Three Times the Love

IMG_2908Can you believe I’ve been working at the airport three years now? Three years! Three years of stalking airplanes. Three years of fighting the urge to ride around on the baggage carousel. And three years of being taunted by several sets of mobile stairs which have been parked outside the department window the ENTIRE time!

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In looking back on this past year there have been some pretty darn awesome moments. I got to see A-10s fly into my airport. Never in a million years did I ever think I’d see that! And a few weeks later I got to see Osprey fly in. Crazy, right? I went to Wings Over Pittsburgh and had an amazing time with some amazing friends. I got to hang out with more amazing friends at Oshkosh and I interviewed the Blue Angels. That’s right – someone was crazy enough to let me near the Blue Angels! I had a fantastic visit behind the scenes with American Airlines at CLT on Aviation Day. I helped out with a couple of podcasts. And I introduced a group of girls to the joys of flying. Yep, it has been quite a year!

IMG_2936But work has become a bit challenging in recent months. There have been some changes which have resulted in an increased workload, just as we head into the busiest time of year. Change isn’t a bad thing, but it can be stressful.  And as the amount of work increases, the stress does too.

The first casualty of all this was deice. I had been so excited to help out on the deice pad again this year. I really love being out there with the airplanes and seeing those amazing sunrises on the ramp! But the more stressed I became trying to do my regular job, the more I realized I couldn’t take on anything else, especially not something that can mean 12 hour days and additional stress. (Let’s face it – directing traffic on a busy morning on the deice pad is not always easy.) Having to say no to deice absolutely broke my heart.

IMG_2842Then my plane spotting began to suffer. I found myself unable to get away from my desk, even skipping lunch sometimes. After work I was tired and just wanted to get home. It came to a head one day when a plane spotter friend texted me that there were two C-130s on the airfield. Two C-130s! Sweet! I really wanted to go see them, but my task list was a mile long and felt like I just didn’t have the time.

FullSizeRender (85)At that moment it hit me. The whole reason I work for an airport is because there are airplanes outside the window. Am I really going to turn down the chance to go see a couple of C-130? Oh. Hell. NO! So I threw on a jacket and up top I went. I saw the Hercs and they were every bit as fantastic as I knew they would be. I thought about all the other amazing planes I have seen this year and I vowed right then and there not to let the work ruin the love. No matter how stressed or busy I am, I will ALWAYS make time for the airplanes. And you know what?  Spending my 30 minute lunch break away from my desk doing something I enjoy makes me so much happier and more productive when I get back. The truth is, being stressed at work at an airport is a THOUSAND times better than being stressed at any other job.

IMG_2781So what’s ahead for the next year? Well, I have an FBO visit coming up. And I’m hearing rumors that we might be visiting the ATC tower in the spring. Plus I’m already dreaming about a return trip to Oshkosh. Who knows what other adventures will come my way. If there is one thing I’ve learned in the last three years, it’s that sometimes the best moments happen totally unexpectedly, and sometimes the ordinary things are the most special.

Author’s Note: Guess what else is celebrating its three year anniversary?  This blog!  THANK YOU SO MUCH to all my readers.  You guys are the best!

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The Teams Behind the Scenes

IMG_2671For people living in the United States, late November kicks off one of the busiest travel seasons of the year. Over 28 million people are expected to take to the skies over the Thanksgiving holiday alone.  Travelers are counting on the airlines to get them safely to their destinations. What they may not know, however, is that there are a whole host of airport personnel working behind the scenes to keep things running smoothly.

Custodians

Yes, the custodial teams are responsible for keeping the airport clean, but they actually do so much more. Custodians spend a lot of time out and about in the terminal and often find themselves on the front lines of customer care. We’ve had custodians buy food for stranded passengers, search for (and find) lost jewelry, and one quick-thinking custodian even provided a pair of uniform pants to an unfortunate traveler who spilled a drink all over himself.  Our custodians have also been trained to watch for suspected victims of human trafficking and to report suspicious activity to the airport police.  Never underestimate the impact that a solid, compassionate custodial team can make.

