Summer Thunderstorms and Airline Traffic

Pardon my rant, but we are coming up on thunderstorm season. Last week, I spent two hours on an airplane listening to a man irrationally rant about Delta Air Line’s horrible service.  Since events like this will become even more common as the atmosphere gets hotter in the summer, I would like to explain this to anyone who may be stuck on an airplane, sitting at the gate. Stop complaining.

Allow me to set the stage:  The plane is leaving Washington, D.C. for Atlanta, Georgia. Between Dulles and Atlanta, a line of thunderstorms was painting yellow and red on the Weather Channel’s radar, and probably worse in the cockpit. Yellow means bad and red means REALLY bad, like, unsafe bad. Even dark green can mean the flight will be very uncomfortable and you will not get your Coke and pretzels.  You cannot even get up to go to the bathroom when the radar is painting dark green.  But when the radar turns yellow and red, the FAA’s Air Route Traffic Control Center (ARTCC) will very likely institute a ground stop or a gate hold. Last week’s ground stop came from Atlanta ARTCC.

What is a ground stop?  In simplest terms and in this case, it means aircraft coming into Atlanta have to stay where they are, no matter where they were coming from. They cannot take off. More than likely, the plane cannot even leave the gate. Why? There is only so much asphalt available at any airport. There are only so many gates available for parking. Planes need to leave before more planes can land. This is not Delta’s fault. It is not even the FAA’s fault. If you must blame someone, blame God for the storms. With a ground stop, planes are held at the departure point to avoid a backlog on the ground at the arrival point. Pure and simple.

Here is what I know. Pilots do not get paid until the aircraft leaves the gate. If you have a gate hold, I can promise you that pilot is not any happier than this than you are. Pilots love to fly. This is a universal truth. Every pilot loves to fly; otherwise, they would not risk their livelihood with every visit to the doctor.  Pilots put their career on the lines every time they go to the doctor for even a cold, and every six months for a first class FAA medical exam.  Sinuses, blood pressure, and blood sugar are three factors that can end a career.

Delta does not like flight delays. American does not like flight delays. Air traffic control hates flight delays. No airline likes flight delays. The fuel to run the power on the ground to keep the air conditioner running is not free. Flight delays mean inconvenienced and unhappy passengers, but flight delays cost money. Who do you think is paying to keep the air conditioning on, while you sit at the gate? Regardless of what you think, every airline wants happy passengers. Even the worst airline wants happy passengers. No one is trying to make you unhappy. No one is trying to inconvenience you. This I know:  as inconvenienced as you are, multiply this times at least 1000 for the airline.  The airline has to reschedule hundreds of flights, flight crews, ground crews, and passengers. It is a lot of work.

Next time you are sitting at the gate, wondering whether you will make your connecting flight, think about the value of flight safety. Thunderstorms are dangerous and the danger extends beyond the clouds themselves.  Wouldn’t you rather be safe?  Seriously?

 

 

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