There are lots of reasons for flights to be delayed or cancelled: Bad weather, security issues, and even ... coffeemakers? Yep — it turns out that broken coffeemakers cause plane delays with surprising frequency, according to a report from the New York Times. When you think of mechanical problems on a plane, you don't really think about coffeemakers having anything to do with it; however, the requirements necessary for making a coffee machine work on an airplane are actually pretty involved, so in hindsight, maybe it makes more sense than you think.
So how does something that most of us operate while half asleep manage to mess up something as complex as an commercial airplane? Well, according to the Times, the thing about coffeemakers is that they're electrical, and anytime there's an electrical malfunction on a plane, mechanics have to check to make sure it isn't part of a larger issue — and that it won't cause a fire. Fires on airplanes are generally not desirable.
And, unfortunately, there are a lot of ways that coffeemakers on planes can malfunction. Trying to brew coffee at 35,000 feet is not as simple as doing it in your kitchen. The machines include circuit breakers and special wiring insulation to help prevent fire and special latches to hold them in place; heck, even the water has to be specially treated. All of these parts and requirements help make sure the coffee and the coffeemaker are safe — but they also provide a lot of opportunities for things to go wrong. And even with all the all the precautions, when something goes wrong on a plane, you have to take it seriously. After all, if it turns out to be a big problem, you need to know that when you're still on the tarmac, not miles up in the air. Apparently flights are often delayed due to an "inordinate amount of coffeemaker problems," though, so hey, at least these issues are getting caught sooner, rather than later — and it's better than finding a gremlin on the wing.
It does, however, beg the question why no one has come up with a better way to brew coffee on a flight. After all, most of us manage to do it while sleep deprived in our very own kitchens just fine. But when it comes to planes, you can't just buy a retail coffeemaker — or even the bigger, commercial coffeemakers you'd find in a restaurant. As a mechanic explained to the New York Times, “You can’t just put Mr. Coffee in an airline. You have to do all kinds of engineering and analysis and provide test results to the FAA to get approval.”
Because when it comes down to it, planes are way more precarious things than we like to think about. And the only reason we can feel so safe in them is because they are so thoroughly checked and tested and inspected and regulated in order to avoid incidents.
So let's not think too hard about how apparently easy it is for them to get derailed by a coffeemaker, shall we?