IMG_2709Building Maintenance

Like any other building, airport terminals require plenty of upkeep. When a pipe bursts in the bathroom, or when there’s a power outage, or when the baggage system stops working, who are you going to call? Yep – building maintenance. If they can’t fix it, they’ll bring in someone who can. Next time you find yourself walking through an airport terminal in the middle of the night, remember that folks from the Building Maintenace department are there too, keeping an eye on things.

Operations

The Operations Department is charged with making sure airport operations go smoothly at all hours. This includes things like issuing NOTAMs, chasing off flocks of birds and coordinating snow operations. A few years ago an airline that is not based at my airport had to divert in the middle of the night due to mechanical issues. Since the airline had no staff on site it was the Ops team that arranged a gate, greeted passengers and ordered pizza for them while a maintenance crew was being summoned.

IMG_2504Airfield Maintenance

The airfield teams are charged with making sure the runways and taxiways remain clean and clear. Too wet? They’ll suck up the excess water. Too snowy? They’ll get the plows going. Too much rubber build-up? Summon the brooms! If a big winter storm is forecast the teams will sometimes stay at one of the airport hotels so that they won’t get stranded at home.

Communications Center

The Communication Center personnel act as the eyes and ears of the airport. They monitor the fire and security systems, dispatch police and ARFF as needed and just generally watch over things. Ever gone out to your car in an airport parking lot only to find it won’t start? I have. Calling AAA is useless since they don’t have access to gated parking areas, so guess who I called for help? Yep – the Communications Center. They dispatched a service truck to help get me on my way.

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Airlines and ATC

Of course I’d be remiss if I didn’t give a big shout-out to the airlines and ATC as well. Pilots, flight attendants, gate agents, rampers, ticket agents, station masters, mechanics, dispatchers and air traffic controllers will all be giving up time with their families to make sure passengers get home to theirs. So if you’ll be traveling by air this holiday season, give your flight crews a smile and spare a thought for all the teams working behind the scenes to get you safely on your way.

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Double Trouble

IMG_1661I realized something wasn’t right when I saw the Southwest Boeing 737 flying low and slow over my neighborhood. It was much lower than it should have been. Plus it was coming from the wrong direction, completely outside the normal approach and departure patterns.

Being the dedicated (OK, obsessed might be a better word) avgeek that I am, I quickly looked up my airport on FlightAware. I could see from the flight tracker data that the airplane in question had taken off from the south runway and immediately circled back around. It proceeded to do two low approaches, first over one runway and then the other. Then it turned sharply to the northwest, which is what had brought it over my house.

IMG_0831Hoping to pick up some information from ATC communications, I listened intently to LiveATC while my brain went over a list of potential scenarios. Bird strike? Flap issue? Gear or tire problem? Then I heard one of the Southwest pilots come on the radio and use a word that caught my immediate attention: emergency. I have listened to a lot of ATC communications over the years, but this was the first time I have ever heard that word used concerning a flight from my airport.

Over the course of the next few minutes I learned that the plane had apparently blown one of the nose gear tires on take-off. They needed to hold for awhile, so ATC directed them into a holding pattern to the east of me. A friend who is a captain on the 737 explained that the pilots needed to burn off fuel to get the plane as light as possible to lessen the load on the remaining tire for landing.

FullSizeRender (83)At this point I had a decision to make. Should I drive the 15 miles to the airport to watch the flight come back in? I was tempted.  But I was afraid that while I was driving I might miss out on important communications or other developments. I consoled myself with the fact that when the plane made the western arc of its holding pattern I could see it from my back yard. Granted, I had to stand on the patio table. On my tiptoes. Doesn’t everyone watch airplanes that way? Actually… don’t answer that.

Anyway, it’s just as well I decided to stay put because right at this time I heard the pilot of a Cirrus call up ATC. He announced that they were losing oil pressure and needed to land right away. Suddenly the controllers were handling not one, but two emergency aircraft. Emergencies happen – ATC and airports are well trained to deal with them.  But two emergencies at once?  Definitely less common, especially for an airport the size of mine.

