So this morning I was supposed to fly to Cincinnati, OH, which actually means flying to Covington Kentucky, just across the Ohio river. (One of the rivers over which escaping slaves crossed in the antebellum U.S., But I digress).

I get to Logan in Boston at about 5:10am for a 6:00 flight, but get through security fairly quickly and get on the plane and in my seat by 5:45.

Then we sit, for about 30 minutes.

Finally, the pilot gets on the intercom – we’re waiting on a “mechanical” issue. The first officer, during the visual inspection (where they go out and walk around the outside of the plane) noticed a “seep” (his word) in the right gear area, or potentially coming from the right wing. (I assume he means landing gear, though he didn’t say.)

Some more time passes, and the pilot gets on the intercom again. Turns out the “seep” is related to the plane’s fuel system. So we’ve got five mechanics looking at it, and as soon as we know more we’ll let you know.

I don’t know why he though it was important that five mechanics were looking at it. Was that supposed to make us feel that they were being very thorough? That if the first four mechanics were complete idiots the fifth one would catch their collective error?

Frankly it made me a bit concerned – does it take five mechanics to see a fuel leak? Do they look one after the other or all at the same time?

I kept thinking of the pesky fifth dentist who can’t quite get on board with the concensus about Trident gum. Anyway, the five mechanics look at it, and we await their report.

More time passes. The captain comes back on. The five mechanics have gone back to the office to do some research. (This is literally what he said. I pictured five mechanics climbing into a little van like a clown car and driving back into Boston to an office building).

They need to determine what the allowable seep is for fuel.

All I can say is, how about zero?

Why is there an allowable seep for jet airplane fuel?

He was certain to make clear that if this were a leak, there’s no way we’d be flying anywhere. But a seep, that’s a different matter. They could clean the affected area, and see how quickly it comes back, and then maybe if it wasn’t too bad they could schedule it to be fixed during “an overnight.”

At this point I decided to de-plane. I was already clearly going to miss my connection in Detroit to get to Kentucky anyway, so I figured I’d be better off rebooking than waiting for the seep to re-appear.

As I was negotiating with the gate agent about how to get rebooked (turned out they were short staffed, so calling the rebooking number was the best option) one of the field crew came up and told her the flight “is going to cancel.” I don’t know if he was one of the five mechanics – maybe the new guy has to go talk to the counter agents? – but he was the source of truth, because as soon as he said it, they announced it to the whole flight.

(Isn’t this a wonderful bit airline lingo? It isn’t that “we are going to cancel the flight.” “The flight is going to cancel” makes it sound like no one from the airline had any control. In fact, they can’t even say that the flight has been cancelled, because that would at least suggest someone made a decision.)

Long story short, the rebooking options would get me into Cincinnati about the same time as the meeting I was presenting to would be ending – so I ended up just canceling the whole trip and doing the presentation remotely. (Getting up at 3:30am for no apparent reason is not my favorite way to start the week).

So Wiktionary says that a seep is “a place where water, petroleum or tar seeps out of the ground,” or “a seepage,” which in turn is “the process by which a liquid leaks through a porous substance.”

Merriam Webster says that as a noun, a seep is “a spot where a fluid (as water, oil, or gas) contained in the ground oozes slowly to the surface and often forms a pool.

So does this mean that the planes are porous?

Was the pilot remiss in trying to distinguish between a seep and a leak?

Did it take five mechanics to determine the seep was in fact a leak, or would they cancel the flight even four out of five mechanics swore it was a seep?

Is there in fact an “allowable seep” for jet fuel, for a 757-300?