YouTuber responds to claims that his viral flight story is ‘alarmist and unhelpful’

A YouTuber’s story about his Delta flight being forced to turn around over the Atlantic Ocean has been making its rounds on media outlets and racked up almost 1 million views. But some people in the aviation community think his video is “alarmist.”

The content creator Xiaoma — whose real name is Arieh Smith — shared his experience on an international flight on July 24, traveling from New York’s JFK airport to Kotoka International Airport in Accra, Ghana. In a video recounting the experience, he called it the “scariest day of my life.”

According to Smith, the 10-hour, nonstop flight was supposed to leave at midnight, but there were delays. Passengers at the time were told that the captain wasn’t feeling well, so the flight was going to be rescheduled.

The next day, Smith boarded the new flight and then was told that thunderstorms were preventing the plane from taking off on time, so the flight was pushed back another hour.

Finally, Smith and the other passengers traveling to Ghana took off. But only two and a half hours into the flight, something else went wrong.

Smith said that he saw the captain walking down the aisle of the plane and looking out of the windows at the wings.

“This is causing a bit of a stir,” Smith said in his video. “I remember saying to the guy sitting next to me, ‘This doesn’t look good.'”

Half an hour later, the captain made an announcement that the plane needed to return to New York due to a fuel issue. The plane was somewhere over the Atlantic Ocean.

Delta confirmed with Newsweek that a fuel issue that caused the U-turn: “DL9923 was returned to JFK out of an abundance of caution due to a fuel imbalance in-flight. An emergency was declared on arrival at JFK to obtain priority handling from air traffic control.”

Smith said that the journey back to New York was the “most nail-biting two hours I’ve ever experienced in my life.” At the time, Smith said, the passengers didn’t fully understand what the problem was.

The issue was apparently a fuel imbalance — meaning that the quantity of fuel in the left and right wing tanks are unequal. This can happen for a number of reasons, but according to Boeing, it’s particularly difficult to determine the cause.

Since posting his video — titled, “My plane ran out of fuel over the Atlantic Ocean” — pilots and members of the aviation community have commented on YouTube that Smith’s take on the situation is misleading.

“As an aeronautical engineer, I can reassure you that it was not a life threathening [sic] situation,” someone said. “Maybe it would be an idea to change your title, as it seems rather unlikely your plane actually ran out of fuel, and might scare other nervous fliers.”

“A fuel imbalance is a potentially serious condition but far from a really dangerous one,” one pilot wrote. “One engine could potentially flame out but … the aircraft can fly fine on the remaining engine AND the aircraft would still be perfectly flyable with that imbalance.”

“I appreciate the emotions are very real to you, but this video is alarmist and unhelpful,” another commenter added. “videos like this can contribute to people panicking during incidents where they are not actually in any danger.”

Smith appeared to have read the comments, and added a note of his own about a week after posting the video.

“I want to acknowledge the valid criticism of this video from the aviation community,” he said. “I have since learned that this situation was not nearly as dangerous as I initially thought.”

Many commenters, including Smith, pointed viewers to a video by Pilot Kelsey, a Boeing 747 pilot who has over 900,000 subscribers. Kelsey made a video in response to Smith’s detailed description about what a situation of this kind means for a flight.

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