The Airport – What’s NOT To Love

Over the last few weeks I’ve highlighted some of the many reasons I love working at the airport.  Unsurprisingly, the vast majority of these involve airplanes and everything that goes into getting them up in the air and safely back down again.  However, in the interest of full disclosure I feel compelled to point out that working at the airport isn’t all sunshine and skittles.  There are certain things about it that are decidedly un-fun.

The Shuttle in the Morning

Shuttle Stop

Third of Five

As much as I enjoy plane spotting from the employee lot, I have to admit that riding a shuttle every day is no picnic. The process of getting into the lot, finding a place to park, waiting on the shuttle, riding to the terminal and then walking to my desk adds a good 15 minutes to my morning that I didn’t have to worry about back in the days when I parked in a lot right outside my office building. I’ve mastered the art of staying in my car and making the dash for the shuttle at the last possible minute, but even so I’m still subjected to the cold and wet.  Because the airport is a 24/7 operation, the employee lot is never completely empty, which means it isn’t possible to fully plow it.  This means there are always icy/snowy spots, so I have to dash carefully.  Just to get into the lot I depend on an electronic tag to open the gate.  If the tag doesn’t work I have to drive all the way around to long term parking, and catch THAT shuttle instead. This has happened to me more than once and let me tell you – it sucks.  Plus it adds yet another 5 minutes to my commute.

The Shuttle in the Evening

The shuttle ride in the morning is about five minutes.  The shuttle ride in the evening is about ten minutes because the traffic flow requires the shuttle to make a loop around to get back to the lot.  There are almost always more cars picking up and dropping off passengers in the evening which means crossing the street to get to the shuttle pick-up location can be an adventure.  There’s a cross walk and there are supposed to be security guards watching it, but all too often crossing the street ends up feeling like a real-life game of frogger, only a lot less fun.

The Ugly Hallway

ugly hallway

The most depressing hallway ever.

For an avgeek like myself, the airport is replete with large windows offering scenic views of the apron, the ATC Tower, and the runways. However, before I get to any of those lovely large windows I must first walk down one of the gloomiest hallways ever to exist outside a maximum security prison.  It’s long, narrow, windowless, dark and dingy.  It is more or less impossible to walk down that hallway without feeling majorly discouraged by the time you get to the end.  I’ve started a campaign to get someone (anyone!) to paint murals on the walls to try to brighten things up a little.  I’ll let you know how it goes.

Construction

In an effort to operate efficiently and offer the greatest amount of comfort and convenience to travelers, most airports have some form of construction going on at any given time.  My airport is in the midst of a very large terminal modernization project.  As a result half the place is torn apart.  They do a great job of maintaining pedestrian flow and taking care of passengers but I’m a bit tired of the endless jackhammering that seems to be going on over my head.

Alarms

Alarm Sign

Yes, it will. Loudly.

At an airport, security is absolutely critical.  Having to badge my way into and out of various locations is to be expected and is completely fine with me.  I don’t want troublemakers to get into secure areas – I work in those areas! I’m more than happy to put up with the extra hassle of having my badge on me at all times.  However, if you aren’t paying attention and attempt to go through a door without badging you’ll set off all kinds of alarms.  You can guess how I know this.  Yeah, that’ll wake you up first thing on a Monday.

People

OK, I actually don’t mind people.  What I do mind, however, is too much togetherness.  It starts the moment I get on the shuttle and doesn’t stop until I get off again after quitting time. And by togetherness, I mean TOGETHERNESS. There have been times when the shuttle has been standing room only and we’re essentially sitting on each other’s laps. The one bright side to this is that I do learn some interesting things from my fellow passengers.  For example, I recently got to listen to two United pilots attempt to figure out how their vacation scheduling system works.  You know a system is too complicated when it totally confuses two seasoned pilots whose jobs require them to be able to deal efficiently with complex systems!  Guess there won’t be any vacation for them this year. But hey, look on the bright side – it means they get to have even more crowded shuttle rides with me!

