Not a View From a Hotel Window, 9/21/23: Denver, Unfortunately

So I’m on the tarmac on SFO this morning, listening to the informational flight video as the plane is pulling away from the gate, when suddenly the informational video, and the lights, and the air conditioning, go out, followed by quiet but insistent beeping noises, followed by the pilot getting on the intercom and going “So, uhhhh.” The auxiliary power module was not working, and they were going to have to basically turn the airplane on and off again to see if they could get it going again. Which they did, for another five minutes before it went out again, and then we were towed back to the gate.

By the time all the plane shenanigans were done, I had missed my connecting flight into Wichita, and while there was another flight into that city, it wasn’t until 10:30pm, i.e., well after my 6pm event at Watermark Books.

So, for the first time in the more than 15 years that I have been doing book tours, we had to cancel an event. All because a fucking airline apparently doesn’t do basic maintenance on its fleet, and isn’t that reassuring. At the moment I’m in Denver, awaiting a flight into Dallas, since my event tomorrow is there, and we might as well try to get there now because who knows what the hell will happen next.

I’m deeply embarrassed to miss this event. It’s not my fault, but that doesn’t really matter for the folks who were hoping to see me tonight. The only thing I can say is that I am sorry, and that Tor and Watermark are working to reschedule the event for the next few weeks. Wichita, I will come to you! Soon. That’s a promise.

In the meantime, tomorrow: Dallas, Half-Price Books, 7pm. Please come. Thank you.

— JS

34 Comments on “Not a View From a Hotel Window, 9/21/23: Denver, Unfortunately”

  1. It’s OK, Stuff Happens[tm]. Don’t blame you for it at all, though I am a little peeved at the airline.

    Hope the layover at DIA goes well, hope the flight to Dallas goes well, and hope I’ll be able to make it back to Wichita if you can reschedule!

    Maybe you could even spend a bit longer in town next time and visit the Cosmosphere. ^_-

  2. Sorry to hear it.

    Years ago, I missed a flight to Japan because the crew didn’t show up for the local to O’Hare. When I told this to my Japanese travel agent, she literally gasped as if such a thing were unthinkable.

  3. These things happen, but unfortunately they seem to happen more to some airlines than others, which is why when I look for flights those airlines are excluded from my searches.

    I’d be curious to know which airline screwed the pooch for this one, if you’re inclined to disclose the name.

  4. There’s something so very SF about an auxiliary power module; no consolation to you and those who were hoping to see you but when you were first writing I am pretty sure that the term was not exactly prominent in our shared vocabulary…

  5. Yep, I drove down from Omaha Nebraska, checked into the hotel, then went to the bookstore to pick up my copy of Starter Villain and await the start of the event. The guy goes and gets my book and then says “Uh….. there’s been a problem…” and proceeds to tell me of the plane problem and the cancelling of the event. Oh well. I will keep my copy and if Mr. Scalzi is ever in my neck of the woods again, I will have to get h im to sign ir! Bummer, but I can honestly say that it is a really good book!

  6. Well, airlines have rather lost the art of transporting people places, since they have essentially become unchartered banks.

    Did you know that U.S. airlines make more of their revenue and DEFINITELY more of their profits from mileage points programs than from ticket sales?


    So cut them a break, they’re not really in the “doing things with planes” business anymore. It’s always a nice surprise when they DO manage to get a flight off the ground safely on time and land it safely on time in the place the itinerary said it should go. Cross fingers.

  7. Not the first ever cancelled! I distinctly recall my March 2020 book tour ticket being cancelled and refunded, though obviously that was under… exigent circumstances

  8. Assuming it’s United since you were flying from SFO to Denver (United Hub).

    If it was American for example, you would have gone through Phoenix, and if it was Delta would have been via Salt Lake City.

    I mean I’m sure it could be a bunch of other airlines – but my money’s on United…

  9. Does this happen in space-based science fiction much where the characters miss a connecting transport? Seems like the future will just work. ;-)

  10. Sorry this happened to you!

    The Auxiliary Power Unit doesn’t get checked as often as it should because it’s not safety-critical and therefore not on the legally required maintenance schedule. It’s only used on the ground: once the engines are started the jet has two generators (one per engine) so the APU isn’t needed anymore.

