Springfield flights delayed Tuesday after sounding hotel fire alarm causes pilots to not get enough sleep

Published: Mar. 30, 2022 at 10:02 PM CDT
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SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (KY3) - Several flights were delayed by four or five hours out of Springfield on Tuesday.

It happened after a hotel fire alarm went off overnight, which prevented crew members from getting the required amount of sleep before flying. A Springfield-Branson National Airport spokesperson said five flights were delayed in total. Both American Airlines and United Airlines crews were impacted.

Pilots are federally mandated to have 10 hours of rest between shifts, and eight of those hours have to be uninterrupted sleep.

“As long as I’ve been flying, there’s always been duty and rest requirements for flight crews,” said OzAir Charter Services owner and Chief Pilot Mark Burgess. “You can only fly so many hours in a day.”

Burgess has been flying since he was 16. He said he is quite familiar with those federal requirements.

”It applies to any air carrier,” Burgess said. “We are a non-scheduled air carrier charter operator, jut like American or United is a scheduled air carrier. People who operate personal aircraft or corporate airplanes don’t have to follow those rules.”

Nicole Young was one of many passengers who experienced a delay on Tuesday.

”My flight was supposed to leave out of Springfield at like 8:20 a.m. I got there about an hour early to get through security,” Young said. “When I got there they let me know it was going to be delayed until sometime around 11. That 11 o’clock flight then got delayed until noon. And then it got delayed until 1 p.m.”

Young said she and other passengers inquired about the delays.

“We talked to some airport personnel and they kind of let us know what happened,” she described. “They let us know that apparently the hotel that the crew stays at had the fire alarm pulled several times during the night.”

Both United and American ran into this issue. United Airlines sent KY3 a statement. It read as follows:

“Thanks for reaching out. Three out of seven of our departures from SGF were significantly delayed (4+ hours) today, as our crew needed to complete their federally mandated crew rest requirements. The crew’s rest period was re-set after a hotel fire alarm at the layover hotel caused a disruption to their rest. We are working to accommodate any passengers with connecting flights to get them to their final destination as quickly as possible.”

Young said she could tell it caused several significant delays.

“From what I could see, only a couple flights managed to make it out before 1 p.m. yesterday,” she said. “So there was way more traffic in the Springfield airport than I think I’ve ever seen.”

Young said she did not mind the delays too much. Instead, she just got some work done on her computer.

“You could tell it was definitely a frustrating situation for quite a few people,” she said. “I kind of felt bad for the airline personnel because they were dealing with some angry folks.”

While those delays can sometimes be a minor inconvenience, pilots say those regulations are all to make sure you are safe once you hit the skies.

”You want a fresh and well-rested pilot,” Burgess said. “When the skies are clear and it’s a beautiful day, that’s one thing. But on a day like today when they’re shooting approaches at minimums and everything has to be on cue and on point, the last thing you want is have a guy up front that’s not had enough rest and he’s already fatigued out.”

Burgess said pilot fatigue can happen from time to time, which is exactly why safety protocols like these are important.

“The biggest problem with pilot aviation situations is that they’re flying on weird schedules and you’re flying a lot of legs,” Burgess said. “You may be doing a lot of approaches in the airports, and you’re also sometimes on a different clock cycle. You may be flying into the evening and getting up in the morning. So your sleep cycle gets off and fatigue is a huge factor in aviation accidents, so you’ve got to have a rested crew. That’s the reason for the regulations, so that the public is getting a well rested crew before they go out on the next flight.”

Though these delays happen occasionally, some passengers like Nicole Young say they certainly understand.

”For my personal opinion, I’m thrilled they want to make sure pilots aren’t drowsy before they get behind the steering wheel of an aircraft,” Young said.

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