Team Thermo-Fisher was due to travel to Shanghai this weekend. We each had different itineraries: some from the East Coast, others planned to arrive earlier to see the city.
My plans had me on flight UA857 from SFO-PVG (Shanghai Pudong) departing at 1.45pm, Saturday Jul 6. I spent a lazy Saturday morning with my family, with a leisurely drive to the airport at around noon.
Heading north on Highway 101, we noticed a thick plume of black smoke to the north as we passed Millbrae. As we turned into the airport, we saw that there was a plane on fire on the runway – yikes! I rechecked the flight schedule: yes, all the flights were still “ON TIME”. Passengers were still streaming into the airport and there was no indication that schedules were amiss. The only news I found was a Twitter post stating that an Air Asiana plane had crashed.
As I checked in, the United agent was unaware that there was a major emergency on the runway. “We’re the last to hear about this!”) The TSA agents were discharging their duties and duly screening every passenger carefully.
When I got to the airline lounge, I noticed that all the planes were stationary outside the window. There were no takeoffs or landings. The lounge windows faced north, so I did not have a view of the accident. No matter: all TV screens were now broadcasting a live feed of the accident with lots of commentary but little information.
Our prayers and thoughts were with the passengers and crew of Asiana 214. One family exclaimed that this was their alternate flight (yes, Ms Sandberg was not the only one who nearly caught this flight) from Seoul to San Francisco. Unlike other delays, there was little complaining or frustration – it seemed as if everyone was thankful to be stuck in the airport instead of in an airplane wreckage.
Details were slow to emerge as I saw the lounge fill up with yet more anxious passengers trying to catch their flight. The first news and pictures came through (you guessed it) Twitter (via Path) at https://path.com/p/1lwrZb. Fortunately, it appeared that most of the passengers managed to evacuate the airplane before it caught fire – thank God!
Then we heard flights were being redirected to nearby airports even as I watched my flight schedule being adjusted out in 30 min increments (the United flight scheduler must be optimistic) I stood vigil at my gate with 300 other passengers, anxiously checking @FlySFO and #sfoemergency Twitter feeds. The SFO website was down, so the web was not much help.
Finally, after 3 hours, I noticed the baggage being unloaded from my flight. Yikes, time to make alternative plans as I frantically dialed United’s customer service hotline.
I’m now scheduled for UA857, leaving tomorrow at the same time. Less eventful, I pray.