If you subscribe to my free travel tips newsletter, then you know I’ve flown over three million miles and have had my fair share of delayed flights. But this week, something happened that I’ve never experienced before … my family and I had to deplane three times, our American Airlines pilot refused an aircraft and … passengers applauded. And it wasn’t like we we’re going to a dreary place that no one really wanted to go to. We were flying to Hawaii!

American Airlines flight from LAX to HNL.Prior to that, everything was going smoothly, even with the rookie mistake that I made. We arrived at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) at 7:30am for our 9am flight (AA31). I forgot to check Fly LAX Stats on X (formerly Twitter) to see what the traffic was like inside the airport. Pulling up to the airport, both the Departures and Arrivals levels looked like they were moving well but once I went up the Departures ramp, bam! Bumper-to-bumper traffic. Only then did I look at Fly LAX Stats (screenshot from April 3 at 7am below). TIP: If you’re flying from a large airport with two different levels, always check which one is moving faster.

I check FlyLAXStats on X (formerly Twitter) to see what airport traffic is like.

After checking in, going through security and boarding, we took our seats in economy. I was in 8D, the bulkhead row, and my wife and kids were in the row directly behind me. When I had booked the tickets a couple of months prior, not all the seats I wanted were available so I set a seat alert. Sure enough, 8D opened up the day before and thanks to Expert Flyer’s notification, I snagged it. Here’s how to set a seat alert.

Mechanic onboard American Airlines airplane.Everything was going smoothly until 8:45am when our American Airlines (AA) pilot said there was a problem with a leaking faucet in the galley. The mechanics came on and after almost an hour, it was clear they couldn’t fix it. The flight crew weren’t too happy because they said the plane had been in the hangar all night so everything should have been working.

We all had to deplane and hoped AA could get a new aircraft (one of the benefits of flying a large airline and out of one of their hubs). The flight attendants told everyone to hang out in the gate area for further instructions.

Lo and behold, American found a new plane coming in from Washington D.C. and we would be departing at 11am. I asked another agent if that was even possible since the plane was still 12 minutes away and she said it would be more like 11:30am. She was right. We boarded plane number two at 10:59am. TIP: If there’s ever an aircraft change, always find out ASAP if your new one has the same seat configuration. We were on another A321 Neo and all the seats were the same. I was also relieved it was the same crew since they were super friendly.

The good thing about having to reboard a plane is that the second time around usually goes much faster as everyone knows where their seats are and where their bags go. I also had major deja vu and it felt a bit like the movie Groundhog Day.

While I was sitting in my seat, a big dude wearing a NY Knicks shirt walked by me and for the second time, I said, “Let’s hope the Knicks can go all the way this year!” He gave me the same answer with a straight face, so I wasn’t sure if he forgot I’d said the same thing to him on the first plane, if he thought I was crazy, or he was crazy or he was just playing along.

The captain welcomed us aboard and said that we had to wait for the bags to be reloaded. We pushed back at 11:55am but a few minutes later and during the safety demonstration, one of the flight attendants got on the PA and said, “Stop the demonstration, we have to go back to the gate.” At first the FA’s thought they’d just forgotten some paperwork but it turned out to be something bigger.

The captain got on the PA and said, “Minor issue with the oil pressure, problem with engine number two. We’re talking to maintenance control right now. Sorry it’s taken so long but things are pretty good right now. Just bear with us for a few more minutes if you would please.”

At 12:20pm the captain got on the PA again (see video embedded below) and said, “Little update here: There was a … the aircraft is being observed, so to speak, because oil pressure on the number two engine is trending upwards, and the aircraft is going to require, actually, it’s the fuel pressure, fuel system filter replacement when the aircraft gets back from Hawaii. They’ve told us that the plane is good to go but I’m not really feeling it. I’m not going to leave the ground if I’m not completely certain that we have an air-worthy aircraft, so I’m going to probably err on the side of caution and am refusing the aircraft. So what this means for you right now, I’m not exactly sure. I don’t know if we have another aircraft here at the airport but … I hate to do this to you but this is one of those tough calls I have to make and I feel a lot more comfortable making this call than flying six hours over the water and maybe having an issue. Anyway, that’s where things stand now and I apologize for that your morning hasn’t been so good. We do appreciate your patience so we’re going to have to have everybody deplane the aircraft momentarily.”

Then I heard something I wasn’t expecting but was feeling … applause. That’s right. Even after already deplaning an aircraft and wanting very much to get to Hawaii as soon as possible, no one wanted to take a chance … especially when you’re flying over one of the most remote places on Earth. It’s not like we were flying across the country where we could land at an airport below. You can’t just make an emergency landing when you’re flying to Hawaii – and everyone on-board realized that and appreciated the Captain’s decision. Watch his announcement below:

YouTube video

And so, we grabbed our carry-on bags and walked off the plane. At 2:36pm, we boarded plane number three and had another Groundhog Day experience with the same crew, the same passengers, the same seats, the same places to stow our bags and the same dude with a Knicks jersey. I said to him, “Let’s hope the Knicks can go all the way this year!” and he gave me the same reply. He was just playing along.

