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Location: Massachusetts, United States

Sunday, December 07, 2008

The Great New York Deicing Debacle

My day started well: commuting to work went without a hitch. So it was with a spring in my step that I tackled the five-leg day, which started too early and would end at midnight, if all went according to plan.
A look at my schedule, however, showed out and backs between New York and Washington all day. Not good.
I got the airplane ready, without a captain in sight. Minutes before departure, he arrived and we were soon on our way.
I took off and banked to the south on our way to Washington. During the flight we noted a slight vibration but couldn't pinpoint its origin. We varied thrust settings and speeds to make note of when it manifested itself and at the conclusion of another very satisfying River Visual to 19, I landed uneventfully.
The captain wrote up the mechanical issue, causing the airplane to be grounded and our next leg to New to cancel. So we sat. For five long hours, until our next JFK turn.
A worried passenger on his way to Israel approached us. "Will I make my connection," he asked, having noticed the delay of the inbound aircraft. We promised to do our best.
We pulled into the gate in New York ahead of our revised arrival time. I think the Israel-bound man made his flight.
After our new passenger load had boarded, we called for de-icing. It had been snowing for an hour now and the airplane was covered in a dusting of the white stuff.
"I think both trucks are broken," an operations person radioed back.
I reminisced about the same situation last year, roughly around this time of year, ahead of the first forecast snow. Again, it seemed the company had managed to be taken by surprise by a completely expected need for the de-icing equipment to work.
After a half-an-hour, we finally pulled into the de-icing pad. The truck sprayed us with heated Type I fluid, then the longer-lasting Type IV. But seconds into the application of the second fluid, the driver informed us that the truck had once again broken down. Tired and frustrated passengers could do little more than watch the crew outside fiddling with the wounded machine.
It took so long that we were about to reach our holdover time, that point at which de-icing fluid loses its effectiveness.
After much back and forth and some huffing and puffing from us and a company aircraft waiting in line behind us to be sprayed, our rampies borrowed a truck from another airline and for the second time of the evening de-iced us from scratch. Two full hours after closing the aircraft door, we reached the runway and arrived at our gate in Washington at 1:30 a.m.
While we sat on the de-icing pad in New York, I couldn't help but feel terrible for our passengers. It's no fun sitting in cramped jet, exhausted, late at night with little ventilation (our air conditioning system has to be shut off during the de-icing process to avoid fumes from entering the cabin). We tried our best to keep them informed on what was happening, however embarassing it was, but knew they were angry at us.
I don't blame them.
What they might not have realized, however, is that we were angry too. Both my captain and I are commuters, so by the time we arrived at our hotel we had been up for close to 20 hours. We wanted to get going as badly as any passenger but could not believe the comedy of errors that unfolded before our eyes. Two hours to de-ice one airplane, admittedly twice, is simply unacceptable. The company should provide equipment in working condition both for the safety of the rampers operating it and for the overall efficiency of the operation. But especially these days money talks and corners are cut. God bless those rampers for working in such conditions. I admired their resolve to get us cleaned up, eventhough the weather was lifting, and their dedication to safety in the face of these daily challenges.
It should be an interesting winter.


Anonymous zylhuette said...

your a very considerate man knowing what passenger is thinking makes you a good captain someday
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