DALLAS - For all those air travelers wondering what might have caused seats on three American Airlines flights to come loose in recent days, the answer may lie in their own hands.
It turns out that passengers spilling soda and coffee "gunked up" the seat locking mechanism over time on certain planes, American Airlines spokeswoman Mary Frances Fagan said Friday.
That "gunk" affected the track on the ground "that locks the seats to the aircraft floor," she said.
"We are taking extra steps to ensure that the seats do not dislodge from the track."
Seats on at least three American Airlines flights have become loose recently, unnerving passengers in the latest of a string of woes for American. The airline grounded its fleet of 48 757 airliners Friday, resulting in a domino of delayed and cancelled flights and passenger inconvenience.
The airline has also been beset in recent months by labor troubles, flight delays and flight cancellations.
The company initially said that it appeared that an improperly installed saddle clamp on one of three types of seats installed in the main cabin of its Boeing 757 airliners was to blame for the loose seats. In that statement, the airline did not mention spilled food and beverages.
The problem first surfaced on a September 26 flight from Vail, Colorado, to Dallas, the airline's vice president of safety confirmed Tuesday.
On Saturday, three seats came loose shortly after takeoff on a flight from Boston to Miami that was carrying 175 passengers. That plane diverted to New York's John F. Kennedy Airport.
Another incident occurred Monday on a flight from New York to Miami with 154 passengers. It returned to JFK without further incident.
While rare, such incidents are not unprecedented. In 2008, according to media accounts, a United Airlines flight had to make an emergency landing when a row of seats came loose on takeoff.
The National Transportation Safety Board does not track such incidents, spokesman Peter Knudson said.
American Airlines filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection late last year.
Last month, a judge threw out American's contract with its pilots union. Since then, pilots have staged what the airline calls a slowdown that has caused the number of flights that are delayed and canceled to skyrocket.
More than 1,000 American flights have been canceled and 12,000 delayed in the past month alone.
Airline management has blamed the situation on pilots filing what it says are frivolous reports about aircraft problems. The pilots union has denied management's assertion.
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