American Airlines has come up with a new explanation for The Mystery of The Falling Down Seats in some of its Boeing 757 airliners. The answer? Soda pop. Coffee. Snacks. Really. Something called the seat lock plunger mechanism can “get gunked up over time with people spilling sodas, popcorn, coffee or whatever and that can affect that locking mechanism on the ground that locks the seat to the floor,” airline spokeswoman Mary Frances Fagan said Friday. Apparently, worn locking pins can get stuck when food and beverages spill onto them, allowing seat rows to come unhinged, she said. American earlier said saddle-shaped clamps installed to hold the seats down were put in backwards. And while this might explain what happened to the three recent American flights that experienced loose seats, it doesn’t explain why the problem has affected only American flights, or why it’s happened so many times in such a short period.
Besides presumably cleaning out the gunk, Fagan says American mechanics are “taking extra steps to ensure that the seats do not dislodge from the track.” That includes installing industrial-strength metal ties as a backup. American insists after these newly installed mechanical ties are in place, no more seats will be dislodged.
The National Transportation Safety Board — which investigates U.S. civilian aircraft accidents — does not track loose-seat incidents, spokesman Peter Knudson said. American, however, has said maintenance work was not to blame for the problems. Vice President David Campbell also dismissed the possibility that the problems could be linked to an ongoing labor dispute. Last month, a judge threw out American’s contract with its pilots union. Since then, pilots have staged what the airline calls a slowdown that has caused the number of flights that are delayed and canceled to skyrocket. More than 1,000 American flights have been canceled and 12,000 delayed in the past month alone. Airline management has blamed the situation on pilots filing what it says are frivolous reports about aircraft problems. The pilots union has denied management’s assertion. American Airlines also filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection late last year.
Despite a less than stellar summer, I think I won’t be giving up on United Airlines just yet.