A swarm of bees lands on a Delta jet and everything comes to a halt

ajc.com

Credit: Anjali Enjeti

Credit: Anjali Enjeti

Many travelers are familiar with the typical causes of flight delays: Weather, maintenance issues, air traffic control delays.

But bees? Honey, now that’s a story.

At least that’s how Atlanta-area author Anjali Enjeti saw it.

When she got word that her Delta flight from Houston to Atlanta was delayed Wednesday afternoon because a swarm of bees had landed on the wing tip of her plane, she began tweeting and started a buzz.

“They won’t let us board until they remove the bees,” Enjeti wrote on Twitter from Houston‘s Bush Intercontinental Airport, a tweet that had been viewed more than 6.8 million times by Friday morning — with more than 1,000 comments, 30,000 likes and 7,600 retweets. “Intel from other passengers confirms the plane pulled into the gate and suddenly a mass of bees congregates on the wing.”

A swarm of bees congregate on the wing of an Atlanta-bound Delta jet, delaying the flight from Houston by more than four hours.

Credit: Anjali Enjeti

icon to expand image

Credit: Anjali Enjeti

Eventually, a gate agent announced that a beekeeper would come to collect the bees.

“I’m not moving from this window. I want front row seats for this!” Enjeti wrote.

“I have to pee. But I don’t want to lose my place by this window,” Enjeti tweeted. “I’m also by a wall charger. This is first class-airport seating.”

One of the many people following Enjeti’s account of the bee plane unfolding on Twitter responded: “The congregation of bees will affect aerodynamics. If they want to fly, they should purchase seats.”

At one point Enjeti, who is the author of the novel “The Parted Earth” and is a former attorney, bought a bag of Cool Ranch Doritos for sustenance while watching the drama unfold just outside the window of the terminal.

Eventually she reported that the captain issued an update that the beekeeper was not authorized to touch the plane and thus was not coming.

Instead, the captain decided to taxi the plane to encourage the bees to take flight.

“Wish you could hear people on the phone here trying to explain why our flight is delayed,” Enjeti tweeted.

More than two hours after the saga began, she tweeted an update that the flight crew had deplaned and Delta decided to move the aircraft.

And suddenly, the bees voluntarily disembarked.

Pushing back the plane using ground equipment “safely shook the bees loose after previous safe actions did not prove successful,” according to Delta Air Lines in a statement. “We apologize to our customers for the delay in their travel plans.”

Steve Nofs, a master beekeeper in Macon, said bees swarm when a population of bees in a colony is growing “and they start to feel a little confined.”

About half the bees and a queen will leave the hive, he said, and typically fly a few hundred yards. “They’ll look for something to land on — a tree limb or a fence post, or in this case the wing of an airplane, and they’ll just hang out there,” while sending scouts out to look for a new permanent home, Nofs said.

Bees in such a swarm are typically docile, he said, since they have no honeycomb to protect. Usually, “the beekeeper will just go out, they’ll just shake them in a box and they’ll take them home and make a colony.”

Nofs said he “wouldn’t have guessed” that moving the plane would have worked to prompt the bees to leave, “but I guess it did in this case.”

But if the bees were to relocate to another plane, “then you’re stuck with the same problem again,” he said

Brushing off the bees would save the swarm, but “the downside is everybody on the plane has to wait for that to happen,” Nofs said.

Because bees typically swarm only 200 or 300 yards away from their parent colony, “I would think it would be sort of a rare occurrence” to have a swarm on a plane at an airport, Nofs said. But “if it happened once, it could certainly happen again.” He suggested the airport check to see if any authorized workers at the airport also keep bees.

The passengers on Enjeti’s flight were moved to another gate to board the same plane, sans bees. Four hours after the saga began, Enjeti reported that she had boarded the plane, which landed in Atlanta that evening.

“I imagine the bees had the time of their lives laughing at all of us,” Enjeti tweeted.

Delta issued a statement after the incident saying: “Bee-lieve it or not, Delta flight 1682 on May 3 from Houston-Bush to Atlanta took a delay after a friendly group of bees evidently wanted to talk shop with the winglet of one of our airplanes, no doubt to share the latest about flying conditions at the airport.”

The airline explained that the delay of the flight on an Airbus A320 with 92 passengers was because the airline was “looking out for the welfare of congregated bees on the wing ... as well as to ensure that no surfaces of our aircraft were contaminated during departure.”

Delta apologize to customers for the delay.