The Duct Tape Dilemma: When Shabby Airline Cabins Raise Alarms

Customers see a poorly maintained airplane cabin interior, and they begin to question whether the parts of the plane they can’t see are maintained in the same manner. That’s not really how this works, but it’s a logical inference for most passengers – especially with the safety of the Boeing 737 MAX 9 in the news, after a door plug came off an Alaska Airlines aircraft inflight.

One of the more common concerns on social media, by the way, is passengers seeing planes put together with ‘duct tape’ because they aren’t familiar with FAA-approved speed tape used in aviation for minor, temporary repairs on aircraft. There’s nothing wrong with a plane when you see speed tape, in the sense that it’s perfectly airworthy. But every time passengers see something like this they’re shaken, and they worry about how well managed and maintained the airline they’re flying is.

This American Airlines seat is even worse than the first photo made it appear:

The passenger, quite reasonably, feels that they didn’t get the product that they paid for. When you’re buying a ticket on an airline, you’re paying for a seat that doesn’t fall apart when you touch it. And so they should be refunded.

American Airlines has argued that all you’re entitled to is transportation between two points and they aren’t even obligated to provide you a seat, so here they appear to have exceeded the standards they’ve argued in court! They wouldn’t normally offer a refund. Maybe they’d do a modest voucher for future travel or small number of miles ‘as a courtesy’.

That seems unacceptable to me. An airline ticket is a product that includes a seat and that seat should function as designed. When the carrier fails to deliver this, they haven’t earned the fare.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. At Alaska and Delta I appreciate all the duct tape they can wrap around the plane to hold the engine in place and wings on.Hopefully tighten a few bolts here and there

  2. It was a passenger who noticed the fuselage crack on the Aloha Airliner. We saw how that turned out. But I have no fear of airplanes. I fly one of Delta’s 717 aircraft regularly. Although I may purchase the cheap insurance for when your flight crashes…….

  3. Its actually called cargo pit tape, certified by the FAA as being in compliance with burn certification rules. When a seat or tray table breaks during the flying day, or at a place where aircraft maintenance technicians are not available, or have the time allocated to repair it, the seat is taped up and placed on deferment, which is legal per the FAA and the aircraft manufacturer.
    There are no requirements for the tape to be aesthetically pleasing, and this procedure is done in order to keep the aircraft and passengers moving to their destinations. A taped up seat, tray table or overhead bin does not have an effect on the airworthiness of the aircraft. They are passenger convenience items. The major airlines are in the mass transit business. If you reached your destination on or close to the scheduled time, in an airworthy aircraft, they have done the job you paid them to do.

  4. Appearance aside, this looks to be the back of the seat in front of her. Yes, it looks tacky but no way affected her ability to be safely in her seat and have her cabin pet stowed where it belonged. The alternative is the flight could have taken a very long delay to have a permanent fix versus a temporary one. This is known as a DMI (deferred maintenance item).

  5. If Alaska Airlines Flight 1282 on a Boeing 737 Max 9 aircraft used speed tape to help secure the exit door plug, does the National Transportation Safety Board believe this door plug would still blow out during ascent through 16,000 feet?

  6. As though it may look tacky and I wound definitely agree with that argument, but it is not just duct tape that you or I found purchase in a store, it is Aviation approved and it is much more than just regular duct tape. The issue with it is also that in order for the damage to be repaired in a way that would satisfy customer would require the place to be grounded for the repair and then that means delays and cancellations. Airports don’t abd they can’t keep extra planes just in case, they rely on maintenance to sign off and approve the repair on a way that keeps passengers and crew safe and everyone working together is exactly what the goal is at the end of the day is to keep everyone safe. In my opinion you are safer in a plahe than you are in a commercial vehicle. They may not be worthy of praise by their appearance but if they weren’t safe for air travel they would NOT leave the gate.

  7. I guess I should have edited my comment before posting. Sorry for the grammer as we all know our phones can’t be relied on for spell check.

  8. I bordered an AA flight from Hilton Head to Charlotte. The aircraft had tape on the engine cowling which made a few passengers a bit nervous. Apparently this is called “speed tape” a rather extensive 3M product designed for such use. The optics, understandably, are bothersome

  9. This is what happened to me on a flight from Paris to Atlanta on Delta. Airbus 350, in deplorable…I mean Third World deplorable. The seat next to me was taped with a heavy “DO NOT USE” type of duct tape. Yes, a person was sitting in it. My arm was cracked plastic and everything was shabby…including Magic Marker instructions in the bathroom. No wifi out and back, and the most horrible food.
    I wrote to the CEO of Delta, who never gave me the courtesy of a reply. I have been a dedicted Delta customer for almost 40 years…but this was making me think hard about my loyalty.

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