Absurdly Driven looks at the world of business with a skeptical eye and a firmly rooted tongue in cheek. 

Air travel is taxing.

Passengers often become so resigned to the trials, tribulations and trip-out-look-at-this-alleged sandwich moments that they sometimes band together, snort, chuckle and wonder what the world's coming to.

They tend to snort harder when a major airline is involved.

So it was yesterday at Philadelphia airport when passengers looked out of the window at their American Airlines plane.

What they saw was fuel pouring out of the right wing. 

Yes, in certain areas of life combustible right-wing emissions are commonplace. Less so when it comes to planes.

So passenger Rebecca Morgan chronicled the action and posted some highlights to Twitter.

Morgan said the airline still insisted the plane would soon be ready for boarding. 

Which would surely have meant passengers' nerves might be vibrating like a Jimmy Page guitar string.

Good, prompt, open communication would have come in useful at this point.

And then she saw a clean-up crew arrive and wondered what they were using to clear up the mess.

Seemingly predisposed to negative ideas about the airline because of the lack of communication, passengers assumed the worst about the whole operation.

The amusement would soon turn to pure scorn.

Morgan said that passengers were then told to go to a faraway gate, from which their flight to Los Angeles would leave at 2.20 p.m.

At 2.26 p.m., she reported that the passengers still had no information about when they might depart.

From laughter to the grinding of teeth. Just another day flying on far too many U.S. airlines.

The plane finally took off at 5.45 p.m. This, in the vast, haphazard scheme of air travel wasn't a bad result.

I did, though, ask American Airlines for its view. 

An airline spokesman explained that no, the maintenance staff weren't using paper towels. (Morgan later explained she was joking.)

He added: 

A mechanical issue was encountered during the fueling process, which resulted in a fuel spill at the gate. The fueling contractor cleaned up the spill, in accordance with airport policies and procedures. The aircraft sustained no damage, and was back in service a short time later.

The heart of the problem, of course, is that airlines operate with very little slack.

If something goes wrong, backup plans aren't often readily available.

Inside the airline, there's then a scramble to decide what to do.

It's still better to keep the passengers informed as soon as possible, rather than leaving them with dangling nerve edges.

When it comes to fuel leaks, sometimes the airline's own staff have to be notified by passengers that the plane appears to have a hole in it. 

This happened last year on a United flight, as passengers were astounded that neither pilot nor crew noticed fuel pouring from a wing.

While we're talking of United, it's an airline that has begun to appreciate Morgan's feelings.

It's testing a system called Every Flight Has A Story.

No, this isn't recording of Flight Attendants' reading Aesop's Fables to help passengers pass the time during a delay.

Instead, the airline keeps passengers updated on their phones about what may or may not be happening with their plane. As in, you know, the truth.

In yesterday's American case, the airline told me it apologized for the delay and its customer service staff had contacted the passengers.

I wonder if they made the passengers feel any better.

Published on: Jul 25, 2018
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.