    If the flight crew knows they have a dead APU then they can call ahead to make sure each airport they’ll use has the “air cart,” also known as the “start cart,” ready at the gate. That cart has a portable air compressor that can start the engines of a jet that doesn’t have a working APU.

    Of course if the airline really cared about reliability they’d maintain their APUs, because although a bad APU won’t cause a crash it can delay a flight! With a bad APU first they try restarting and if that doesn’t work then they haul out the start cart.

  11. I fly out of sfo a bit. We had a mechanical problem with a United departure a few months ago causing the airline to switch planes after screwing around with a 6 hour repair attempt. Similar thing happened with another United flight a couple days later. I wonder if your flight was with United also.

  12. “they were going to have to basically turn the airplane on and off again to see if they could get it going”

    Is this the mundane version of “Reverse the polarity!”?

    On the bright side, airplane parts failing on the tarmac is better than the alternative.

    (My dad was a skilled machinist who spent most of his career making aircraft parts. He always tried to remember that people’s lives might depend on his making the parts strictly to specifications. So if you traveled safely by air in the 50s & 60s, you might spare a brief “Thank you” in your thoughts to him and the other machinists he worked with.)

  13. Airlines seem in general uninterested in doing what they are paid to do – they don’t run as many flights (because empty space costs money – so when something disrupts a flight, the problem cascades through the system and hoses lots of customers for more time because they don’t have/won’t schedule new flights to put them on), they don’t maintain stuff (if they had to compete, they’d complain it was because they weren’t making enough, but they are), and they don’t really seem to care about much other than seeing what new fees they can subject customers to. Oligopolies are great.

  14. I am sorry for you and you Wichita fans, but I would be sorrier if the shit didn’t happen until you were in the air.

    The airlines almost went under during the pandemic and laid everyone off. Now they are paying the price for that and it will get worse before it gets better, if it gets better.

    Glad you are okay, Mr. Scalzi.

  15. My wife and I drove down to the bookstore since we missed their message, just not anywhere close to Kevin’s trip. The staff at Watermark were very kind and helpful and let us know the date in October when they said you were rescheduled. We missed you in St. Louis on the Kaiju tour. We’ll keep trying!

    Have safe travels John!

  16. Sorry United did not have their plane’s act together.

    I remember that I was once on an AmericaWest (now American) A320 from Dulles to Phoenix. That plane had broken a APU, and it needed the generator cart to start the engines. That plane only did PHXIAD over+over, specifically because of this limitation. If you sent that plane into podunk-nowhereville, it would not start back up again. PHX was an AmericaWest hub, and IAD was a United hub.

    Im surprised United did not have a cart avail at KSFO, though.

  17. BOEING: tech support

    PILOT: yeah the power’s out

    BOEING: sorry you’ve reached tech support for Boeing aircraft not your local electrical utility… please hang up and re-dial

    PILOT: dude I’m a pilot… this airplane is one of yours

    BOEING: oh… have you tried turning it off and turn it back on?

    PILOT: pay attention the power is out

    BOEING: huh.. are you on the ground or in-flight?

    PILOT: ground

    BOEING: sorry, your warranty only supports tech support calls for in-flight emergencies… if you’ll give give me a valid credit card number and authorize payment of $199.99 we can continue this call… otherwise I gotta go back to another caller on hold… a 747 with an engine on fire… whiny guy… still has three running smooth and he’s–

    PILOT: just go [REDACTED] yourself and tell your boss he can [REDACTED] a cactus


  18. Sorry to read. Things don’t always turn out as they were expected.

    Sometimes for the better.
    Sometimes for the worse.
    Sometimes for the weird.

    Just like I would have never thought that you’d ever become America’s last line of cultural defense in my Spotify Release Radar playlist. 😁

  19. re Louis Sivo – “Does this happen in space-based science fiction much where the characters miss a connecting transport? Seems like the future will just work. ;-)”

    Dang, dude, there’s a great book idea waiting for the writing.

  20. Or someone boards the wrong flight to space and ends up somewhere, where the character didn’t expect to be.

    The author could add some cryo-sleep or close-by maneuvers to black holes in there to put the character into some distant future in some distant corner of the galaxy.