IMG_1361During the time that the Southwest flight was holding, ATC had allowed other planes to take off and land. However, when the pilot of the Cirrus called in, the Southwest flight had just left the hold and was preparing to do a final low approach before landing. As a result, ATC had stopped departures and was clearing traffic from the area around the airport. This presented something of a problem for the emergency Cirrus, who had requested immediate clearance to land.

IMG_1360Fortunately, we have a large cargo airport located just a few miles to the south of the passenger airport.  ATC recommended landing there and the Cirrus pilot agreed. ATC then proceeded to give him vectors to the airport. The Cirrus landed without incident.  Shortly afterwards, the Southwest flight completed its final low approach and circled around to a safe landing. They were even able to taxi to the gate with no issues.

I’ll admit – following along while these two events unfolded was quite riveting, but not for the reasons you might think. You may have noticed that my account does not contain any of the following words: panic, terrified, frantic, dire. These are words often used by the media to describe emergency situations in aviation. And occasionally they might be warranted, but not in this case. In fact, not in the majority of cases. More appropriate words would be: calm, professional, efficient, collaborative. It was an excellent example of the training and hard work by pilots, ATC, ARFF and Operations that goes on every day at airports around the world.

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Note: The planes featured in the photos on this post are not the planes that were involved in the incidents described.

© http://www.talesfromtheterminal.com 2017

AAmazing AAviation Day!

IMG_1159In the United States, National Aviation Day is held on August 19.  Here’s how I’ve celebrated at work the last couple years:

  • I bring in cookies.
  • Everyone eats them.

Yeah… not very exciting or inspiring. This year, however, I lucked into a very coveted ticket to attend AAviation Day at one of my favorite places – Charlotte Douglas International Airport! No, that’s not a spelling error – the extra “A” in “AAviation” is a nod to American Airlines who, in conjunction with the Airline Geeks, put together an awesome behind-the-scenes tour at the nation’s 5th busiest airport. Can you say avgeek heaven? Oh yeah!

IMG_1013I kicked things off early by parking on the very top level of the garage. No way was I going to pass up the chance to do a little pre-event plane spotting! (And lets face it, if they handed out diplomas for plane spotting from parking garages, I’d have a PhD!) My dedication paid off – I got my very first look at Amazon’s Prime Air 767. Sweet!

From there I made my way to the terminal to meet up with the rest of the group. There were about 12 of us altogether. I expected that most attendees would be from the Charlotte area. Wrong! In fact only one of the group lives near CLT. The rest were from places like New York, Texas, Florida and even California and Washington! Some of us work in aviation and some don’t, but all of us were kids in a candy store the whole day.

IMG_1189The tour began with a visit to the Operations Tower. Wow – what a view! And what a lot of computer equipment! The Operations Tower is responsible for all aircraft movement on the ramp. I wish we had a set-up like that for deice pad control in the winter! But then again, the ramp at CLT is a MUCH busier place with 600+ flights per day. We were allowed to wander around the room, examine the different work stations and ask questions. I honestly could have stayed for hours!

Our next stop was out onto the roof where we had a fabulous view of the ramp. The entire group went camera-happy, snapping pics almost non-stop. I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many American airplanes all in one spot! Good thing there wasn’t deck furniture and a cabana (and drinks) up there or they might have had some trouble convincing me to leave!

From the roof we went all the way down to the ground level for a walking tour of the ramp (with ear plugs and high-viz vests, of course). Being around the airplanes and crews and ground equipment was simply spectacular. There was so much going on – it’s much busier than what I am used to! Alas, there was not a single stairs truck in sight! Fortunately there were so many airplanes and so much to see that I didn’t mind.

After the ramp tour, we visited the American Airlines offices and enjoyed lunch in a cool, comfortable conference room. (Did I mention that the temps were a toasty 90F+ outside?) Several executives from American joined us and we were able to chat with them about how the company has grown over the years, as well as some of their future challenges.

FullSizeRender (81)After lunch, the awesomeness continued with a tour of the training facility. We met in a conference room first to learn a little about the training program itself and watch a video about the history of American Airlines. Then we visited the egress training area where Flight Attendants learn how to operate various types of emergency exits. Seeing the cut-away plane interiors was actually quite fascinating. They even had an E145 fuselage (minus the nose, wings and tail).

