Turns Out Coffee Is The Cruel Reason Your Flight May Be Delayed

Is this a joke?
Stewart Sutton via Getty Images

This is the ultimate betrayal.

According to a new piece by The New York Times, malfunctioning coffee makers on airplanes cause flight delays that can affect thousands of passengers. Take one pass through Twitter and you’ll find plenty of irritated passengers who have dealt with this particular delay.

While it may seem ludicrous, funny even, that such a small issue could sideline an entire aircraft, the problem is no joke to American Airlines chief operating officer Robert Isom. In a podcast for employees, Isom said an “inordinate amount of coffee maker problems” are causing small flight delays. But even short delays can have a ripple effect across the airline’s day-to-day operations, affecting “hundreds, if not thousands of passengers,” Isom told the Times.

A broken coffee maker in your house might seem like no big deal, but they’re actually quite a complex issue to fix on airplanes. Onboard coffee makers cost anywhere from $7,000 to $20,000 each, and are elaborately designed to fit the aircraft’s needs. Because they’re electrical, they come outfitted with circuit breakers and wiring insulation to safeguard against onboard fires. When a coffee machine isn’t working, the ground crew has to do a full inspection to ensure there aren’t any circuitry problems that could prove a fire hazard.

What’s even more enlightening about the Times’ report is its information on the way airplane coffee is made. Most commercial airlines hook their coffee makers up to an onboard water tank. In order to keep bacteria from growing in these tanks, airlines have to treat their water with chemicals. These chemicals can build up in the coffee machines, causing machinery to break down.

Even an engineer who develops in-flight coffee maker technology won’t drink that mess. “I don’t drink the coffee unless I know the water’s coming from a bottle,” Marcos Jimenez, an engineer at Zodiac Aerospace, told the Times.

And guess what? If you spill that coffee, you get another delay. Spills on cloth seats can delay the flight because airline workers must remove the wet cushion and replace it with a dry one.

All in all, coffee makers on airplanes are proving quite the hassle. American Airlines is replacing many problematic coffee makers on their flights to cut down on delays. United crews are increasing their maintenance checks on coffee makers to reduce delays. But even with this overhaul, do we really want onboard water tank coffee? Perhaps it’s time to resign ourselves to a $10 airport coffee at Starbucks.

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