Airplane maintenance

Every now and then I wonder how safe planes actually are? I mean, they do not fall out of the sky often, and departing/landing accidents are also quite uncommon, but I often see small problems on board, that I wonder how many bigger problems passengers do not know about.

Yesterday evening I flew from Amsterdam to Shanghai with KLM and so I had some time to think about this. KLM should be a relatively reliable airline, with planes that are maintained well. But is that really the case? A summary of some minor things that I noticed yesterday. First of all, when I entered the plane it was incredibly warm on board. I was quite late, and people were using newspapers and magazines to fan some cool air in their faces. I asked a flight attendant about it, and she told me that there was a problem with the cooling system in the air conditioning. But they were fixing it. They did indeed, but it took at least another 1o minutes.

When I sat down, I noticed that the plastic inside cover of the window was loose (see picture). Not only at my window, but also on several windows behind me. This has no effect on the plane, but it makes me wonder if KLM does not maintain its planes regularly.

I put my chair back a bit, but when I tried to put it back up again it was stuck. I had to pull it up in order to get it back in the upright position. I know that the seats were old, and that this was probably an older plane, but I still feel this cannot happen. Maybe the cabin staff does not know about it, so they cannot repair it (I also did not tell them actually), but it still should not happen.

Then I noticed that of the two toilets on the upper deck one was locked for usage, because it was not working (note: this was before take-off, while we were still at Amsterdam airport). Why do they not repair this? The other toilet had a problem with the water tap. You had to pull it up otherwise the water would keep running. The crew had actually already put a post-it note on it. But why was it not repaired before take-off? I have the feeling that planes are used too intensively, and there is no time for basic maintenance. Not good.

When the plane was supposed to leave, we taxied to the runway. There we waited a while, and then the captain came on the intercom. There was a problem with the brakes and we had to go back to the gate to get it repaired. I am glad they did that of course, but I do not understand that this can happen. We only taxied for maybe 100 or 200 meters, can they not see that earlier? Or do they not test all their instruments and engines (incl. the brakes) before leaving the gate. I find it all a bit scary, especially in combination with all the other problems that I noticed on the plane.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not afraid to fly at all. I have experienced more dangerous flights, for example when I flew on an old Air Koryo plane (a Russian one, forgot the brand, probably an Antonov or so) from Pyongyang in North-Korea to Beijing. There were not enough seats for all passengers so some had to stand during the flight, and some of the luggage fell down during take-off because the overhead luggage compartments could not be closed. Or when flying a small Merpati plane from Lombok to Bali, when halfway the flight the stewardess ran out of the cockpit and right after that the plane nose-dived for a few seconds. I still don’t know what happened, but I vowed that this would be the last time I would ever fly Merpati.

KLM is probably among the best airlines in the world. But if their planes already have these problems, what issues do smaller, less profitable airlines have? I think I don’t want to know. But I assume that the last thing they try to save on is engine maintenance, so probably flying is never really unsafe. It just feels a bit like that sometimes.

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  1. Excellent posting, I share many thoughts on this as well.

    Oh well, maybe its is sometimes like eating in a restaurant… the food is good as long as you don’t look in the kitchen…..

  2. The things you pointed out were just small issues, but these are exactly the things that can’t be ignored. I don’t know why, in general that the standard of services has become worse in the last few years.

    For example, they don’t even have the time to change a new sheet for the head rest and one can find an oily sheet; just imagine how disgusting it would be if you know your head would lie there for the next 12 hours!

    Yes, as I said, they’re just small problems, but I think it’s not a good experience!

    Your words about the old planes reminds me of the funny stories my dad told me when he recalls his experiences with the domestic flights in China back in the 70s when he travelled back and forth for business.

    During that flight, one of the engines stopped suddenly, and there was nothing the pilot and the crew could do about it. The air hostess then announced, “I’m sorry, the plane’s going to fall down soon; I’m going to give each of you a piece of paper, and please write whatever you want to your family, or write a will…I’ll gather these little papers in this box (she was holding that)and bring it to them as I’ll be escaping with my parachute….”

    …and after about half an hour, sounds came out from that engine again…and of course everyone survived…SCARY experience, isn’t it?

  3. I understand your notes about the airplane.
    But see it on the other hand, for example the toilets; with one toilet on the upperdeck, it’s fine to survive the flight. If they had to fix it, you will probably have had a delay of 3hours. Is that what you rather had?
    Then the brakes. How can you check brakes if you don’t move the wheels. They have a checklist during taxi, one point is the brakes. Appearantly they notices that after 100 meters.
    There are always some small problems, but they won’t fly if it;s not safe. And off course they can fix it rught away. But they would have a big delay.

    But, since your seat was at the upperdeck, I know you sat Business Class. So it wasn’t a terrible flight I assume.