Houston/ Transportation & Infrastructure
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Published on April 16, 2024
Houston Flight Turnaround Adds to United's Troubling Month, NTSB Data Shows No Uptick in IncidentsSource: Unsplash/ Scott Fillmer

Houston skies have been less than friendly lately, with a series of incidents involving United Airlines sending jitters through travelers. The latest hiccup occurred on Friday when flight 2152, en route to Fort Lauderdale, had to circle back to George Bush International Airport post-takeoff due to a compromised cabin door. The culprit was nothing more dramatic than a loose handle, but it was enough to compel a return and reroute passengers onto a different flight, which according to a United Airlines spokesperson, landed safely at its intended destination without further ado.

This turn of events marks at least the third such incident in just one month for United in Houston. Only weeks before, a plane was forced sheer off the runway and into airport grassland. This bizarre swerve caused no injuries but certainly rattled passengers, with one reporting that "there was a lot of yelling because it was a big bang, and then everyone was sitting sideways," and another recounting how "the lady across the way screamed," as described to KHOU 11 News. Then, there was the alarming scene of flames shooting from an engine of flight 1118, a spectacle later attributed to bubble wrap being sucked into the engine, resulting in what United described as a "compressor stall."

Despite the spate of incidents, the numbers tell a less dramatic story. An analysis by the Houston Chronicle dug into National Transportation Safety Board data, revealing no significant uptick in aviation incidents for commercial airlines in recent years. The report remarked on "clusters of events," as mentioned by NTSB spokesperson Peter Knudson, who indicated that the series of mishaps doesn't necessarily signal a systemic issue. It’s a phenomenon hard to explain, but not unprecedented or necessarily foreboding of darker skies ahead.

The same analysis highlighted that since 2008, personnel and environmental factors reigned as the top perpetrators in air travel mishaps. According to the Chronicle's newsroom meteorologist, Justin Ballard, "Microbursts can quickly prove devastating to a plane taking off or landing," emphasizing the treacherous nature of sudden and intense wind gusts. Additionally, Texas seems to be a magnet for such occurrences, with about 90 incidents related to or over the state in recent memory – over 40 involving flights headed in or departing from Houston.

It's worth noting that only a fragment – 4% – of aviation incidents investigated by the NTSB involve commercial flights. Despite the unassuming percentage, the NTSB's role is not to point fingers or cast aspersions on the integrity of aircraft or their operators but to unravel the Gordian knot of each incident, providing insights that would enable the avoidance of similar scenarios in the future. As these investigations unfold, passengers and crews must hope to swiftly return to a time when the most noteworthy aspect of their flight is the complimentary beverages or the view from the cabin window.

Houston-Transportation & Infrastructure