What is the silliest thing you’ve mistaken for something else? We’ve all done it. The first thing that came to my mind was something that happened years ago. We passed an HSS Hire Shop (industrial hire company here in the UK) and I quickly glanced over my shoulder and said: What’s a Hiss Hair Shop? Much to the amusement of the rest of the family. It’s easy to mistake something for something else. I’m sure there are many more recent examples but none have come to my mind just yet.
The following story takes things to the next level. Early last week and fresh out of the simulator, I was preparing for a flight to Chania in Greece. We had a slot time, which meant we had to be airborne by a particular time otherwise the slot would expire and we’d need a new one. All flights have to depart at a particular time but if you don’t have a slot time then it’s usually easier to recover from delays.
Everything was going to plan until we’d started the first engine and completed the pushback. There was a loud ding in the flight deck indicating the cabin crew wanted to speak to us – never a good sign during the push. In my relatively short time I’ve had all sorts of things from passengers losing passports to medical issues and nervous flyers. Today was something new. A passenger was claiming to have seen their bag on a luggage cart back on the stand we had just left. Okay. Interesting claim. We had no reason to doubt it at first and so made contact with our handling agent who had the stand searched and confirmed with the baggage handlers that the bag count was correct. Procedures are in place for this very reason.
The story should have ended there but it goes on a little further. The searching caused us to almost miss our slot time. Tower had kindly managed to arrange an extension of a couple of minutes. Enough time to taxi to the runway and take off. We approached the runway holding point and waited for another aircraft to land. After which we were cleared to enter the runway, backtrack and line up ready for departure. During this time we were waiting for a signal from the cabin to say everything was secure for take off. I pressed a button which tells the cabin crew we’re ready and then we wait for a response. The response didn’t come and we were occupying the runway at a peak time so we dinged the cabin again. Then they picked up the inter phone and explained the situation.
The cabin crew inform us that said passenger is still insisting their bag is still on the stand and won’t go without it. The cabin was not secure, the safety demo hadn’t yet been done due to all the commotion and we were still occupying an active runway. We asked tower for taxi instructions back to stand while we sort out a baggage issue. Instructions were provided and the slot time went out of the window. We make it back on stand to be greeted by a sea of high visibility jackets. The passenger was invited to lead the way to this forgotten bag.
Much to my relief, we hadn’t left a bag after all. The forgotten bag – was a pile of chocks. You read that right, aircraft chocks. Yes, they were black, yes, there were a few of them and yes, they were stacked on a luggage cart but no, they weren’t a bag. The passenger returned to the aircraft, we uplifted an extra 300 Kgs of fuel and awaited a new slot time. When was the new slot time? Almost an hour after our original scheduled departure time.
As a result of this case of mistaken identity, people were delayed, fuel was wasted and one passenger kept their head down for the rest of the trip. Not a very warm welcome to the working week having completed a six monthly simulator check the day before. Fortunately all ended well and we made it back to Leeds only 15 minutes late. What things would you be willing to delay a flight for? If I was certain my bag was still on stand, sure, I’d mention it but if we had to go without it I’d be cheesed off enough but I’d live. I wouldn’t dare delay the flight. I’d only have the guts to demand a return to stand if I felt desperately unwell.