A flight to San Francisco International Airport was held up for over nine hours Sunday, but (for once!) the issue wasn't ground delays at our end — instead, a rat that had stowed away on the flight was the cause of the trouble.
According to the Times of India, the saga began at the Indira Gandhi International Airport in Delhi at 2:30 a.m. local time. That's when a rat was spotted on Boeing 777 operated by Air India, as the flight was taxiing toward takeoff.
So instead of ascending, the plane turned back around and headed back to the gate, where its 207 passengers were unloaded and the search for the stowaway began.
Six hours later, workers were done fumigating the plane, but they couldn't take off yet. That's because the Delhi-SFO flight is one of the world's longest nonstop flights, at 9506 miles flown over the course of 16-17 hours. Because of its length, the flight "needs two sets of crew, with one commander and copilot operating first half of the flight and the other two, the second half." But due to the rodent-hunting delay, flight duty and time limitations prevented the current set of crews from working that flight, and "The airline had to, at the last minute, look for a replacement crew," a source tells the Times.
It took Air India three more hours before they could find two commanders and two copilots for the flight, which eventually took off at noon local time.
"Passengers were unhappy at the long delay," the Times reports.
But how did the rat get on the plane in the first place? By catering van, the Times posits, quoting an official who says "This is a universal phenomenon. Rats follow the large storage cases in which food trays are kept. The catering vans are like a home for them as food keeps getting dropped."
"Rats get on the high lifts that take those storage cases to aircraft and then remain there. This happens across the world," the unnamed official said, and he or she is not wrong: Just last March, there was a similar scene aboard a British Airways flight headed from Heathrow to SFO, when a mouse was reportedly spotted scampering down the aisle. Guess everyone, even the tiniest among us, wants to go to San Francisco.
While we've all dealt with rodent infestations at home and agree they are gross but manageable, things get way more serious when we're talking about the critters in the air. Then, the madly chewing beasts (after all, "rodent" comes from the Latin word "rodere," which means "to gnaw") "pose a threat to safety by cutting electric wires and sending the systems haywire," the Times reports.
According to a senior commander who spoke with the Times, "Rats on board an aircraft can lead to a catastrophe if they start chewing up electric wires of a plane. If that happens, pilots will have no control on any system on board leading to a disaster."