Coming into DCA

This past Friday afternoon we flew Delta 2698 from MSP to Reagan National/DCA. We are spending the Memorial Day weekend in Washington with family. In transit the Captain (I think) announced that we would arrive 10 minutes early, which proved to be the case. The flight was only two hours long. However, we spent the next two hours in the aircraft on the runway at DCA.

When we touched down no gate was available. The plane stopped on the runway to wait for a gate to open. When one opened, the pilot was unable to move the plane to the gate.

As the time stretched on, the Captain announced that the brakes were locked and that a computer reset had failed.

When someone from maintenance came out to take a look, the Captain advised us that we were stuck in a pothole on the runway. “Pothole” is the word he used. Maintenance would send a vehicle to try to tow us out. For what it’s worth, below is a photo of the aircraft stuck on the runway.

A while later we could feel the aircraft gently rocking back and forth, like a car being rocked in the snow to get unstuck. However, the aircraft remained stuck.

More time elapsed. The Captain further advised that the aircraft (an Airbus A320) was too heavy to be towed out of the pothole. He gave us a little more information on that point. He said that the wheels at the center of the plane were stuck in a depressed area of the runway. Weighing 180,000 pounds (I think) with much of the weight centered over the wheels, the aircraft was not easily moved.

It sounded to me like the the Captain was unfamiliar with any issue at DCA in particular, but he mentioned that DCA hadn’t had this problem recur on the runway for several years. It had only happened a few times before. The airport was going to get around to doing something to fix the runway some time in the future. We had just had the bad luck of stopping to wait for a gate in the wrong spot on the runway.

A long time elapsed before we were provided further information. We were ultimately told that the airport would have us disembark by stairway where we were and transport us by buses to Terminal Two at DCA. It would take a while to assemble the buses.

Everyone associated with the flight, including the support team supervising the baggage handling, apologized for the delay. The Captain apologized several times over the intercom and then personally as we disembarked from the plane.

Once at the terminal, we also waited a long time for the baggage. We had no idea how long it would take. At one point we were told the baggage would arrive in five minutes. More time elapsed. When I asked one of the Delta guys involved in the process of getting the baggage moved, he gave me an update. He also told me Delta would be sending us a partial credit by email. He told me to watch for it. Delta followed up with information regarding a $75.00 credit later that evening.

My point, and I do have one, is that Delta doesn’t seem to have done anything wrong. It assumed some responsibility for the poor condition of the DCA runway, a problem that was obviously known to management and staff at DCA. I’m not sure about the knowledge of management at Delta, but the Captain certainly did not seem aware of it.

Delta has not pointed a finger elsewhere. However, I think it is an airport problem. Just fyi, the airport is owned by the federal government and operated by the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority.

All the while I had Arlo Guthrie’s “Coming Into Los Angeles” running through my mind. How did it go? A blast from the past.

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