(CBS4) – A passenger who was set to fly out of Colorado earlier this month almost got a rare opportunity to fly with every other seat unoccupied. Vincent Peone documented all of it on his phone and shared a video that has since been viewed more than 2 million times.
“We are about to board the flight to Salt Lake City from Gate 5, will the only passenger on this flight come forward?” an airline employee can be heard saying in the video shared by Peone on Twitter.
— vincent peone (@vincentpeone) August 12, 2019
The New York resident was supposed to be traveling from Colorado to Utah on a Delta flight operated by SkyWest. Using his cellphone, he captured each moment from the flight originating out of Aspen.
“When I stepped on, it was just this wash of empty seats that you don’t see very often,” Peone said in his cellphone video.
But it turned out the plane never left the ground. There was a maintenance issue. He eventually got on a different plane that had passengers on it and made his way to his destination.
A near-empty plane is an unusual sight on purpose, according to those who have worked in the industry. Airlines work hard to keep planes full and constantly moving so they generate the most revenue.
“He just happened to be at the right place at the right time,” said Lowell Valencia-Miller, a teaching assistant professor at the University of Denver Daniels School of Business. “They would have to had flown the plane with no people because the plane was probably needed in Salt Lake.”
The crew placed sandbags on the plane to increase the weight. Peone captured that moment on his phone. Valencia-Miller explains that it is a necessary step because planes expect a large number of passengers to bring up the weight to the appropriate level. It affects the force gravity has on the plane.
“Hey Vincent, welcome aboard. We look forward to taking care of you today,” a flight attendant says in another clip posted online.
Peone shared that staff told him the flight needed to carry equipment to his next destination. That was a reason to move the flight forward even if he had not been on board, Valencia-Miller added. The plane not only has value from the destination it is departing from but also the location it will be arriving at.
“It would have impacted a flight from Salt Lake City which probably had a lot of passengers on it,” the professor explained. “Airlines do not like to cancel flights, it has to be reported to the Department of Transportation. Those records are for public consumption, so when you see a flight that is canceled quite a bit, you’re less likely to book it.”
Valencia-Miller used to work for an airline before eventually teaching at DU. He says airlines like Delta try to avoid canceling flights as much as possible so the steps taken in this case make sense. He says it is an extremely rare outcome, especially during this time of year.
“It is a very unique circumstance compared to what we normally find ourselves,” he said. “Shoulder to shoulder, compacted, during the busy summer travel season.”
Peone eventually made it back to New York, where he is a writer and director. He shared some of the moments on the flight that wasn’t that stood out as special to his experience.
“You never get let into the cockpit, right? But I guess when it’s just one guy they let me right in and I got to shake the pilots’ hands,” he said in a clip, then talked about the pre-flight service in another. “She poured me a drink immediately and then another drink immediately after that.”
When he first shared the video, the story gained attention across the country from various media outlets. It ends with a photo of Peone posing next to the plane, giving the allusion it was a private jet. But passengers should not get their hopes up that they will get the same opportunity anytime soon.
“The idea that a flight would only have one passenger on it,” said Valencia-Miller. “Highly, highly remote, not impossible.”
EDITOR’S NOTE: Peone admitted after the video was published the plane never actually took off.
— vincent peone (@vincentpeone) August 15, 2019