Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Delta Flight 619, January 6, 2015: An Exercise in Stationary Flying

“Leaving on a jet plane” should not be an adventure today. It’s simple: 1) Get to the airport early; 2) check in; 3) Sail through TSA; 4) Board early; 5) Stow your overhead luggage; 6) Find your seat; 7) Watch the cabin door shut and the ramp push back; 8) take off and 9) Land, avoiding chop, thunder, and lightning en route. The adventure and excitement should be at the departure or arriving destination. Think of Disneyland or Knott’s Berry Farm in Orange County. There should thereby be even less excitement on a stationary plane at the terminal. Here I am on a six hour layover at Salt Lake City Airport looking out at the beautiful snow covered Wasatch Mountains. “Delta is ready when you are,” but Reagan National Airport in Washington, D.C. is not. Delta was great today, but not National Airport (I’m sure President Reagan would be ashamed to have his name associated with the airport on a day like today.) Flight 619 was scheduled to depart at 7:30AM, eastern time with a one hour layover for the connecting flight. We boarded, the door was armed, the gangway drawn back, and watched a humorous video while waiting to taxi off. While waiting, and waiting, and waiting, and waiting – 4 ½ hours of waiting. 619 lifted off at noon. Winter flying can be a challenge. Global Winter arrived a few hours early. The roads were icy, the ice sticking to the plane, and snow covering the tarmac. Clearly chemical deicing (external liquid antifreeze) was in order. Too many people, especially pilots, remember the 27 fatalities on US Air 405, leaving La Guardia on March 22, 1992, which experienced inadequate deicing. Take your time deicing; you only have one chance at a time to do it right. It’ll just be a short wait until the plane was deiced. No problem. We’re on an early flight out. I left the Frost Belt in 1996, but I remember how deicing worked. The plane taxis out to the deicing equipment just prior to take off. The plane upon deicing proceeds directly to the departure runway and take off. Not at National! Two deicing trucks came to the plane for the spraying process. However, by the time they deiced several planes, the runways had to be replowed. Deiced planes had to be re-deiced, sometimes for a total of three deicings. The trucks never made it to our 7:30 flight until after ten o’clock. Yes, they’re working in pairs. I will still be able to make the 3:03 connection. Nope; one of the trucks ran out of fluid. It didn’t return until about 11:30 to complete the process. Wheels down on 619 ten minutes before the connecting 3:03 departure. It’ll be tight, but it was only two gates away. Three minutes too late. The door was closed three minutes before I reached it. And now I’m enjoying the view, scheduled to arrive in Orange County 20½ hours after the early wakeup to get to the airport. Why is Delta commendable? First, Delta doesn’t control these operations. The airport does. Second, the pilot kept us fully informed of the situation. Twice he reported that he was told it would be only a few minutes for the trucks to come to 619. Indeed, they were working one plane away. Nope. At one point he was so frustrated he left the plane to talk firsthand with operations. So, were we stuck in an aluminum cigar tube on the tarmac, reliving the horror stories of the past? No, the captain had the gangway reattached to the plane and the door opened. We were “free to move about, “ to leave the plane, rebook, purchase food, or just walk around. Many did. We may have been frustrated, but there was no claustrophobic feeling. The flight crew was very understanding. Delta’s computers did the rebooking while I was in flight. Today’s odyssey in stationary travels reminds me why I like to get to the airport early, especially in winter. __________________________________________________________________________________________________________________ Posted on January 7

No comments: