• Delays

    Snow and ice are great delay sources, and one of my more interesting experiences dates back to my C-5 days. My Air Force Reserve squadron was recalled to active duty during Desert Shield/Storm, as was every C-5 unit in the reserves. Now you wouldn't think offhand that snow or ice would be a problem in the Saudi desert, but of course we had to pass through Europe in the dead of winter to get there. On this particular night the snow was falling fast, and the ground crews at Rhein Main AB, in Frankfurt Germany, were hard put to remove it from the giant airlifters. Deicing in the Air Force is the same as it is at the airline - squads of deicing vehicles surround the airplane and spritz it with a variety of high tech fluids carefully formulated to remove and prevent the accumulation of snow and ice. Airlines keep fleets of these vehicles at the northern airports, and can handle dozens of airplanes at a time. But the Air Force, at least at Rhein Main, had only a few of them, and they kept running out of fluid and having to be refilled. Understandable, since the volume of deice fluid that it took to douse a C-5 must have been such as to fill a super tanker!


    Since our journey involved a trip to Saudi and then back to Spain, we were already facing a long duty day. Ostensibly, our duty day lasted 24 hours, just like your average day-in-the-life. We could go longer, if we ourselves initiated the request, but those waivers were not always forthcoming. And so began a pas-de-deux between us and the command post as we tried to speed up the deicing process. We informed them of the limits that duty time put on our deicing, but to little avail. Since none of us was particularly interested in going to Spain on the flipside, we eventually stopped badgering the CP and just sat back and waited. Since it takes over 30 minutes to deice a C-5, and we were about number 4 in the lineup, we ended up going illegal, just as we had warned the bosses. And so ensued another bag drag as the entire crew lined up on the 30 or so foot high entry ladder and passed our belongings hand to hand down to the snowy tarmac. Back to the crew hotel we went, to fight another day. Of course, there were a score or two of aircrews at Rhein Main that night, so the CP had no trouble getting another crew, whom they wisely called out just before the deicing was eventually started. We live and learn!

    A flight to Bermuda from JFK is only around 90 minutes long, and when it also has a 32 hour layover on that delightful island it is a pleasure indeed. One evening we left the gate right on time, but unfortunately just as a line of thunderstorms was bearing down on the New York area. Early evening at JFK is rush hour, and the lineup was nearly 60 airplanes long, with us starting out in the tail-end-charlie position.

    Back of the line

    When things get this congested at JFK, the conga line wraps entirely around the airport, sometimes even using runways as taxiways to double up with the adjacent parallel taxiways. So things were that night. One by one, the western departure gateways were shut down as the storm drew closer, and that got things stalled completely, since the number one through five airplanes were all westbounds. You would think that someone might have anticipated that, and held the west departures off to one side somehow, but no.


    Now in gridlock, the entire lineup watched from their cockpits as nature unleashed one of the most spectacular displays of lightning and thunder I have ever witnessed - the lightning was so close by and frequent that you could read by it on the darkened flight deck. We took nervous comfort in the notion that due to its rubber tires the airplane was insulated from the ground, but a time or two that confidence was shaken as lightning struck nearby.


    It took the storm nearly 30 minutes to move away from the immediate vicinity of the airport, but our ordeal was not yet done, because now the south and east departure gates were still shut off, and only a dribble of westbound flights were able to get out initially. All in all, our out-to-off delay was over two hours, which was considerably longer than our eventual flight time to the island! Fortunately, the passengers had been front row witnesses to the spectacle outside, and needed no reminding that in flying, as in life, discretion is sometimes the better part of valor. This was one delay no one complained about!

    Tags: delays

    1. allanj12's Avatar
      allanj12 -
      Thanks for sharing the reminiscences, Tony. They brought back one or two shudders of my own travels!
    1. jgmustang's Avatar
      jgmustang -
      Amtrak might take longer, but it is a lot more fun.
    1. dbauder's Avatar
      dbauder -
      Tony, thanks for the anecdotes. As a retired Captain, I believe every one, been there done that, to an extent. I created my own delay one day. I was to take off from Tampa Florida (KTPA) one January morning and there was some frost on the wings. I asked the Agent what deicing was available and she laughed. She said the Captain the previous morning parked uphill on the crossover bridge (not on the actual bridge). Therefore, we were facing west and the wings were fully facing the sun in the east. It only took twenty minutes to 'defrost'.
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