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Swarm of bees delays a Delta flight by three hours

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A swarm of bees touched down on a parked Delta Air Lines aircraft Wednesday, delaying a flight from Houston to Atlanta for about three hours.

“Bee-lieve it or not, Delta flight 1682 from Houston-Bush to Atlanta took a delay yesterday afternoon after a friendly group of bees evidently wanted to talk shop with the winglet of our airplanes, no doubt to share the latest about flying conditions at the airport,” the airline said in a playful statement after social media pictures created a buzz.

Delta Air Lines did not say exactly what measures were considered to resolve the situation, but ultimately, the bees were displaced by pushing the aircraft back from the gate using ground equipment with no passengers on board.

The welfare of the bees and ensuring that aircraft surfaces were not contaminated were factors in the delay.

Delta apologized to customers on the delayed flight.

Twitter user Anjali Enjeti live tweeted the incident from inside George Bush Intercontinental Airport, reporting on various measures that were evidently floated and rejected to get the bees to take off from their perch on the Airbus A320’s winglet.

My flight leaving Houston is delayed because bees have congregated on the tip of one of the wings. They won’t let us board until they remove the bees. But how on earth will this happen? Won’t they leave the wing when we take off?

— Anjali Enjeti (she/her) (@AnjaliEnjeti) May 3, 2023

Enjeti mentions a beekeeper and pest control in her live updates, which were apparently gleaned from Delta announcements and word of mouth from other passengers. She also gave a blow-by-blow of jockeying for position by the airport windows in hopes of witnessing a beekeeping operation, complete with snacks for the show.

Alas, no beekeeper appeared, according to Enjeti’s account, much to her disappointment.

“Would have a big highlight of my life to see a bee keeper de-bee a plane wing. It’s going to be hard to let go of this. The disappointment is real,” she tweeted.

Bees at airports

Bee swarms on aircraft are rare but not unheard of. A swarm of bees delayed an Air India flight in 2019. Water cannons were used in that case to displace the bees on the aircraft scheduled for a flight from Kolkata to Agartala.

In 2016, an F-22 Raptor fighter jet was temporarily grounded by 20,000 bees. A beekeeper helped resolve that situation in Virginia.

At passenger airports, beekeepers are becoming increasingly common.

A 2022 report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine details a number of airports in the United States and internationally that have established “pollinator-friendly practices and programs that restore habitat for bees and bring public awareness and appreciation to these fascinating insects.”

According to the report, Hamburg Airport in Germany was the first airport to introduce an on-airport apiary in 1999. Chicago O’Hare was the first US airport to add a major apiary.

The Federal Aviation Administration is involved in the research related to airport bee programs.

The airport involved in Wednesday’s bee-related delay hasn’t joined in airport beekeeping efforts – yet.

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