Spare Plane Out Back

October 15, 2009

in Airplane Stories

In 2002 I was traveling post-winter holidays from Maryland to Austin, with a layover in Chicago.

I arrived at O’Hare around 11:20AM, to leave at 3PM. Delay with the crew arriving, then mechanical issues, then finally the flight was overbooked. I should have volunteered my seat and taken the red eye the next day.

Ultimately we’re told they can’t fix the mechanical issue, but they’ll use another plane that’s just arrived (the one, actually, carrying our crew!). Replacement Plane #2 manifests a mechanical issue. About 20 minutes later we’re told they have found us a 3rd plane! It’s a “spare plane out back”, and it’s a “bit old” but we can leave as soon as the crew prepares the cabin. It is now about 10:30PM.

The “spare plane” arrives. “A bit old”?? It had a 4 engine configuration and I swear it was a 707, but I’m not sure as I wasn’t aware any of those were still flying for mainstream airlines in 2002. It stank of mildew and decades of cigarette smoke. There were visible cracks in the interior hull and windows. There were large gaps between the hull and window where you could see wires and insulation. Everything about this plane was worn, threadbare, moth-balled and frighteningly shabby.

The engines whined horribly, even at the gate. By this time the flight is only half-full as other travelers opted for other flights. No one looked happy. Even the crew. The door shuts and true to the crew’s word – we’re pushing back.

The plane shakes. It shakes horribly. The noise from the engines is immense. We use the whole runway to get airborne. You can smell the oil and jet fuel and there’s a strange whistling in the cabin. Climb is slow and the plane shakes violently the whole time. I’m over the wings and can see the wings bobbing and rattling. The flaps screeched like fatigued metal warping.

Only once we level off a bit does the pilot come on and cheerfully tell us the plane really had been sitting in a hangar out back (hence the mildew stench), it had been slated to be removed from service but still had everything it needed to fly and was “airworthy,” and wasn’t it cool that we’d get to be her final passengers! He told us sure, it was noisy and old and smelly but it’d get us there, no problem! He sounded so damn cheerful, like he was getting a total kick out of flying the old hulking monstrosity on its final trip. He also told the crew “open up the bar and get these people some drinks!” so I’m not sure if he was really celebrating or trying to get us drunk so we’d be passed out when the damn thing snapped apart somewhere over Nebraska.

He also added that he’s got clearance to “make up some time” so we’d be “hauling it to Austin.”

The plane never stopped shaking. The whistling in the cabin never stopped and it was deathly cold. The engines sounded like they were at full throttle the whole trip, and the approach felt more like a controlled free fall than an approach. The whole plane made a horrible “crunching” sound on touch-down, zig-zagged violently and then we sailed straight down the runway at an alarming pace before the brakes kicked in so abruptly people slammed into the seats in front of them. It limped up to the gate creaking like a haunted mansion.

Nothing specifically bad happened on the flight, but we were all pale and shaking once we got off.

To the credit of the O’Hare staff and the crew, everyone maintained a good cheer about them. Especially the pilot, who stood at the door grinning like a fool as we disembarked.

{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

Hugh October 16, 2009 at 12:37 am

Yet another ridiculous and not very believable story from this poster.


saw October 17, 2009 at 5:38 pm

No… not taking place in 2002…


btrc November 6, 2009 at 8:42 am

Hugh should i think twice before posting my stories


Hugh November 6, 2009 at 9:13 am

That is entirely up to you.


btrc November 6, 2009 at 9:26 pm

but i have to say you are good at analysing and seeing what others dont see. you must be a lawyer or somewhere along those lines


saw November 15, 2009 at 10:29 am

This website is read by lots of people who fly DAILY, (sometimes, more than once a day), and have been doing so for a VERY long time. BS posts are easily caught…


ps November 16, 2009 at 6:02 am

Doubt it was a 707. I think the last 707 passenger flite was in the early to mid 80's by TWA or AA in the US. Could've been a DC8, if we're talking 5 years ago or so.


inubus December 2, 2009 at 7:49 pm

well i have to agree it is kinda bs because i have been working on aircraft for about 7 yrs, and 1 jet fuel is petrol based and would explain the smell of oil. the 707 was taken out of service about the same time i was born in 83. any plane you ride in if you look at the wings and pay attention depending on the plane some have flex of up to and beyond 15 feet if i have understood correctly and best of all cracked windows are a safety issue and faa would have a fit


Chrismredsox1 February 1, 2010 at 10:48 am

Your post doesn't indicate the airline you were on but as you were connecting through ORD, there's a good chance it was UA. By 2002, UA would have long since retired its DC-8 fleet. The last DC-8s (-70/-71 advanced stretch series) to fly for UA were in the early 90s, usually on Hawaiian routes. During 2002, due to recession and 9/11 induced traffic slowdowns, UA accelerated the retirement of 727s, DC-10s and first gen (-100 and -200 series) 747s. The 747s were the only type with 4 engines. They would also use a large chunk of runway to get airborne. If it was a narrow body UA aircraft being retired at that time, it was almost certainly a 727-200.


Edpeek May 9, 2012 at 9:07 am

Just wanted to say the last 707 was retired from service in the US in the mid 80s. There is still an airline in Iran that operates the 707 to this day, Saha airlines, what a beauty that plane is!


grievousangel March 26, 2013 at 7:16 pm

I have flown on planes just like this many times in the 1980's and 1990's. I live in Texas and every plane Southwest airlines owned was almost just as bad as this! Every flight was a creaking, shaking, rattling mess! And I always heard the runways in Austin were considered on the short side and thus take off was balls to the wall and straight up and every landing was a hard crash slam on the brakes and flaps full up and you were literally thrown into the seat in front of you every single time. Aw, the good old days!


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