The mood was tense and worried.
Since Allegiant doesn’t have a hub in Seattle, they had to land at a United hub and borrow gas. A little United van (really, it was quite charming) came screaming up to the plane. A man in a suit came running up the gangplank, the attendants opened the door and let him in. The United suit gave some paperwork to the pilots. Presumably, this was the bill for the gas Allegiant was now buying.
Finally, we were allowed to get back in the air for the additional 18 minute flight to Bellingham. We landed in Bellingham a good two hours late but safe.
In closing, the words of this experienced pilot make more sense than anything I could ever say about this:
If you’re not checking your fuel level before take off, not paying attention to your fuel consumption and consumption records, you don’t have any business doing the preflight planning, and even less business actually doing the flying.
You shouldn’t worry about running out of fuel because it should never happen, and it’s the responsibility of the pilot to make sure it never happens.
If you’re incapable of fuel management, you’re fodder for the Darwin Awards.
I will not fly Allegiant Air again.
Thanks for popping into the blog. I am SO excited that you’re a new reader and that you’re getting back into soapmaking. It’s no surprise that I think it’s one of the best hobbies you can have =)
And, thank you for your boyfriend’s explanation. I feel better about everything after reading so many posts about it in the other comments and definitely know that the statistics are on my side with flying. I’m getting better with flying (which is good since I fly so much!) and this experience, while strange for me, didn’t sour me at all on flying =)
I realize that this is a blog post from months ago, so I'm sorry for bringing it up again (also because it's obvious that it was a very frightening experience for you), but I have to comment.
My boyfriend has a pilot's license, as well as a degree in aviation, and works in the industry. Before reading all the comments here (including Mitch's), we were both basically saying the same thing that Mitch said. My boyfriend just told me that a similar thing to what you experienced, happened this weekend at the airport he works at. Two Northwest Airliners had to divert to the Sioux Falls Airport to get more fuel on their way to Minneapolis. Happens all the time, he says, and is actually standard procedure when the weather changes and drastically effects the fuel consumption. He says that this is also a lot more common in the winter. The thing is, the pilot WAS paying attention to the fuel consumption; that's why your flight was diverted. So the statements from the pilot that you posted, while completely true, are misleading and not really relevant to the exact situation.
I really hope that this experience hasn't caused you more flight anxiety than you already had, and I hope that you feel a little better knowing that, statistically, you are much safer flying in a commercial airplane than even travelling by car.
On a much happier and lighter note, the reason I was reading this post is that I just discovered your blog, and I have to tell you: I love it! I loave it! I am just getting back into m&p soapmaking, and i find myself lately, reading about it for hours at a time. I have been a customer of BB for a couple years, and am incredibly satisfied with your products. So I just want to say "thank you." And good for you for being such a creative, empowered woman!
Bare Bumm Bathworks says
Oh dear, I would have freaked out and acted a fool and probably have been thrown in airport jail ! I am glad you are back safe.
WOW!! I think I would have freaked out. I’ve only flown a couple of times in my life. You seemed to take tha pilot’s news very well.
Mitch;s explanation was great (and made sense btw), but it’s like a catch 22. Do you really feel better after finding out the reason? I prefer the scenic route, in a car 🙂
How did I miss this post?!
I HATE flying and usually only do it with sufficient drugs to keep me from caring about anything at all. I flew at the beginning of the month w/ the baby and couldn’t take a thing besides benadryl or a stiff drink. By the time I got home I’d figured I’d had enough flying for the rest of my life.
My flight home had a similar situation…pilot made a dumb choice which had us all sitting in the plane and extra 4 hours. I remember sitting there thinking “how the heck does someone like Anne Marie do it?!” Now I know ;0)
Texas dairy goats says
I used to live in SF. Lived there 11 years, and regularly went to the opera. Lori’s soap studio is wonderful.
Thanks for popping in with the longer explanation. I definitely appreciated the margin of error being made in our favor and recognize the safety is always more important that timing. I still probably won’t fly Allegiant again. I enjoyed the lower price but am willing to pay more for a higher margin of error with fuel I guess. =) I haven’t heard of it happening before with Allegiant (and we’re a pretty small, chatty town) so that’s a plus. =)
Scott, I swear (grin), the stewardess said that we would arrive a full 30-45 minutes ahead of schedule because we had a strong tailwind. =) The entire plane was rejoicing over that announcement. Maybe that changed in the air (but I doubt it since we ended up heading down to the Seattle airport right around the time we would have been blowing over SEA to make it to BLI by 7:15.) ?
Airlines have been trying to cut down their fuel consumption by carrying as little as they can get away with. In this case, your flight had stronger than calculated HEADWINDS that ate up the marginal fuel and got caught cutting it too close. If you search carefully Allegiant isn’t the only one to get caught doing this.
Scott near SMF
I am not sure what the issue is. You stated that you do not understand the mechanics involved but you should know that this flight operated as it should have – do not jump on me. I will explain.
Based on the current and forecast conditions at Bellingham when this flight departed a fuel load was calculated that would allow the plane to fly to Bellingham, then to an alternate airport if needed AND have 45 minutes fuel to spare for any emergencies. As you know, the weather in Bellingham sometimes changes unexpectedly. I assume this happened after you took off and the pilot made the decision to drop into Seattle for extra fuel before it was needed. If he had a reasonable expectation that you may have had to wait extra time to get into Bellingham then this was the prudent thing to do. If he continued without first stopping and was then had to hold at BLI then he would have a more critical fuel situation. Your pilot took the safer route and all it cost you was a little time.
The reason airlines fly with less than full fuel tanks is because planes burn more fuel the heavier they are. More fuel = more weight which = more burn/cost. The reason Allegiant is able to offer you a lower cost ticket is because they are conscious of operating efficiently and safely. Your pilot WAS watching the fuel and that is why he did not gamble with your life. He knew how much he had but could not know how long he might have to wait to get you into Bellingham so he did the safe thing and stopped for a little extra.
I hope you are more comfortable now, knowing that your pilot was acting in your best interest and always keeping your safety in mind.
-no I am not a pilot, yes – I have operational experience in this area.
I agree – in the bigger picture – arriving safely is all that matters =) But it was certainly surreal to hear the pilot mention that while we were en route! =) Especially since they had told us earlier that there was strong tailwinds!
Body Natural Soap says
Oh My Gosh!!! That is completly amazing. To Think that you could run out of gas in Mid air. That had to be a little nerve racking plus lets just say that it does not illicit confidence in the airline or pilot.
Teresa R says
Despite your being late for your dinner party, I’m glad that at least the pilot figured out he needed gas BEFORE the plane started sputtering, and that you did arrive, safely, in Bellingham.
Oh I so do not need these flying horror stories though… 😯
Heavenly Scent Soaps says
OMG is right! I flew a LOT when I was part of the corporate rat race, but have never heard of anything like this!
I agree with you- I wouldn’t fly with Alliant again, either!! There is no excuse for what happened – it sounds like total incompetence.
Bet you’re glad to be home!!
OMG, what a hair raiser. I flat out won’t fly. I’ve often wondered how you were able to zip all over the country and I didn’t even know you didn’t like to fly. There are a few celebrities who will not fly, like Whoopi Goldberg, she had a bus that she would take back and forth when she was doing Hollywood Squares. Glad you are safe.