Yes, RIM’s Toast, But There’s No Way You Flew On A 747 From Denver To San Francisco

United 747

Yesterday, we republished an article a Canadian business magazine asked me to write arguing that Research in Motion is screwed.

(It was easy to write).

In the article, I described my first encounter with a BlackBerry a decade ago, which was love at first sight (see image below). The first encounter, I explained, was on a 747 flying from Denver to San Francisco in 1999, when a big-shot investment banker I was flying with handed it to me.

The article went on to describe my 10-year love affair with BlackBerries, which ended two years ago, when I ran off with an iPhone. And it outlined why I think Research In Motion is screwed, namely that BlackBerries are no longer the best products on the market, smartphones are becoming a platform game, corporations are increasingly allowing employees to choose their own tools, and RIM’s management is dismissive of the competition and delusional about the relative strength of its own products.

Well, I got a lot of feedback about the article. Surprisingly, few folks took issue with the conclusion–that RIM’s toast. What they took issue with was my assertion that I had flown on a 747 from Denver to San Francisco.

The First BlackBerry
The first BlackBerry model I ever owned–which I immediately fell in love with. I accidentally dropped it in the toilet at Eliot Spitzer’s office while being interrogated about my Wall Street research. (The screen filled with water and short-circuited, but it still chirped when I got emails!)

Airlines don’t fly 747s from Denver to San Francisco, readers explained–because 747s are long-haul aeroplanes and Denver to SFO is short-haul. It’s super-expensive to fly planes like 747s on short-haul flights, so it’s highly unlikely that airlines would do it.But I actually did fly a 747 from Denver to San Francisco!

It was a United flight. And here’s the explanation I got when I asked the banker I was flying with why we were on a 747.

He said that a while back, a 747 had lost power just after takeoff from San Francisco. In an attempt to maintain control of the plane, the pilots had almost crashed into a nearby mountain. Later, the airline had determined that the pilots had not acted correctly, and the airline decided that this was in part the result of the pilots having performed so few actual takeoffs and landings in a 747 relative to the number of hours they had flown (because the jets were used only on long-haul flights). So the airline decided to start using 747s on short-haul flights, to give the 747 crews more training in takeoffs and landings.

That was the explanation I got then–and it made sense, because I remembered hearing about the near-crash that my friend was referring to.

But after getting questions from readers, I Googled the incident to see whether I had hallucinated it.

And I hadn’t!

Here’s the description of a United Airlines 747 that almost crashed into San Bruno Mountain after losing power after takeoff from SFO. The incident happened in 1998, about a year before the United flight on which I first fell in love with a BlackBerry.

(The incident, by the way, is terrifying. The pilot screwed up, got yelled at by other pilots, and then cleared San Bruno mountain by all of 100 feet. Later, it was determined that that particular pilot had made only one takeoff in a 747 in the prior year.)

See Also: BLODGET, Obliterated