My First Emergency Landing: AA160 SAN-JFK


The closest that I had ever come to a really scary ride until today, was my flight a few years back to Buenos Aires. During that flight (coincidentally also on AA), a captain announced that some piece of equipment had stopped working, and they were about to make an emergency landing in Paraguay. About 20 minutes later, however, he announced that the problem had resolved itself and we made it to Buenos Aires just fine.

Well, today it was a bit different. Let me try and put it in chronological order before I forget some details.

1. About 40-50 minutes before we were originally scheduled to land, we caught a whiff of disgusting fumes rapidly spreading through the cabin (I’m using the word ‘scheduled’ because the captain had advised us previously about heavy traffic at JFK and that they were putting us “in pattern”, meaning we’d be circling over until the airport allows us to land).

2. The smell was getting worse and worse; this is when the captain said they suspected it had been caused by the leaking fuel. He also said they had requested an emergency landing and soon we began the descent.

3.  The descent was nothing unusual except for the abrupt final stop in the middle of the tarmac. However, the captain had warned us it would happen because the plane needed to be inspected.

4. About 10 minutes later, the captain told us his suspicion was correct, and that the smell was indeed caused by the fuel leakage from one of the engines.

5. We then waited for about another 30-40 minutes until they hooked us up and taxied us to the gates.

6. The final result: we disembarked one hour behind schedule, at about 4:50PM. All in one piece. No, scratch that–each in our respected pieces. OK, I have no idea what I just said.

Everyone on board was beyond professional, including the pilots, the flight attendants, and my fellow passengers as well. I have no idea if we were ever in real danger, but it surely felt like it for about 20-30 very tense minutes. Yet, everyone was calm and composed. Only when we stopped at the gates, some passengers applauded with relief. The fumes made my eyes watery but I have no idea if it was an allergic reaction or just the nerves. Hey, who cares. All well that ends well, right?

OK, that’s it, folks. Happy flying!

Update: March 13

Received an email and 10,000 points as a compensation from AA for a few unpleasant minutes on-board. I want to emphasize that I’ve never asked and never would’ve asked for a compensation, so Kudos to AA for their proactive approach and their generocity.

March 13, 2013
We are writing to follow up with you about the situation you encountered as a passenger on our flight 160 on March 11. We realize that your experience was certainly unexpected and we are very sorry for the concern you may have experienced. In accordance with standard operating safety procedures, our captain asked that the emergency response team be deployed upon landing. While we can well imagine how surprising it was to see emergency vehicles and personnel meet your flight, your safety is our primary concern.

In appreciation for your understanding, we have added 10,000 AAdvantage® bonus miles to your account. You should see this mileage adjustment in your account very soon, and you can view this activity via our web site,

Your loyalty is important to us and we would like to assure you that we are committed to getting you to your destination as planned. We’ll do our best to provide a smooth trip the next time you fly with us. We will look forward to the opportunity.

Customer Relations
American Airlines
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