Delta Flight Challenged By… Bees!

By Spyros Georgilidakis | May 4, 2023

The passengers of a Delta flight had to wait patiently for their flight to go ahead because their aircraft got commandeered by a swarm of bees!

It’s not entirely unheard of for bees and other insects to cause problems in aircraft. But this usually involves a little creature deciding to make a nest out of a pitot tube. Which is one reason why aircraft have those covers with bright red “Remove Before Flight” streamers, by the way.

Photo: Isaac Struna

But this case here is a bit different – and A LOT more obvious, for everyone around. The bees affected Delta Air Lines flight DL-1682, a daily afternoon service. Normally, this flight departs Houston George Bush Intercontinental (KIAH) at 12:25 PM. Its destination is Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson International (KATL).

Delta normally schedules an A320 for this flight, which was the case on Wednesday, the 3rd of May, when this happened. According to Delta passengers, the bees appeared suddenly and decided to sit on the left wing fence of this Airbus A320. The ground crew noticed them immediately – but had no idea what to do about them!

Delta Flight Challenged By… Bees!
Photo: @AnjaliEnjeti via Twitter


The Bees And The Delta Crew’s Options

The Delta crew had a few options on how to deal with the bees. They could call pest control. But as with everything in aviation, pesticides would need to have specific approvals for use on external aircraft surfaces. Apparently, this wasn’t possible or practical, on this occasion.

Another option was to call a beekeeper, to see what they could do for this Delta A320, as its crew and the by-now-anxious passengers looked on. Except that a beekeeper never materialized. Again – not everyone is simply allowed to walk up to and interfere with an aircraft. So getting a beekeeper, at short notice, wouldn’t work.

Delta Flight Challenged By… Bees!
Photo: Christopher Flaten

Ground crews then started getting a bit creative. A Delta service vehicle had an exhaust that pointed straight upwards. So crews parked it under the wing fence, hoping that the experience would cause the bees to rethink their attachment to the Delta A320. It didn’t work.

Eventually, Delta decided to move the aircraft away from this particular gate, to bring another one – for a different flight. This eventually began to solve the problem – but it’s not entirely clear how. The passengers got the impression that the bees left when the Delta aircraft started up. However, the aircraft was still at its stand at the time.


Theories – Theories…

It’s possible that vibrations from its APU or another source, finally made the bees look for a different home. Interestingly, the flight’s Captain had previously suggested that they would taxi the aircraft, to see if the bees would leave. This plan was abandoned. But the decision to bring another flight (and plane) to this gate, had the same result!

But why did these bees decide to sit on the wing fence of this Delta A320? We can’t know for sure. But bees can move and suddenly sit on a surface en masse, when/if something disturbs or ruins their hive.

Alternatively, the population of the hive can increase so much that half the bees need to go – something which involves the presence of two bee queens, that this author isn’t qualified to explain. Either way, half the bees then go… and wherever their queen sits, they sit!

Photo: Jonathan Palombo, CC BY 2.0

The bees kept the Delta passengers from leaving until 5:02 PM. Fortunately, it seems that most passengers saw the lighter side of the situation. The flight’s Captain kept everyone up to speed with what was happening, which likely contributed to a more agreeable atmosphere, all things considered.

At least they didn’t find an open door into the baggage hold, or the cabin..!

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