A New York-bound Virgin Atlantic flight was canceled just moments before takeoff last week when an alarmed passenger said he spotted several screws missing from the plane’s wing.
British traveler Phil Hardy, 41, was onboard Flight VS127 at Manchester Airport in the UK on Jan. 15 when he noticed the four missing fasteners during a safety briefing for passengers and decided to alert the cabin crew.
“I’m a good flyer, but my partner was not loving the information I was telling her and starting to panic, and I was trying to put her mind at rest as much as I could,” Hardy told the Kennedy News agency of the moment he spotted the missing fixings.
“I thought it was best to mention it to a flight attendant to be on the safe side.”
Engineers were promptly called out to carry out maintenance checks on the Airbus A330 aircraft before its scheduled takeoff to John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York City, a Virgin Atlantic rep said.
Footage shot by Hardy showed one of the engineers climbing onto the plane’s wing before using a screwdriver to tinker with some of the fasteners.
Hardy said airline staff repeatedly reassured him there was no safety issue with the wing, but his fear was heightened given the recent ordeal in which an Alaska Airlines plane lost its door plug and a chunk of its fuselage flew off mid-flight.
Both Virgin and Airbus stressed there was no impact to the safety of last week’s aircraft despite the missing fixings.
The Virgin representative said the flight ended up being axed to “provide time for precautionary additional engineering maintenance checks, which allowed our team the maximum time to complete their inspections.
“The safety of our customers and crew is always our top priority and this was not compromised at any point,” the rep said in the statement. “We always work well above industry safety standards and the aircraft is now back in service.”
Neil Firth, the Airbus local chief wing engineer for A330, added that the affected panel was a secondary structure used to improve the aerodynamics of the plane.
“Each of these panels has 119 fasteners, so there was no impact to the structural integrity or load capability of the wing, and the aircraft was safe to operate,” he said.
“As a precautionary measure, the aircraft underwent an additional maintenance check, and the fasteners were replaced.”
Passengers were rebooked onto alternate flights to the Big Apple.
“We’d like to apologize to our customers for the delay to their journeys,” the Virgin representative said.