  21. I’m sorry that happened to you. I wish you were coming to Corona, CA, as I’d like to meet you. (Corona, because I’m in the hospital recovering from sepsis. I’ll be home soon.) I’m reading KPS to lift my spirits. Great book! Looking forward to Starter Villain.

    Be safe.

  22. Sorry to hear of your travel troubles. I was going to drive the 150 miles to Dallas to attend the event, but I suffer from occasional insomnia and didn’t get to sleep before 4 AM last “night” and still had to be at work at 8. There’s no way I’m going to drive in that condition. I’ll hope that you make a stop in one of Dallas/Austin/Houston for your next tour. Condolences your missed connection in Wichita and regrets that I won’t get to say “hi.”

  23. I apologize for this. Clearly the universe was angry that I had to change my plans and miss this event and thereby ruined it for everybody. I look forward to being able to catch you on the rescheduled date, the universe otherwise permitting. Also, flying sucks big time right now, and I feel for people who still have to do it on a regular basis.

  24. I am so sorry you had plane issues and missed the event. But is it terrible to say that I am so happy the event has been rescheduled!?! I was unable to make it last night and was so bummed to miss it. But now I am hopeful that I will be able to see you! Me and my 16-year-old are both huge fans.

  25. Most memorable delayed experience– 35+ years ago.
    Airline– New York Air, a short lived competitor to People’s Express @ Newark Airport.

    Jet taxis to Runway, revs engines, starts it take-off run and…
    Suddenly Scoots back to the gate– A bomb threat. Which we don’t know til later–told to deplane leaving carry-on behind. (Sure like I’m gonna leave my camera bag behind….)

    Hour goes by, still don’t know what’s up. Suddenly a wild bus appears, we get loaded on to it & driven out to our jet which was towed a mile+ out. It was a bright sunny day which a good thing as our checked luggage had all been unloaded & placed in a line on the tarmac. NOW we get told what’s up…and 1 at a time when called we had to go identify our stuff, but leave it, then go on the jet & get any carry-on.

    Get bused back, go thru security for carry-on checks again, jet is back at gate, we get on, take off 4 hours later.

    To this day I’m still wondering why they thought it was a good idea to send pax out to where the potential bomb threat was?

  26. Well, this is why Wichita is the Air Capital of the World, not Denver.*

    Point of interest– there’s a highway in Wichita near one of the Boeing facilities where you drive under an overpass that is a taxiway for the neighborhood airfield. Yes, Wichita has neighborhood airfields.

    *Actually no– the aircraft industry in Wichita during WWII was asked to massively overproduce aircraft parts for the war effort, all of which got sold at deep discount as government surplus afterward– a person could very affordably found a plane-building business in Wichita in the 1950s.

  27. Something like that happened to me once. We were all loaded on the plane, ready to go, but there was a power problem, and yes, they turned it off and then on again to see if it would reboot.

    The good part was that the captain – a woman, by the way – let us know exactly how long they’d continue working on this before giving up if it didn’t work. Which it didn’t, and they did, and we all went back in the terminal where the agents worked their butts off getting us replacement flights. For us, they gave us a voucher for a cab ride to another airport 90 minutes away.

    From pilot to agents to cabbie, that was the most spectacularly good service I’ve ever had in the face of a technical glitch.

    The airline? Midwest Express. Doesn’t exist any more.

  28. APUs, like any mechanical part, do fail; I don’t know that you can blame bad maintenance for this one. Although given recent history with several airlines it probably is a fair bet.

    Now the flight I had out of SJC a few years ago where we had a similar experience was definitely the airline’s fault. It wasn’t the APU, they hadn’t plugged the plane in the night before and we had dead batteries. It turns out that it takes 6 hours to recharge the batteries, and SJC isn’t the airport you want to kill that much time in.

  29. John,

    Having been a pilot and a maintenance technician in a prior career “Life” and understand your frustration about not getting to your destination. A really smart aviation guy told me once that an airline has 3 obligations to its customers:
    1- get John to his destination
    2- get him there safely
    3- get him there on time
    There are many ways to fly airplanes with “inoperative items” and obviously this wasn’t one of those parts. Better to park it and try again later.
    Hope you got to your next scheduled appointment safely and roughly “on time”

    Hope to see you in Seattle next time you make it out.


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