The Top 10 Reasons They Missed MSP

By Robert Mark on October 25th, 2009

northwest_320_overshoot Just like Alice falling down the rabbit hole, unraveling the real story behind the Northwest/Delta Airlines crew who forgot to land at MSP just keeps getting curiouser and curiouser. Brings to mind the gap in the Nixon Watergate tapes. If that doesn’t ring a bell, just assume it has to do with people trying to cover something up. Unconfirmed reports from DC actually said the CVR tape on the Airbus was blank … as in erased.

Retired American Airlines pilot Jim Tillman told CNN’s Anderson Cooper the other night that the passengers were never in any real danger. REALLY? Once you pass the destination, the Airbus FMS switches to heading mode and would have made the Airbus continue toward Canada … until the airplane ran out of fuel. The only reason we can even poke a little fun at these two buffoons is that no one was hurt.

So in the interest of performing a valuable public service, to help everyone who flies regularly deal with the anxiety of wondering whether their pilots are awake and on duty the next time they see that bank vault of a cockpit door close before the push back, here are the Top 10 Reasons why the NWA crew might have missed dozens of radios calls and SELCAL alerts.

Number 10: They were texting

Number 9: It had something to do with sex

Number 8: Each pilot thought the airplane knew the way since Airbus aircraft are all automated anyway

Number 7: They really did just fall asleep

Number 6: They couldn’t decide who should have the Nintendo Wii next

Number 5: It had something to do with sex or money

Number 4: It had something to do with sex and money

Number 3: They were trying to understand NWA’s new slogan, ” We’ll get you within 150 miles of there.”

Number 2: The pilots actually have no idea why they weren’t paying attention

And the Number 1 reason why the NWA crew missed landing at Minneapolis: They were abducted by aliens, but were returned an hour later because even the little green men couldn’t stand to listen to these two guys whine about the company any longer.

Of course, these opinions do not necessarily represent those of Northwest or Delta Airlines. Did I miss any?

Rob Mark, editor


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26 Responses to “The Top 10 Reasons They Missed MSP”

  1. Max Trescott Says:

    You did miss one. I heard from a NTSB source today that the two pilots overflew MSP so that they could get their own Reality Show on TV. Of course they did end up getting one…but not the kind anyone would want. Congratulations on identifying the other ten reasons!

  2. H. Michael Miley Says:

    I don’t think they overflew MSP. I think they were trying to be the first ones to AirVenture ’10 in Oshkosh.

  3. Court Says:

    11. They were listening to the Airplane Geeks Podcast.

    Over, and over, and over again.

  4. Dr. Dave Says:

    CVR was the old one which only records 30 minutes. (new ones – 2 hours).
    SOP for pilots that screwed up (other than the ones who auger in) is to leave everything going so the tape loops over the alleged transgression.

  5. Clif Moberg` Says:

    This is my Top 10 list:
    1. Pilots were just trying to boost all their passengers’ frequent flier miles.
    2. The weather was so nice that they decided to just keep on flying.
    3. Pilot was allergic to Minnesota.
    4. Testing out script ideas for the Airport 5 sequel.
    5. Accidentally bought a package of “Nosedive” instead of “Nodoz” at the terminal.
    6. Plane was due for regular maintenance at Minneapolis and their favorite mechanic was out with the swine flu.
    7. Pilot missed his turnoff.
    8. Pilot and co-pilot thought they could get combat pay for when the F-16s started scrambling.
    9. Pilot wanted to fly over his home and tip the wings because it was his kid’s birthday.
    10. Pilot just takes the term “non-stop flight” to darn seriously!

  6. Will Says:

    They wanted to make sure the entire movie was shown.

  7. Peter Moll Says:

    Just when you think there’s no humor left in the aviation industry, this comes along. My complements to everyone with “reasons.”

  8. Willie M Says:

    Were they not wearing a watch? Flight planning says – No contact, No radio, Nothing else proceed to your location on your intended flight plan. The plan has a time limit. This includes early decent, early check out of the dash and controls, etc. These guys are giving us all a bad name. Who ever heard of such a thing as overflying a location by 150 miles? Do not embarrass us by saying you were distracted by discussion with each other!

  9. Dick K. Says:

    When they read the destination was the home of Brett Favre’s team, they forgot that it wasn’t Green Bay anymore.

  10. David Lee Says:

    Shouldn’t the entire crew be held accountable for the screw up, not just the pilots? Someone should have been beating on the cockpit door to get the pilot’s attention.

