I am having trouble deciding whose side I am on in this story, which occurred on Friday evening.
A British Airways flight from Edinburgh to London Gatwick was already delayed. On the taxi out, a mobile phone was found onboard. None of the passengers or crew members claimed it so the captain radioed the tower with a request to drop it out the 737-400 cockpit window and have someone pick it up. Tower refused but the Captain put the phone in a bag and threw it out anyway, telling the tower it had been done and to send someone to get it.
Tower apparently felt insulted and forbade the Captain from taking off, ordering him to return to the gate. The police were also called. The aircraft returned to the gate, a new crew had to be found, and the delay went from 30 minutes to over three hours. The pilot was not arrested, but faces disciplinary action.
Here’s my concern: we know that debris on the runway can be problematic (hello Concorde) from a safety perspective, but why would the tower refuse what seems to be a very reasonable request on a flight that was already delayed? Would it really have been too unsafe to send out a BA ground crew member to pick up the bag? (Especially when returning to the gate would have burned quite a bit of fuel).
There is no doubt that the pilot must be scolded for not following ATC instructions. In order for the system to function effectively, everyone should play by the rules. But in this case I simply am not angry at the Captain. The crew was just trying to help reunite the phone with whoever left it behind–next time, if I were the captain–I would not even bother to radio the tower and just fly to London with the phone. It apparently is not worth the hassle to try to be nice…