In a precautionary move, a Delta Air Lines flight turned back over the Atlantic and returned to New York JFK after pilots detected a fuel imbalance. The plane was not out of fuel. No one was in any danger. But that didn’t stop a popular vlogger from creating a sensational headline that went viral. Here, though it is not a trivial matter under the spotlight but a serious one that implicates issues of safety and manifestly misleads the public.
Misleading Narrative Over Delta Fuel Imbalance Diversion Has Serious Consequences
The Boeing 767-300 was traveling from New York (JFK) to Accra (ACC) and had already been delayed a day when one of the pilots got sick and then again the next day due to bad weather. Two hours into the flight, the pilots discovered the fuel imbalance and as a precautionary move, chose to return to New York.
Arieh Smith operates a popular YouTube channel and created a video in which he criticized the pilots for not being clear about the nature of the problem and leaving him in a frightful panic that he was going to die. The man shares messages he sent to his wife in which he says goodbye and even turns on the waterworks in a video recorded in the aircraft lavatory.
Cry me a river…
Let me pull back the curtain here on the world of blogging. A situation like this is the delight of every blogger whose revenue is driven by eyeballs. Minor incidents tweaked into life-changing events are the juice that powers many blogs and YouTube channels.
When thinking about this story, I had to stop and think if this is a case of the pot calling the kettle black. Am I just as guilty? After all, I’m no stranger to clickbait. But my tabloid-style fodder is pretty harmless…I get a kick out of people that get so worked up over a woman prancing down the aisle or a man who can hold his liquids well. Clickbait? Sure. Consquential? Not really.
But when the clickbait gets to the safety and integrity of an airline, a whole new line is crossed, which is the reason this particular story (and many YouTubers in general) just rub me the wrong way. I could generate millions of clicks by alleging my flight almost crashed, but in doing so would destroy my credibility. It’s a dangerous game.
Part of me salutes the business model because it really does work, but part of me just recoils at the irresponsibleness of claiming, “My plane ran out of fuel over the Atlantic Ocean.”
Delta certainly doesn’t need Live and Let’s Fly to defend it, but I cannot help but to do so here. No sir, your plane did not run out of fuel over the Atlantic Ocean. You were not in danger no matter how you try to describe the communication coming from the flight deck.
Delta offered the following statement on the flight:
DL9923 was returned to JFK out of an abundance of caution due to a fuel imbalance in-flight. An emergency was declared on arrival at JFK to obtain priority handling from air traffic control.
Modern aircraft have come a long way over the decades and engineers have carefully planned for precisely this circumstance. Pilot can isolate fuel leaks and continue to fly the plane…here, pilots just noticed an imbalance and it is not even clear if there was a leak in one of the tanks.
I want to be careful in not wholly discounting the gamut of emotions that must have run through Smith’s mind as this incident unfolded. But the way in which the video is titled and described (“The scariest day of my life. Thanks to the captain for saving all our lives”) does cause me to question the authenticity of his anxiety.
Kudos to Smith for his growing audience on YouTube and his remarkable ability to connect with so many, as he has done in the video above. But even as a strong defender of clickbait, it seems to me that certain issues cross a line and it is highly irresponsible, misleading, and therefore unethical to describe the situation the way in which he did, especially after clarifying the matter with the captain when the flight landed at JFK.
What is your take on the issue? Doesn’t the idea of claiming his aircraft ran out of fuel rub you the wrong way?
image: Xiaomanyc / YouTube