There are days when paperwork weighs you down — and there are days when you are weighed down by so much paperwork your flight can’t take off.
Such a day came earlier this week, when American Airlines Flight 163 bound for Los Angeles found itself literally grounded by 1,400 pounds of what the pilot termed “government documents.” The excess weight had to be offloaded before the flight could leave.
It seemed fitting for Washington, a town where documents — shredded or not — figure prominently in the daily narrative.
Robert Hernandez, an associate professor of professional practice at the University of Southern California, couldn’t help but chuckle when he heard the announcement.
“I don’t know if the pilot was kidding or not, but we were overweight,” he said.
Hernandez, in town for an academic journalism conference, joked that perhaps it had something to do with the Robert Mueller investigation, which has amassed more than a million pages of documents since it began last year, according to some reports.
Matthew Miller, an American Airlines spokesman, confirmed that on Monday there was a flight out of Reagan National Airport that was delayed about 30 minutes and that the airline did remove 1,400 pounds of cargo. As to whether all that weight was federal paperwork, he’s not certain. That captain’s comment, he said, may have been in jest.
However, Miller did note that American Airlines has a contract with the U.S. Postal Service to transport mail, so it’s possible that some of that weight was overstuffed flat-rate boxes and birthday cards bound for the West Coast.
Miller said the reason was a weather-related weight restriction — there were storms followed by intense heat Monday — and that meant the crew had to lighten the plane. As we learned during last year’s heat wave in Arizona, when American was forced to cancel dozens of flights in and out of Phoenix, air is less dense when it is hot, which can affect the aircraft’s ability to get off the ground.
Other than the paperwork issue, Hernandez said the flight was uneventful, but the memory still makes him laugh.