Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Bird Strike! Alaska Air Flight 349 on 2014-11-14

Well, that was interesting. Last Friday, I went back up to Seattle. Or at least I tried to do. Unfortunately for me, we ended up turning around due to our plane hitting a bird. Nothing serious happened, but it still was a potentially dangerous situation. Thankfully, our pilots were able to land the plane safely and get us to Seattle -eventually. Here's the story.

From the start, the flight looked like it would be a good one: The plane was on time, we left on time, and the estimate with the winds was that were going to arrive early. It was, sadly, not to be. As we were climbing over San Francisco there was a slight drop in power from the engines and the plane leveled off. At fist, I didn't think much of it since the bay area is a crowded airspace and maybe we needed to level off to allow for other traffic.

However, then we turned east and started heading to Sacramento, I started to have my doubts. Pretty soon we were headed towards San Jose and it was pretty clear that there was something wrong. After about 10 minutes, the captain came on and told us that we hit a bird and that his controls were not working correctly...

...but that the First Officer's controls were fine (Maybe lead with that next time!). The pilots had the plane under control and set us down in Oakland with about 20-30 minutes of total time in the air. Emergency responders were out ready to great us if something went wrong, but the landing was smooth and we taxied into the gate on our own power. Everyone on board was calm about the situation, if a little annoyed at having plans abruptly changed.

What actually happened is that the bird took out the Pitot tubes, which are important for a lot of different functions on the plane, including air speed indication and supplying information to the engine controller. The Air France crash in 2009 into the Atlantic was attributed to a malfunction in the Pitot tubes. Thankfully, there was another undamaged set on our plane that kept everything running smoothly.

The truth is that Alaska did a pretty good job handling the delay. As soon as we were down, they were ready to hand out a meal voucher ($12, but sadly limited options like Chili's Too) and an apology card. The card promised to be back in touch with a discount off of a future flight. In the end, that was a $300 voucher, which isn't bad considering I only paid $186 for the ticket to Seattle. They arranged for a replacement plane, which did get us to Seattle... but at 2AM the next morning. On the other hand, they told us about the replacement plane within 15 minutes of landing and disembarking the original damaged plane. Overall, good job of handling the situation!