From there we moved into one of the flight simulator rooms. There were three Airbus A320 sims in this particular room, all of which were in use.  (The facility has approximately 13 sims of various types.) It was fascinating to watch the sims move around and to speculate on the scenarios that the pilots inside might be facing.

Our last stop of the day was the American Airlines maintenance facility. The first thing I noticed when I walked in the door is how big it is. Similar to the Boeing factory in Seattle, employees use bikes to get around. We walked through fabrication areas and past the parts room on our way out to the hangars where there were three planes undergoing maintenance. I can tell you this – I do NOT want to be the person assigned to work on the top of the tail! Then again, climbing up and down all those flights of stairs would definitely be good exercise!

Our last event of the day was a visit inside one of the planes in the hangar (an A320). We examined the cockpit and then lounged in first class for several minutes. I also checked out the seats in the back and found them to be roomier than expected.

All too soon, however, it was time to exit the plane, take our final group photo and catch a shuttle back to the terminal.  I couldn’t believe it was time to say goodbye already! We were so busy the day just flew by.  Fortunately we had new friendships, amazing memories and some cool swag to take away with us.

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Look!  I found the motorized stairs!!!

As a passionate aviation enthusiast who happens to work in the industry, I have had many amazing avgeek experiences. However, I can honestly say that AAviation Day ranks right up at the top. A HUGE thank you goes out to Ryan Ewing and the Airline Geeks for all they did to plan and organize the event, as well as the wonderful staff at American Airlines for making the day so special!

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So what do you think? Are you crazy jealous and wondering how you can experience AAviation Day for yourself? Check out the Airline Geeks website and follow them on twitter. Events were held at all of American’s hubs, as well as two locations overseas. And the ticket cost? Zero. Zip. Nada. Free! But you have to pay attention if you want to score one. If this year was any indication, next year will be even bigger and better. Hope to see you there!

For You, Airline Crews

PRMY7206There has been a lot of bad press for the airlines lately. It upsets me because I know that the people involved in these incidents are NOT representative of the vast majority of airline employees. I see crews and gate agents and ground handlers every day. I see them showing up to work at crazy early hours. I see them still working late at night. And even when the day has been stressful with bad weather and canceled flights, they still manage to laugh when I see them on the shuttle at the end of the day.

IMG_8025So this is for you, pilots and cabin crews. I see you in the parking lot heading to the terminal. Most of you are commuting to your bases for the start of your trips. I often wonder just how far you have to go before your working day begins. And let’s face it, in a lot of ways once the uniform is on, you ARE working. I see passengers asking you questions and looking to you for guidance, even though at this point you’re technically just a passenger too.

This is for you, being part of an industry where you aren’t allowed to have a bad day. Any mistake or misunderstanding can be videoed and sent out to the masses in 140 characters or less, which is never enough to really tell the whole story. You deal with thousands of customers every year, doing your job well day after day and almost always with a smile. Then the bad behavior of a very few puts you under suspicion, even when you’ve done nothing wrong.

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By Maarten Visser from Capelle aan den IJssel, Nederland CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

This is for the baggage handlers working outside in the wind and freezing rain. It’s for the gate agents explaining a flight delay to frustrated passengers. And it’s for the pilots waving at excited children who are jumping up and down and pointing at the plane through the terminal window.  This is for the Southwest pilots who saw a military casket being removed from an American plane and out of respect for the fallen soldier, stopped their taxi until after the hearse left. This is for the flight attendants on the shuttle who had me laughing so hard at their stories that I couldn’t breathe. (And if you guys are reading – I continue to support your quest for casual Fridays!) This is for every one of you who works hard every day to make the aviation industry something I’m proud to be a part of:

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And for any of my aviation friends who may be feeling down or discouraged, I strongly encourage you to watch the movie Living in the Age of Airplanes. If you’ve seen it before, then watch it again. Or just watch this trailer. It’s a good reminder of just how amazing and wonderful and special aviation is!