In the early hours this morning (Friday), a Delta plane operating a route from Atlanta to London was forced to perform an emergency landing in St John’s, Canada, after smoke entered the cockpit. The crew noticed the smoke and requested the emergency landing as a safety precaution, despite being told that around five other planes in the area had reported the same issue. Smoke from the wildfires in Colorado had entered the jet stream and was penetrating aircraft.
Emergency landing with no emergency
According to The Aviation Herald, around four other planes also had smoke issues, and, in these incidences, is was a case of smoke without fire. The fire causing the smoke was actually around 4,230 km away in Colorado. Smoke from the wildfires raging across the state is perfectly positioned to be picked up by the Jetstream heading up the east coast to Canada.
The crew acknowledged the likelihood of there being no fire onboard but performed an emergency landing to be safe. Emergency services search the plane found no trace of fire, heat, or smoke.
Eventually, flight DL-30 got underway again, arriving in London’s Heathrow at 12.03 PM local time today. The total delay was just over three hours.
How does this happen?
The jet stream is the fast air current that carries rapidly warming and cooling air across the planet—the stream moves depending on the time of year, air pressure, and various other factors. Currently, part of the jet stream flows across the central US up toward the east coast of Canada.
The stream can carry the smoke caused by the wildfires all the way across the states to Canada. Smoke from wildfires won’t damage an aircraft as the particle in the air is too small to damage the engines and the exterior. However, that doesn’t stop smoke from getting into the cabin and the cockpit.
Smoke on a plane
Assuming the smoke is coming from outside the plane and fire isn’t damaging the plane, smelling smoke while flying isn’t going to damage your health. Cabin air is heavily filtered and completely renewed every few minutes. Any smoke that enters the cabin would be minimal and certainly not enough to harm your lungs. That being said, smelling smoke while flying is surely going to panic even the most-confident flyer.