Flight 296: The day we lost brakes


Everything we do in life has a certain amount of risk associated with it. Travel is one of those things.

Recently I was flying home after attending BloggyCon. I had had a layover in Denver, so I grabbed a late lunch and boarded the plane just like normal. It was essentially a typical non-eventful air travel day. As we pushed away from the terminal and started heading out to our runway the pilot quickly stopped the plane. I had an isle seat, but I did’t think much about it, as it is not uncommon for pilots to stop quickly. However, we did not move again. A guy sitting on the other side of the isle against the window says, we are in the grass. At first I didn’t think I heard him correctly, “In the grass?” I ask. He confirmed it. The pilot then makes an announcement that says our aircraft had lost brakes and he put the engines into emergency reverse mode, hence the quick stop.

out-the-window
We were in good hands. Photo taken by the lady with the window seat in my row. 

Since that day I have had several people ask me what the atmosphere was like on the plane. It was calm. No one screamed, no one was hurt. It didn’t take us long to figure out that we were very glad we lost brakes while still on the ground as opposed to landing in Reno. As we sat on the plane, a maintenance crew worked on the brakes below us and the pilot gave updates as he knew them. The flight crew did their best to answer questions and provide information. Everyone got to know their neighbors. There was a sense of togetherness and camaraderie with the people near me.

It was finally decided that the plane could not be towed back to the terminal at that time. They were going to evacuate the plane and bus us all back to the terminal. We unloaded the plane from the rear. They had numerous emergency service professionals to assist us as well as the flight crew and the airport representatives waiting for us. We all made our way onto buses that took us back to the terminal.

off-the-plane
First time to leave a plane by the rear exit. 
from-the-bus
Back to the airport we go.

We were greeted in the terminal with water, meal vouchers, and confirmation that we would be boarding another plane that night headed to Reno. Everyone seemed relieved we would be heading home and that we weren’t going to be staying overnight in Denver.

The second plane finally arrived, we reboarded with a new flight crew. This flight went just as planned, and we had a safe landing in Reno. Although this incident caused about a three hour delay, it is safe to say that I personally was very glad to find out we did not have brakes in Denver before we took off. I cannot even imagine what the possible outcome would have been had we discovered that when we landed in Reno. I think every person on that plane probably spent a few minutes reflecting on what is important in their life and thanked someone or something for giving us a positive outcome.

I boarded another plane this week. The reward outweighed the risk for me.

I wanted to give a shoutout to United airlines (the airline I happened to be flying during this incident), as they did an excellent job handing a volatile situation. They provided continuous updates, were friendly and helpful, sent a survey about our experience immediately, and offered points or a cash credit toward our next flight. It was a good case study in crisis communication.

Disclaimer: United Airlines has in no form or fashion compensated me for writing this post. I am just glad to be here today to share my story about United flight 296.

Have you ever had a close call when traveling?


Dr. Lindsay can also be found on:

– Twitter/Instagram (agwithdrlindsay)
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