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Their plane was news, and they got to watch

With in-flight TV, passengers on a flight that had some landing drama got to watch it unfold live.

Associated Press
Published September 23, 2005


LOS ANGELES - Letting customers watch TV at their seats has been a JetBlue calling card since the airline took flight in 1999.

But the frill made for a bizarre experience as passengers aboard an airliner with a crippled nose wheel watched news reports about their own flight even as they prepared for an emergency landing.

Some of those aboard Flight 292, which landed safely Wednesday at Los Angeles International Airport, said later that they appreciated seeing news reports on what was happening. Others were horrified.

"It was absolutely terrifying, actually. Seeing the events broadcast made it completely surreal and detached me from the event," said Zachary Mastoon, a musician heading home on the Burbank-to-New York flight. "It became this television show I was inextricably linked to. It was no longer my situation, it was broadcast for everyone to see. It only exacerbated the situation and my fear."

Mastoon said the JetBlue employees kept passengers informed but that he heard worst-case scenarios from TV news reports. Realizing the risks, he started taking swigs from another passenger's vodka tonic.

"They were telling us there could be a crash landing, the landing gear could be torn off, and that there could be a fire. The gravity of the situation was much worse than any of us assumed," Mastoon said.

Some passengers, though, said they appreciated knowing as much as possible about their situation.

"I think on balance people were not upset," said Howard Averill, chief financial officer for NBC-Universal Television, who was traveling to a meeting in New York.

Even so, he said, some passengers would pull off their headphones after disturbing bits of news "with just that look of, I think I've heard enough."

The airline said Thursday it had no plans to get rid of in-flight television during emergencies.

"It's far more valuable to customers who choose to watch, and customers who choose not to watch can turn their unit off," company spokeswoman Jenny Dervin said.

JetBlue, which provides 36 channels, is joined by Delta's Song and Frontier airlines in offering in-flight TV.

Airlines meticulously avoid in-flight movies about air disasters and edit out scenes that could panic travelers. A scene in the 1988 film Rain Man, for example, in which Dustin Hoffman's character lists a series of air disasters, was cut by every airline except Qantas - whose safety record got a thumbs-up in the film.

On Thursday, a JetBlue airliner departing from Tampa landed safely at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York after its pilot reported a problem with the wing flaps as the plane prepared to descend, company officials said. No injuries were reported. It was unclear if the flaps actually were locked or if it was a false alarm.

THE AIRBUS A320

There have been at least seven cases in which the front wheels on Airbus A320s became stuck in a sideways position, forcing pilots to make emergency landings.

No one was hurt in any of the landings, the latest of which occurred Wednesday when a JetBlue plane touched down in Los Angeles.

The incidents are considered anomalies and have not prompted federal authorities to take action beyond ordering airlines to follow Airbus instructions for replacing rubber seals on the gear.

The A320 family - which includes the A318, A319 and A321 - has a somewhat unusual landing gear that rotates before retracting into the fuselage.

"It's definitely not the most common way," said Chuck Eastlake, aerospace engineering professor at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach. "The reason is that the ability of the nose wheel to rotate 90 degrees introduces the possibility of failure, exactly like what we saw."

In contrast, Boeing aircraft landing gear all move straight up and down.

[Last modified September 23, 2005, 02:50:29]


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