The Captain got on the PA and said, “Rumor has it that flying time is 5 hours and 53 minutes. This aircraft seems to be one of the better ones we have, we should be underway momentarily as soon as we get the catering and luggage on, we will be underway. Once again, welcome aboard and a sincere thank you for all of your patience.”

We landed in HNL at 5:54pm local time and our bags came out at 6:23pm. We were all happy to be safe and in Hawaii instead of feeling cheated that we’d lost a day at the beach and a dinner with friends. I felt bad for the crew since they not only had the same six-hour delay but they had to work the flight and not get compensated any more for it.
We boarded a third American Airlines aircraft and finally made our way to Hawaii.
The next day, I read a relatable quote from UCONN’s Men’s Basketball head coach, Dan Hurley, after they had a significant travel delay thanks to mechanical problems while on their way from Connecticut to Phoenix (they didn’t arrive in Phoenix until 3:15am.)

Per ESPN: Hurley joked Thursday, “A lot of thoughts because I’ve had a lot of time to think in just a stationary situation. I think what goes through your mind once you’re done kind of complaining and cursing and muttering, you just start saying to yourself, ‘You don’t deserve to show such entitlement. Such an honor to get a chance — once-in-a-lifetime experience — to play in a Final Four, coach in a Final Four.’ Once that edge wore off, [it was, ‘We’re] lucky to be here.’ We’re lucky to get an opportunity to come play in the Final Four. “Who doesn’t deal with problems with the airlines? … But it sucked.”

Johnny Jet and his family in Hawaii.That’s exactly right, except in our case, replace ‘Final Four’ with ‘Hawaii.’ As you can see from the smiles above, we’re just happy to be here.

And hilariously, the next day at the hotel pool, my son was playing with a little girl from Poland, who said she had to take three planes to get here. My son said, “Me too!”


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14 Comments On "'I'm Not Really Feeling It': American Airlines Pilot Cancels Plane to Hawaii (Twice!) and Passengers Applaud"
  1. David R. Miller|

    American Airlines strikes AGAIN. Given the choice of flying American Airlines – or not going – I would stay home. They consistently have maintenance issues reported time and again.

  2. Earl B.|

    Good story JJ. Thanks for sharing! Have fun in Hawaii!

  3. Gail Crockett|

    What a wonderful positive story to share regarding patience understanding and appreciation!

  4. Barney|

    We had a Delta pilot refuse a plane that maintenance told her was “probably okay” last year. Delta was able to get us another plane several hours later. We were glad she erred on the side of caution.

    It was a similar experience. First a delay, then boarded, then the pilot announced she wasn’t accepting the plane and we deboarded. She then came into the lounge area and explained what happened and why she refused the plane.Certainly a unique experience for us.

  5. USN Veteran|

    Just because plane #1 was in the hangar the night before means nothing. It had scheduled overnight maintenance to be done & they probably didn’t know anything about the faucet. I recently retired after 30 plus years as a mechanic from a major airline.

  6. Harald Bindeus|

    the crew worked a 5 hour plus flight after a 6 hour delay? that requires an explanation as they would have timed out.

  7. Matt|

    I’m surprised you never told us what the big guy in the Knicks shirt said in his reply to you. or was that some editing issue?

  8. Anonymous|

    In a world that is rushed and full of expectations, I can’t imagine the incredible amount of pressure he must have felt to go ahead with the flight, especially after the first delay. I’m sure that I would have been disappointed and a bit frustrated, but I have to say…that is the pilot I want flying every plane I’m on! He is a champion in my book!

  9. Marc|

    Interesting story. But lol at those sunglasses on your last picture!

  10. Jim|

    Well written! Airbus 321s are notorious for mechanicals-as a 7 year EP I try to avoid them when possible.
    I’ve heard AA FAs refer to them as scare-buses…lol.

  11. Freddo|

    Keeping it real. A wise choice by the captain, and a No BS explanation. I’m certain the crew was appreciative of the applause, and hopefully no complaints.

  12. SteveInSoCal|

    Well, I was wrong; I thought (from experience), “This *has* to be United”
    BTW nice sunglasses ;-)

  13. Jim Schumacher|

    …and pasting sunglasses on your kids faces ?

  14. Melissa|

    We need a better lead in the public transport!! Ever since pete took office and detoured funds tk DEI it’s been catastrophe after catastrophe

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