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Spirit Airlines Flight Turns Around After Passenger Mistakenly Yells "Fire"

SimpleFlying 11/15/2022 Joe Kunzler
© Provided by SimpleFlying

With a passenger’s misunderstanding and out of an abundance of caution, Spirit Airlines’ Flight 3152 returned to Miami International Airport to ensure the aircraft’s air conditioning system was not putting out smoke from any potential fire. The flight was able to make a quick return to Miami International Airport and be checked out before restarting and completing the flight.

Flight 3152 is a regularly scheduled service from Miami to Boston, operated in this case by a 6-year-old Airbus A321-200 registered N671NK. Yesterday's departure took off on time at around 06:00, with a block time of three hours anticipated. The airplane had just taken off and was climbing through 2,000 feet when a passenger, seeing what they thought was smoke coming from the overhead lockers, yelled 'fire.'

The crew quickly turned around and headed back on an approach path for Miami Airport, landing back on the runway less than 40 minutes after departure. Having checked the aircraft and found no sign of fire, the flight took off again at 07:45, landing safely in Boston just after 11:00. It is thought the passenger saw condensation coming from the air conditioning vents and wrongly presumed it to be smoke.

Spirit Airlines issued a statement to Simple Flying;

"There were no mechanical issues on board flight 3152 from MIA to BOS. A Guest saw condensation from the air conditioning system and mistook it for smoke. The safety of our Guests and Team Members is our top priority.

"The Crew on board completed the necessary checklists to ensure there was no fire and returned to the airport out of an abundance of caution. Law enforcement and fire officials met and cleared the aircraft, which has since continued to Boston."

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About Spirit Airlines Flight 3152

Spirit Airlines Flight 3152 on November 14, 2022, was flown by N671NK, an Airbus A321-231. The Airbus A321-231 has the manufacturer serial number 7246 and first flew on October 28, 2016, giving the aircraft an age of about six years.

Flight 3152 required the Airbus A321-231 to fly 2,025 NM between Miami and Boston. For this day’s flight after the incident, the flight was made mostly overland but at cruising altitude of 35,000 feet, according to FlightRadar24.com.

How could a passenger perceive air conditioning as aircraft smoke?

Aircraft air conditioning sources air from the big jet engines’ bleed air. This bleed air is then fed through a heat exchanger to a compressor turbine unit. The air is also hydrated passing through, thereby having condensation, which can be mistaken as smoke if and when that condensation passes through vents.

The air conditioning also provides the aircraft cabin pressurization. This way, the aircraft can be flying at 35,000 feet above sea level, and yet the air inside the cabin is pressurized enough to be comfortable.

Can airplanes actually catch fire?

Sadly, the fire risk to commercial aviation is present. A quick search of Simple Flying finds that fire is a recurring topic.

For instance, on August 16th, a Ryanair flight had to turn around after burning odors were detected on a Boeing 737-800. The only correct procedure considering the risk of carbon monoxide and smoke from the situation impairing safe operation of the aircraft was to make an emergency landing. The matter was resolved without catastrophic aircraft damage.

There was also a catastrophic fire aboard a Qatar Airways Airbus A300-600R in 2007 where the probable cause for the inferno was an electrical spark, an arc from a faulty light, or an electrostatic discharge from painting equipment. All these are possible issues that arguably made the only correct choice for Spirit Flight 3152 to return to Miami and have the situation checked out.

Ultimately, yelling fire in an aircraft is like saying gun in a shopping center - it's gravely serious, so you better be sure you are correct that it’s a fire. The pilots and flight attendants have to presume the worst-case scenario and act accordingly. Nothing wrong with asking a flight attendant to confirm – they’re trained safety professionals.

What do you think of this diversion? Let us know in the comments below.

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