Air France Flight 2240 on Wednesday when flying at 28,000 feet, some passengers reported hearing a constant beeping noise in the cabin. Unable to determine what was causing the sound and fearing for the worst, flight attendants told the pilots there was an unidentified item on the plane that could be a bomb. The pilots declared a Mayday and the plane landed at Basel/Mulhouse Airport on the France-Switzerland border according to Flight Radar 24 which tracks the flight here. But for twenty uncertain minutes these travelers did not know what was going to happen.
Even after landing, the drama continued as the A320-200 with registration F-GKXF was brought to an isolated area of the small airport where passengers were evacuated and the airplane searched. Then, and only then, did police discover what was causing the panic, the alarm was ringing on a Blackberry device a passenger had failed to turn off on departure.
Air France officials were unavailable for comment but they'll be paying a significant amount of money for the diversion. There's not only fuel that was wasted on that flight and on ferrying an empty replacement aircraft from Paris to Basel, but passengers had to be accommodated overnight and were 18 hours delayed on their trip. For their assumed panic, some might file a legal claim against the airline. (Don't laugh, its been done successfully in the past.)
Whether the airline will try to recover some of those costs from the passenger is obviously unknown. But if row 5 is in premium class, executives may prefer to let the infraction slide.
This question of whether portable electronic devices present a threat to the safety of air operations has been extremely squishy. I'm among the few who keeps hammering the point that this is an issue that will sooner or later end in tears. But I'm not alone in that belief. Just ask Boeing.
For the most part, however, the message from airlines and regulators has been ambiguous - leading passengers to treat the subject rather like religion. Their belief or non belief defines their behavior.
We don't know what prompted the Blackberry owner on Air France Flight 2240 to keep the device powered up, could be simple forgetfulness. But I could bore you with stories of how many times I've seen passengers openly defy the flight attendants and then you'd bore me right back with your own experiences. Let's just let it rest with these words, Alec Baldwin.
Readers, you know an accident is never the result of one thing. Air disasters lie at the end of an unbroken chain of events. Each individual occurrence may appear trivial - like tossing a powered Blackberry into the overhead bin. Sometimes though, otherwise benign happenings spiral into chaos. The best example to date is Wednesday's event on Air France. Mark my words, though, it is not the last.
Thanks to Jan Paul Peters for help on this post.