Spilled Coffee Aborts Flight

January 07, 2011

United flight 940 from Chicago to Frankfort Germany got off on the wrong foot - or wing - last Monday. It seems that one of the three members of the cockpit crew was drinking coffee when some slight turbulence caused the drink to spill. It not only spilled, but in making contact with the plane’s radio equipment, it caused communication problems, number one of which was to send out code 7500. This is an alarm which indicates a hijacking or unlawful interference is occurring on the flight.

That mis-communication handled, the pilot ended up landing at the closest airport, which was Toronto. The passengers were put on another flight back to Chicago, from which they flew to Frankfurt Tuesday.

The investigation into the incident is still ongoing. An FAA spokesman said food and drinks are allowed in cockpits. During critical moments, such as takeoff and landing, meals are prohibited. He didn’t say if drinks such as hot coffee were allowed during these times. The FAA is also looking into the actual rules for United pilots regarding cockpit safety and whether or not such rules are part of United’s pilot instruction.

In terms of driving a car, it’s not technically illegal to eat or drink non-alcoholic beverages while driving, but many parts of the US can issue tickets for negligent driving. Basically at least one hand has to be on the steering wheel at all times. Many of us have probably had close calls while trying to multitask in the driver’s seat. If maintaining focus while driving a car and drinking a coffee is hard, especially if on a bumpy road which could cause spills, it only seems reasonable that such activities should not be allowed during critical moments on planes carrying hundreds of passengers.

Thankfully this incident appears to be rare and most pilots have not had such emergencies. Surely we wouldn’t want to withhold coffee from a pilot who needs to stay alert during a flight. ROASTe’s Mug Hug (see below) would be a useful item for pilots who like hot beverages, as it is for drivers like all of us who need our coffee while driving.

Have a safe new year.

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