  11. kathryn Says:

    Didn’t they get all the way to Eau Claire, Wisc., before a flight attendant managed to capture their attention? So that suggests they were flying to the SOUTHEAST in bypassing the Twin Cities. I’m not a pilot, but if in fact the Airbus FMS would have kicked in, wouldn’t that have put them (ultimately) into ORD air space? That’s scary.

  12. kathryn Says:

    Oops, just looked at a map and Eau Claire is almost due east of MPLS, not southeast…so, actually, once FMS kicked in, they might have run out of fuel over Lake Michigan. Even scarier. (What would Capt. Sullenberger do?)

  13. Joe Sharkey At Large » Blog Archive » Pilots’ Top 10 Reasons Why They Overshot MSP Says:

    […] a link to the always informative and amusing JetWhine blog edited by Rob Mark, a pilot and aviation consultant. Rob has posted his Top 10 reasons the […]

  14. Steve Visscher Says:

    They were engaged in a robust debate which went something like….

    Capt. – Steve is the funniest
    FO – No, I think Grant is better
    Capt. – No, I tell ya, Steve is the best
    FO – Listen pal, I’m telling ya, Grant is da man
    Capt. – Hey, I’m not gonna tell you again…..

    And so it went…

  15. Jeremy Says:

    David Lee, the flight attendants DID alert the pilots when they noticed the descent hadn’t begun on time. That’s what woke them out of their stupor. Read the NTSB release for more details. Be glad they were alert!

    Kathryn, the required extra fuel probably would have taken them well beyond Lake Michigan, though I don’t think it’s been released exactly how much fuel was on board.

  16. rEG Says:


  17. Ken Smith Says:

    At least they weren’t sleeping, which was everyone’s first suspicion about them. That having been said, couldn’t they have filled out their schedules on the ground?

    After this, I’m always volunteering for the exit row.

  18. National Air Disaster Alliance/Foundation Says:

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  19. Bo Henriksson Says:

    Brilliant, just brilliant!
    All day I’ve had passengers stick their heads in to the cockpit and say “hope you guys are wide awake!” and the like.
    Its NOT funny.

    And BTW what was their fuels status when they eventually returned to MSP? Since we don’t typically carry a lot extra in jets, I imagine they could have been in to their last 45 min reserve. Which requires a MIN FUEL call to ATC. Unless off course you’re down to 30 and it becomes a FUEL EMERGENCY and you receive priority.
    Apparently none of those were declared either.

    There may be a perfectly innocent explanation to this sad story.
    Its just that noone I know can come up with one…….

  20. Liz Guthridge Says:

    Very funny! This is a great example of how truth is stranger than fiction.

    On a somewhat serious note, I wonder if this experience will underscore why it’s important not to fly/drive and text/work on PC at the same time.

  21. Compilation of top 10 lists explaining why they missed that airport…. Golf Hotel Whiskey Says:

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  22. Ahmed Sultan, ITC Says:

    That incident is not supposed to pass without putting an end to the junky stuff happening behind the closed door of the cockpit which could endanger the lives of many innocent people. There should be something to deter other pilots who might think that God gave them a free hand to do whatever they want.

  23. Gary Knowles Says:

    (11) There’s this great little bar in Hurley, WI…

    (12)Well, they might still be flying but there’s that thing about “…after four hours see your physician…”

    (13) The pilot & co-pilot had actually locked themselves OUT of the
    cockpit and couldn’t get back in until they found a kid with a paperclip who could pick the lock

    (14)They were waiting for General Buck Turgidson to issue the recall code

    (15) They flew into the Lake Woebegonne Triangle

    (16) They had to settle a bet about whether they could do anything
    to get mentioned on the Letterman Show

  24. Marty Grimes Says:

    I’m entirely convinced they were playing Bejeweled Blitz. Or maybe Farkle. I’ve frittered away so many hours, it’s amazing I ever make it to work on time.

    When we thought they had fallen asleep, my solution was to seat all crying babies in the cockpit. If anyone has to be kept awake, it should be the pilots.

    Perhaps a more realistic solution is to get them a Garmin. I know when I overshoot my exit, that Garmin lady just doesn’t shut up until I “make a U-turn.”

  25. Valerie Booth Says:

    You guys have it all wrong!

    The REAL reason they overflew MSP (and I am personally SHOCKED at each and every one of you) is that…

    They were both on their Microsoft Flight Simulators.

  26. The best of 1000+ aviation blog posts | Plastic Pilot Says:

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