American Tails

Tails from the terminal

 

 

Airport Jobs I Wish I Had

If you’ve been following this blog, or if you follow me on twitter, then you know my current airport job isn’t especially exciting – I spend my time shuffling invoices, trying to make sure the bills get paid.  The highlight of my day (aside from lunch) is walking to my desk, which involves traversing a long hallway with floor to ceiling windows that looks out at gates B19 and B21 as well as at the runway beyond.  The rest of my day, unfortunately, is not so fun. But what if I could have ANY airport job? Even better, what if I could zero in on a specific portion of an airport job that looks like it would be really cool? In no particular order, here’s my list:

marshaller

Able to direct planes and defend the Republic.

Marshaller

You get to play with mini light sabers AND direct airplanes?  Count me in!  OK, I get that marshallers typically also have all kinds of other responsibilities as well – like loading and unloading baggage, cleaning and preparing the airplanes, etc.  However, if I could be JUST a marshaller, how awesome would that be? Well, awesome for ME anyway.  It’s questionable whether it would be at all awesome for the poor pilots who’d be stuck trying to follow my directions.  Captain: “What the heck is she doing?” First Officer: “It looks like she’s in the middle of a light saber battle.”

Jet Bridge Operator

I’m not sure why, but I’ve always thought it would be entertaining to operate the jet bridge.  For this reason alone it’s probably a good thing I’m not allowed anywhere near the controls.  Still, I’d like to give it a try, just once.

fuel truckFuel Truck Driver

No, I don’t want to be responsible for actually fueling airplanes – there are just too many ways that could go horribly wrong.  However, I think it would be a lot of fun to spend my day driving around on the apron. And since everyone needs the fuel truck, I’d be pretty popular.

Snowplow Driver

The snowplow offers less fire danger than the fuel truck, but more runway action!  Have you ever seen snowplows clear a runway?  It’s actually really cool to watch! They typically work in a group so they can move a lot of snow all at once.  If it has been a very snowy day, you can’t even see the plows as they’re working – they look like giant poof-balls of snow moving around on the runway.  Being part of a snowplow armada looks like it would be quite entertaining. I’m pretty sure I would totally love it.  I’m also sure the airfield people are busy putting extra locks on the snowplows right now.

bird

A hawk hangs out on the fence near the employee lot.

Bird Cannon Technician

In my two months on the job I’ve only heard the bird cannon once.  I’m not sure how much good it really did since the birds in question merely flew on over to the other runway.  However, it was really loud and therefore also really awesome.  Of course, I’d be extremely tempted to fire off the bird cannon for non-bird-related reasons… like just to make sure it still works.  Or because it’s lunch time.

Airplane De-icer/Anti-icer

The contraption that sprays the de-ice/anti-ice solutions on the airplanes reminds me of something out of star wars.  I think it would be quite entertaining to sit in there and spend my days spraying down planes. Ooops – I think I missed a spot.  Yeah, I better spray down that portion again. Let’s get the wings just one more time.  Oh look – they’re sending someone out to stop me.  Time for me to hop into the fuel truck and make a quick get away!

tower

That’s a lot of windows to wash!

ATC Tower INSIDE window washer

I think every avgeek has a secret (or maybe not-so-secret) desire to spend time in the tower.  Who wouldn’t want a spectacular view of the airport, the runways and all the goings-on? Hence my desire to be an inside window washer – I’d get all the awesome views with none of the awesome responsibility that the air traffic controllers have.  Please note my emphasis on INSIDE.  No way in hell I’d want to try to clean the windows on the outside.  Have you seen how high up they are?  No thank you!

Stairs Driver

To be honest, I don’t know if my airport actually has motorized stairs.  I suppose they might – after all I see airplanes parked out on the apron all the time and they must have some method of getting the crew out. However, I have yet to actually see any motorized stairs.  If they have them, though, I really want to try driving them around.  I promise I wouldn’t use them to sneak onto any airplanes.  Well, not often, anyway.

 

Want to see the stairs in action?  Check out this video from Top Gear BBC in which various airport vehicles race each other to determine which is the fastest.