Snake Slithers on Runway at San Francisco Airport Causing Flight Delay

The passengers on the New York-bound flight on Friday, May 16, must have been wondering what was going on.

Their Delta flight was delayed at San Francisco airport by a pilot who refused to squish a six-inch garter snake on the runway; airport staffers were dispatched to clear this teeny little snake from the runway, so the plane could take off without killing an innocent creature.

A spokesman for San Francisco International Airport (SFO) later said the snake was caught and set free in a “grassy area.”

Hooray for this pilot!

Federal law requires airports to keep wildlife off runways.

“In this case, it’s out of an abundance of caution, but it is a federal mandate,” a spokesman said.
“You don’t want wildlife or debris on the runway. It’s not agreeable to the safe operation of the aircraft.”

SFO spokesperson John Ginty told the New York Post that “a 6-inch garter snake on the side of the runway” didn’t delay travel “at all,” but passengers on the plane say otherwise. One tweeted that the pilot told them that their flight was held up “due to a snake on the runway, which we are trying to move away with sirens.”

It’s not certain, but the snake in question may have been a San Francisco Garter Snake, which is endangered. There are estimated to be only 1,000-2,000 adult San Francisco Garter Snakes in existence. In fact, the snake has been considered endangered since 1967.

So, as it turns out, this pilot really knew what he was doing.

The elusive San Francisco Garter Snake, frequently described as one of North America’s most beautiful snakes, is a relative of the common garter snake that is found all over North America. It differs from the common version mainly in its coloring: it has an orange-ish head, black and red striping/blotching on its back and a blue or blue/green belly. Its beauty is one reason that has led to its endangered status.

Its eyes are large. The length of this slender, beautiful snake, which is not a threat to humans, may extend to 51 inches.

Reptile collectors have been known to pluck this rare snake from its habitat to sell on the black market. The other reason numbers of this reptile have dropped to between 1,000 to 2,000 is habitat destruction, due to urbanization and pollution.

The San Francisco Garter Snake is one of 36 reptiles on the endangered species list in the U.S.

Big thanks to Delta Airlines and its pilot for wanting to save this tiny endangered creature.

Photo Credit: shutterstock

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Jim Ven
Jim Ven3 months ago

thanks for the article.

Janice Thompson
Janice Thompsonabout a year ago

Headlines San Francisco: Snake stops flight

Debbie Crowe
Debbie Croweabout a year ago

This Delta pilot deserves a raise for being so compassionate!!

Georgia a.
Georgia a.about a year ago

God bless you Sir. Should this poor planet have more of an abundance of those like you.

Jay Bauder
Jay Babout a year ago

Couldn't someone just have been called to move it off the runway? Instead of making a whole thing about it?

Dave C.
Dave C.1 years ago

thanks...kudos to pilot, Delta and SFO.....

growing up I used to remember jackrabbits running around the Long Beach, CA airport....recently I had the chance to fly out of there and missed them.....sadly suspect they did not get such a positive treatment......

Sandra Penna
Sandra Penna1 years ago


Carole R.
Carole R.1 years ago


Rehana VN
Rehana VN1 years ago


Karen S.
Karen S.1 years ago