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That One Time My Plane Lost Cabin Pressure (A Not-So-Scary Flight Story)


What happens if an airplane loses cabin pressure in the middle of a flight? I found out from firsthand experience when my flight from New York to Bogota, Colombia had that happen.

Updated: 2018-03-02
plane lost cabin pressure over the AtlanticBack in late 2010, I started this website as a travel blog, as I wanted to really start traveling, while documenting it. The first trip I booked after the launch of this website was also my first trip to Colombia. Other than these firsts, this trip also had me realize some other new experiences.

Back then, I wrote a post about my first flight-related nightmare, which came about when I booked my trip. A little while after booking my trip to Bogotá with Mexicana Airlines, I learned that the company filed for bankruptcy. My flight was cancelled, and it would take me possibly months to get a refund. I re-booked the trip, this time on TACA, the national airline of El Salvador.

I get to the airport on the 23rd of September, 2010, excited about my first trip to South America. Everything seems great, and the flight boards on time and takes off.

This flight had the onboard entertainment systems on the back of each headrest, which I usually tune to the map of the plane’s position; I use my iPod and computer for my entertainment. About 30 minutes into the flight, I notice the strangest shit happening on the map of my video entertainment system. As you can see in the photos above, a green line on the map shows the path the plane has and will travel. However, there was a loop in the map. At first, I thought it might be a glitch, as the plane was still pointed south toward my destination. Then I saw it start to turn, and I felt the plane banking, as well.
plane loses cabin pressurePassengers began asking what the matter was, and at first they stalled with some answer. However, as more and more time went by, and the  plane continued making weird loops off the coast of New Jersey, the captain got on the speaker and told us that the aircraft cabin has lost pressure, and that we would need to head back to New York City JFK.

Now, I always saw in movies what depressurization on a plane could look like, but I guess those grim representations are either in more dire circumstances or they embellish. However, with movie images in the back of my mind, it did cause an uptick in my anxiousness, as I’m sure it did with other passengers.

pressurized plane cabin failure causes emergency landing

No, the oxygen masks did not even drop down from the overhead compartments. And no, there was no difficulty breathing, either.

What did happen was that my plane simply continued to make loops over the Atlantic Ocean. I later found out that this was to burn the fuel in the aircraft’s tanks. We had enough fuel for the flight to my destination, but the plane cannot land with much more than a little fuel in the tank, due to the weight and the threat of explosion or something.

Thus, we circled the area between New York and New Jersey off the coast for a total of about three hours. When we finally got back to JFK Airport, there was pandemonium as flights were rescheduled. I lost a day on my trip, since they rebooked me onto an Avianca flight out the next day. Though I live in New York City, and was technically home, I took advantage of their offer for food and accommodation compensation for the night. They provided food vouchers and shuttled us to an airport hotel nearby. All in all, an educational experience, though, for the hassle and lost time, I prefer not to have it happen to me again.

Christian Eilers
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Christian Eilers
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