Wednesday, November 25, 2009

The Holidays have officially started

Ok, I know I'm jumping the gun by a day before Thanksgiving, but I wanted to get on the ball and show a shot of Chicago O'Hare International airport Terminal 3 - American Airlines decorations they always set up in the H/K concourse. Usually this hall is filled with International flags, but for the holidays, they take down all the flags and decorate the atrium with large lit wreaths and flying doves.  I took this a couple of years ago commuting home to Minneapolis, through Chicago. (hence barely any passengers in the terminal)

Despite all of the different travel delays over the last year (and to come before year end) I hope that everyone will stop to remember that a good portion of the delays were not the fault of the individual flight crews.  In-flight crew members are the ones that you may see the most, but remember that those long delays sitting on the tarmac are because of the antiquated Air Traffic Control systems. Something that your Flight Attendants and Pilots can NOT control.

Snow? Sure, there will be upcoming delays due to snow, but stop and remember how you got to the airport.  Did you drive fast or slow because of the visibility? What were the road conditions, was it slippery? Icy? Were cars going quicker or slower around you? Were there any vehicles in the ditch because of the road conditions?

When it snows, many things have to happen on top of the normal operation of getting your plane to the runway.

Snow has to be removed from the gate area in order for the plane to see the center taxi line so it doesn't taxi off of the taxi-ways.

Just like the roads and highways, special snow-removal trucks go out to clear the snow and ice on the taxi-ways, as well as the runways, to ensure these are clear for the planes.

If it's close to freezing and raining, sleeting, or snowing, then your plane may have to be de-iced, especially from ice and snow. Some airlines have a system  where you taxi to a specific location set up by the airport to get de-iced, but you are still being de-iced in order of your take-off slot. Some airlines will de-ice your plane at the gate.

Both instances are  done with the engines turned off. This prevents any fluid getting into the air that you breathe on the planes. Special trucks will quickly go around the plane to remove as much snow and ice as possible. Once this is done, you may smell a slight odor upon engine start, but that's normal.

Hopefully there won't be too many delays this upcoming winter season, but do take a second and ask yourself how you got to the airport and what the conditions were like. Don't take the frustrations of delays out on the innocent flight crews, they want to get you to your destination as much as you want to get to your destination.

Have a specific cruise that you need to get to? Some cruise lines will give you an estimated time from your flight arrival to the ship, but remember that that's on a good day. If you have a cruise and it's snowing at your departure city, there is nothing the airlines can do because the ship left without you. Always remember that the reason for your delay is for your safety, snow has to be removed in order for the plane to take off. You can't rush weather delays, especially snow delays.  All we have to do is remember back to January of 1982 the Air Florida crash into the 14th Street Bridge in Washington, DC and plunged into the icy Potomac River.

Despite some improper de-icing procedures that American Airlines had at Washington National Airport at the time, it was freezing and snowing, the crew did not activate the engine anti-ice system. Analysis of the cockpit voice recorder determined that, during the departure checklist, the copilot announced, the pilot confirmed, that the plane's own engine anti-icing system was turned off. This system uses heat from the engines to prevent sensors from freezing and providing inaccurate readings.

Adding to the plane's troubles was the pilots' decision to maneuver closely behind a DC-9 that was taxiing just ahead of the Air Florida aircraft prior to takeoff, due to their mistaken belief that the warmth from the DC-9's engines would melt the snow and ice that had accumulated on Flight 90's wings. This action — which went specifically against flight manual recommendations for an icing situation — actually contributed to additional icing on the 737. By sitting behind the preceding aircraft, the exhaust gases melted the snow on the wings. During take off, instead of falling off the plane, this slush mixture then froze on the wings' leading edges and the engine inlet nose cone.

So, remember next time there are severe delays due to the snow outside, stop to remember that rushing the departure will lead to steps not being taken or missed. That is something NONE of us want to happen. 

When  you sit down for dinner during the holidays after a flight, stop and be sure to be Thankful of the miraculous feats that got you there, even if you did get there late.

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