Recently, I was on day 4 of a 5 day pairing. I was supposed to operate a flight from Saskatoon that had picked up some of its passengers in Regina and would continue to Puerto Vallarta, and then back to Saskatoon. On day 5, I would just deadhead home. Easy right? Nope! Because we got to the aircraft, we did our checks, all our passengers got on board. In the cabin, we were ready to go and it was only a few minutes until our scheduled departure time when the captain called me into the flight deck.
From experience I know this isn’t a good sign. My stomach is already sinking.
The master caution light has burnt out. And Saskatoon is not a maintenance base. If a compatible part could be located at YXE airport, we could have this solved probably within 30 minutes and be on our way. If not, we had to have a spare part flown in on whatever airline had the soonest flight arriving from Calgary. They were still trying to work out the details.
I made an announcement to the passengers, something along the lines of, “Ladies and gentlemen, the captain has just informed me that an indicator light in the flight deck had burnt out. It so happens that this is a major indicator light which tells them is something is seriously wrong with the plane. So, as I’m sure you can imagine, it is required that be working before we take off.” (Not my exact words, but something like that. A little humour usually helps in these situations.) “Right now, we’re trying to see if this part is available here in Saskatoon. So unfortunately I don’t have a time estimate right now. I’ll let you know when I have more details.”
I called the back galley and I asked them to prepare a juice service by tray (We’re not allowed to do trolley service on the ground, as it would take too long to pack up if we were suddenly able to depart)
In the cabin I was offering juices and water to the passengers when a man stopped me.
He said, “Well obviously we’re majorly delayed if you’re doing service!”
I told him I had no idea how long the delay would be. We’re still trying to find…
“You’re doing service! You must be expecting us to be here a while if you’re doing service” I hate being interrupted.
I said to him, “I don’t know yet how long it’ll be. I just thought it would be nice to offer something to drink while everyone is waiting.
He continued to insist that I knew we were going to be delayed for hours.
“Do you want juice or water?” I interrupted him.
“I’ll have juice.” he said.
In all honesty; I had no idea how long it would be at this point. But the reason we decided to offer juice wasn’t due to the length of the delay it was for two reasons:
First, it’s a nice thing to do in a less than ideal situation.
Second: Aircrew are only paid when the aircraft is in motion. So while we’re sitting here on the ground we are unpaid. In our collective agreement however, there’s a stipulation where if we provide service on the ground in a delay situation of 30 minutes or longer we’ll be paid a half credit.
(for those unaware credit hours are paid hours during our duty day. An average duty might be 12 hours total, with 9 paid credits due to 3 hours of our duty occurring off the plane or while it is not moving)
At this point we’re about 45 minutes into the delay when the captain calls me back up to the flight deck. It’s not good news. The part we need has to come from Calgary. The next flight is from WestJet, arriving in 4 hours.
The captain asked if we wanted to deplane the passengers.
How is that even a question? Of course we would deplane. We’re not going to make everyone sit on board. However the ground agents pointed out that we’re an international flight. Canada customs had an issue because passengers had arrived from another city and didn’t want them to mix with domestic passengers in the terminal. They also wouldn’t process them because the flight hasn’t left the country. (What?!)
I told the agents I wanted to speak with customs. Luckily, at that moment 2 customs agents were coming down the bridge.
I spoke with them, and told them none of the passengers had actually left the country, and Regina (YQR) is post cleared (as is saskatoon).
Thank god, they agreed to let the passengers off the plane. One of the agent’s previously worked in YQR, and was able to confirm what I was saying.
The captain decided to make the announcement this time, something along the lines of “Hi Folks, unfortunately …blah blah… get the part of Calgary ..blah blah..”
and then he said this, “So this flight is cancelled. Once we get the part we need installed, we’ll get you out and on your vacation.”
WHAT! Did he really just use the “C” word?! As soon as he said it I stared daggers into his soul.
He missed some extra details anyway, so I picked up the PA and added, “Ladies an Gentlemen, please be sure to take all your personal belongings with you as you leave the plane. Also, we are not cancelled. We apologize for this delay.”
Still, people as they walked by me were confused. And confusion leads to anger. As everyone walked past me to get off the plane I had to explain to many that were still scheduled to leave for Puerto Vallarta today. Although mostly it was a mix of people muttering how unacceptable this was, or people telling me they understand that safety comes first. (I’ve always loved the people in the prairies for that)
Once everyone was off, we grabbed our own bags and made our way back into the terminal. There we would continue to wait for 4 hours, along with the passengers, until the WestJet flight came in. Once it arrived, I saw our mechanic run over to the plane, grab a box from their baggage handlers, and run back over to our plane.
About 10 minutes after that I got a phone call from crew scheduling telling me it was time to head back to the aircraft.