Winter Yuck

2009-12-05 Another account of the five percent  2010-10-22 Bizarre

I've frequently said that 95% of the time this job is absolutely the best. That continues to be true but, as with many things in life, it's the 5% that gets all the press. Here is no exception.

Every winter we get our first inauguration into the usually snowy drill of dealing with de-icing. Frost is common and requires a quick de-icing that doesn't slow things down too much. But when its actively snowing, things get a lot worse. We do a two-part de-ice where they spray us down first with a de-ice solution then again with an expensive green slime that I've talked about elsewhere. In Baltimore one truck goes around de-icing while the slime truck follows behind.

Morning started out in Fort Myers with a quick, easy flight to Orlando. We swapped airplanes, a common inconvenience that stems mostly from the need to get airplanes into scheduled maintenance. In this case it wasn't so bad since we were giving up our older -300 (737-300) for a spanking new -700 to fly our remaining three flights MCO-BOS, BOS-MHT, and MHT-MDW.

Flying to Boston was rather nice until descent into its gray and snow. We did a normal approach and landing to a nice, on-time arrival. That would be the end of on-time.

Here is where the fun begins.

We fueled up, loaded up, pushed back and headed for the de-ice pad. This large ramp at runway 15R's approach can accommodate probably 5 airplanes up to widebody size with room for circling de-ice trucks.

When we got in line for de-ice, a line that wasn't moving very fast, we were number 12 or so. The snowstorm had come early so the company didn't have its full complement of trucks ginned up. Slower movement meant that it took us almost two hours to get to the up-next position. When we went to start one of the motors, there was a problem. Oh no, no, no...not now. Not now!

In spite of what I consider the best maintained fleet in the industry, problems happen. In this case, a fault with our Auxiliary Power Unit (APU) prevented airflow to start the motor combined with an unusual indication that left us not wanting to do experimenting using air from the other motor. We had to return to the gate.

You can fly without an APU but, for reasons that are beyond my pay grade, they elected to swap airplanes. Probably because they didn't know how much time it would take to troubleshoot the whole thing.

As you can imagine this was, by now, one unhappy group of passengers. How can you blame them? We were just doing our best with the conditions at hand. Our flight attendants did a great job and most were in surprisingly good spirits, taking winter in stride.

We headed over to the other gate to await the arrival of our new ride. My F/O had wisely put our name in the pushback hat which was now running about an hour, meaning that, when you called for push, you were put in a queue that was taking about an hour. That's just to push back.

Welcome back, Jeff. I'd been off for over three weeks of vacation and this was my return-to-service trip.

The new plane came in and we loaded up. Then the ground stop to Boston went into effect. Great. Somewhere in there we realized there were no bags on the plane. In the melee, nobody had realized the bags hadn't been moved yet from our other plane. The ground guys went to work quickly and got the bags transferred.

Finally, the ground stop was cancelled, bags were loaded and we headed out for de-ice. This time it went faster as they had all the trucks running. We got de-iced, slimed and soon took off in pretty short order for Boston. The starlight flight to Boston was uneventful with another landing in an increasing snowstorm. At this point, though, we'd been working for 13 hours and would soon "time out." That didn't matter because our last flight to Chicago, scheduled hours earlier, had been stubbed, meaning that another airplane flew it so that it would leave on time. That left us to deadhead (ride in the back) to Chicago.

I arrived in MDW almost 16 hours after starting in nice, warm Ft. Myers. My F/O was lucky in that he lives shuttle-drive distance from Boston and just went home.

Ahhh the life...

Boy am I thankful for these guys!

Not to sound like a commercial but I've got to tell you that Southwest is strongly biased against canceling flights. They'll run them late--sometimes really late--but usually run them.

2015 Jeff Goin   Remember: If there's air there, it should be flown in!