Tonight I flew from Beijing to Shanghai with Air China. Because I was tired after my trip I decided to upgrade to First Class, so I would have a bit more space to relax during the flight (I actually ended up working for most of the flight, but that’s my own fault 🙂 and get a decent meal. The plane was supposed to leave at 5:30 PM, and indeed we left the gate a few minutes before that. We taxied to the runway, but halfway we stopped. We stood there for 15 minutes when the pilot came on the intercom telling us that because of congestion we could not take off yet. Quite normal on the busy Beijing-Shanghai route, and because I already expected a delay I just leaned back in my seat and kept on reading.
Because I was in the first row of the plane I could not only look to the side but also a bit to the front. Therefore I could see that all around us planes were taking off, but we did not move. After about one hours of waiting I decided to ask the flight attendant. She looked around as if she had something to hide and then whispered to me: “We have a mechanical problem, the engine is leaking oil and a mechanic will need to repair it.”. That did not make me very happy, but I always prefer safety over trouble during the flight. I was surprised, however, that she just told me. Why not mention this on the intercom, were they afraid people would start to revolt after already being on the runway for over an hour?
I called my wife to tell her about the delay because engine trouble and also Twittered about it while sitting on the plane. A few minutes later the plane finally started to move again, I assumed to taxi back to the gate. But no, I was wrong, it taxied to the starting position. The pilot came on the intercom saying that we would take off in just a minute. I could not believe what I heard, a few minutes earlier I was told we had engine trouble and now we suddenly take off. I managed to send out another Twitter message and indeed off we went.
I am still not sure what happened. Did the flight attendant lie to me (she spoke English with me, so I am 100% sure I understood her correctly)? Did they take a calculated risk, meaning that the flight attendant was not allowed to tell the passengers (which would explain why it was not announced to the rest of the plane)? Or did a mechanic mysteriously manage to look at the engine while we were on the runway? Anyway, the flight itself was uneventful and we safely landed at Hongqiao airport, but I am still a bit puzzled.