American Airlines has come up with a new explanation for The Mystery of The Falling Down Seats in some of its Boeing 757 airliners.
Part of the explanation is -- well -- kind of out there.
The answer? Soda pop. Coffee. Snacks.
Something called the seat lock plunger mechanism can "get gunked up over time with people spilling sodas, popcorn, coffee or whatever and that can affect that locking mechanism on the ground that locks the seat to the floor," airline spokeswoman Mary Frances Fagan said Friday.
Apparently, worn locking pins can get stuck when food and beverages spill onto them, allowing seat rows to come unhinged, she said.
American earlier said saddle-shaped clamps installed to hold the seats down were put in backwards.
While the clamps may have played a role, the soda and snack gunk now seems to be among the culprits, Fagan said.
And while that explains what happened to the three American flights that experienced loose seats, it doesn't explain why the problem has affected only American flights in recent days, or why it's happened so many times in such a short period.
"My question is, why haven't we seen this before?" said Bill Waldock, professor and crash lab director at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University's Prescott, Arizona, campus. "Did the gunk start building up and decide to falter in the planes at the same time? I kind of doubt that honestly."
Waldock called the airline's explanation "curious," adding that it "seemed to be unique to the 757, and to the ones that they reconfigured."
"What would make more sense is if (the seats) were improperly installed," he said.
Besides presumably cleaning out the gunk, Fagan says American mechanics are "taking extra steps to ensure that the seats do not dislodge from the track."
That includes installing industrial-strength metal ties as a backup, airline spokeswoman Courtney Wallace said.
Later Friday afternoon, airline spokeswoman Andrea Huguely said that the company plans to have "all 48 of our Boeing 757s back in service" by Saturday, noting that 42 of its airplanes had already been repaired and that there were will be no disruptions to service.
"We have identified the issue, and our maintenance teams are securing an FAA-approved locking mechanism to ensure no seat can be dislodged," she said.
American insists after these newly installed mechanical ties are in place, no more seats will be dislodged.
The problem first surfaced on a September 26 flight from Vail, Colorado, to Dallas, according to the airline.
On Saturday, three seats came loose shortly after takeoff on a flight from Boston to Miami that was carrying 175 passengers. That plane diverted to New York's John F. Kennedy Airport.
Another incident occurred Monday on a flight from New York to Miami with 154 passengers. It returned to JFK without further incident.