Should Your Flight Be Delayed for a Coffee Pot? (Transparency can go a long way)

I was seating on the tarmac on a plane that was delayed because of a lavatory that was out of order.  I have no idea what put it out of order, but the airline was getting it back in order.

We were sitting on the tarmac for at least an hour.  The man next to me commented that the delay was causing more of a demand for the lav and if we took off on time, we could have made due with the one we had.

He may have had a point.

There’s no FAA regulation requiring every toilet to work.  The longer we sat, the more people would need to use the bathroom.

The New York Times has an article today about how coffee machines are increasingly causing flight delays.  First of all, when there’s a problem with the coffee maker, you need to make sure there isn’t an overall problem.  But then they also run into the problem of whether or not to fix the coffee pot.

From the article:

This, though, can cause a new set of problems for airlines. Passengers expect on-time departures — but they expect coffee too. “@AmericanAir- seriously no coffee on a my morning fly 5797 to ONT? Doesn’t that violate a law or something?†wrote Tim Swearingen, a technical project manager based in Phoenix, on Twitter a few days ago.

Reached by phone, Mr. Swearingen added this thought: “And why would you wait until I’m on the plane to announce that? I would have gone to Starbucks.â€

This seems like an instance where clear transparency would help the situation,

Instead of saying the coffee maker is broken, why not list the tradeoffs?

For example, why not say:  “Well folks, we just found out the coffee maker is broken.  We could take a two hours delay to repair it, or just head on our way.  We thought you might want to get to your destination as soon as possible, so we told maintaince not to worry about fixing it.  I’ll be missing my caffeine fix as much as you.”


The Chicago Tribune highlighted a situation that happened at my old home airport, Westchester Airport.  Westchester Airport is small.  Apparently, an American flight to Chicago took off with no working bathrooms.

Passengers were warned to use the bathroom in the airport before boarding the plane, but they were still upset.

Actually, they were furious.

From the article:

“The captain was apologetic, and furious, when he told the passengers that American couldn’t get maintenance to come out and fix the toilet,” said the woman. She asked not to be identified, adding that she is of an age requiring more frequent bathroom breaks.

“The pilot said he wanted to wait, but they (the airline) told him to leave now or they would cancel the flight,” she said.

But the airlines’ explanation was a bit different in an important way:

The (passenger’s account) is largely correct,” Scott said. The plane “did fly with the lavatory inoperative. A part was broken, and that part was not available in Westchester. The choice was to either cancel the flight and ferry the aircraft (with no passengers) to O’Hare or operate with the inoperative lavatory.”

I’m not sure whether the poor communication was between the airline and the pilot, or the pilot and the passengers.  But it’s clear this situation would have been better if the communication was clear and transparent.

If you gave me the choice between flying with a restroom or not flying at all, I’d chose to hold it.  The way the pilot worded the announcement made it sound like the airline chose not to delay the flight momentarily.  But the airline didn’t have the parts it needed and would have needed to cancel the flight.

They could have given the passengers the option to cancel their ticket if they didn’t want to fly without a toilet.  But the case for why they flew without one was so compelling, I think a little communication would have resulted in the passengers understanding more.

What do you think?

About Jeanne Marie Hoffman

Former bartender, still a geek. One equal part each cookies, liberty, football, music, travel, libations. Stir vigorously. +Jeanne Marie Hoffman Jeanne on Twitter

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  1. My AA flight from LGA to CMH was delayed over an hour last summer due to a missing coffee pot. Somehow the plane got to LGA without it or catering took it by accident without replacing it. Since the coffee pot is considered standard equipment on the plane (some type of RJ), they had to do paperwork for us to fly without it. And since we were at LGA, it wasn’t a fast process.

    Considering I don’t even drink coffee, I don’t get the need for it on a one hour flight. I go on a plane with no expectations of service – water, coffee/tea, or snacks. I’ve had plenty of flights where the turbulence doesn’t allow any service even if it was an option. Just get me home or to my destination.

  2. Interesting, I’ve been on a delay that caused a mis-connect while they bothered to replace the coffee maker. I’ll take the no coffee flight any day in order to avoid a missed connection.

  3. The initial airplane had a fault and also one more needed to
    be sent for, by the time it arrived it was snowing and also ultimately the airport was shut for a few hours.

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