Valentin Vesa was sleeping on his American Airlines flight from Philly to London when he woke up to children crying and adults in distress Sunday night.
Trying to make sense of what was going on, the digital media specialist overheard chatter from neighboring passengers and learned that some people reported a smell of smoke inside the 142-passenger plane.
The crew of Flight AA728— which departed from the Philadelphia International Airport at 9:15 p.m.— took no chances and diverted back to Philly to identify the issue.
While passengers grew impatient and demanded details on the situation, Vesa whipped out his phone and immediately started taking picture and videos.
“I knew that if this [situation] got any worse, people would want to go back and find out what happened. So my first instinct was to document everything that was going on,” he said.
He uploaded the content onto his Twitter account when he received Internet access, posting the images and videos with the hashtag #AA728.
American Airlines reported that Flight AA728 returned due to an electrical odor that came from the aircraft’s oven.
Upon landing at Philly International Airport around 10:47 p.m., scores of emergency service vehicles dashed towards the plane.
“It was a stressful situation. Everyone was wide awake, looking out their windows, and worried as ever asking each other, ‘Do you see smoke? Do you see flames?’” the Romanian native recalled.
The flight’s 12 crew members directed everyone off the plane as American Airlines prepared a replacement aircraft for the London travelers.
The plane swap caused a three-hour delay and enraged customers. Despite the inconvenience, the airline’s attentive customer service impressed Vesa.
“[Crew members] gave out food vouchers, snacks, and water," he said. "The Customer Service manager even handled the people like an absolute professional. I remember him saying, ’If you need to vent, vent at me but let my crew do their job.' At that point, there was no distress; we were just waiting to see how long we were going to be delayed.
Vesa— a specialist at website security platform Sucuri— kept people updated on the incident through Twitter until the replacement carrier boarded the Flight AA278 passengers at 1:40 a.m. He praised American Airlines for the way the staff and crew treated the passengers.
An American Airlines spokeswoman Victoria Lupica responded to the incident.
“Our flight crews are trained to adapt to any situation [that occurs on the plane]. Their priority is to make sure that passengers are safe. [Flight AA728 crew members] kept passengers as informed on the incident as possible and made sure they were comfortable,” she said.
The replacement plane landed safely to Heathrow Airport in London at 1:41 p.m. local London time.