It is still February as I write this, but I’m going to go out on a limb: The 2011-2012 winter flying season will go down as one of the easiest of my career. The 2010-2011 season will not. As you may recall, 2010-2011 gave us some of the most brutal winter conditions that we’ve seen in years. There were record amounts of snow, especially in the Northeast, and the temperatures were brutally cold. Decent language simply can’t describe how it too often felt just to walk outside. I spent so much time on the deicing pads last winter (or just waiting to get into the pads) that I could have used that time to read War and Peace. Twice.
This year has been the—here comes the winter time pun—polar opposite. It has been very mild, and snow has been relatively rare. The jet stream has been much farther north this year, and my flights have reflected that. While I have still run into the occasional 100-knot headwind, it’s been much less frequent. Most airlines adjust their block times on a seasonal basis, padding them in the winter for jet stream headwinds. Those winds have been so modest this year that I frequently arrive anywhere from 15 to 30 minutes early.
Deicing? Rare is that event this year. Even more unusual, I can usually get away with a single application of Type I or Type II fluid, which the company likes, because it is so much cheaper than having to get sprayed with Type IV. Type IV not only costs a lot more, but it also requires being sprayed with Type I or II first, so the cost is…well, it’s a lot. Come to think of it, I can probably count on one hand the number of times this year that I have had to deice more than once in a day, and I’d be willing to bet that to date I have not deiced more than three times in a day all season. Last year, I had days with five legs, and I deiced on all of them.
Everyone has their own opinion on the validity of global warming, but the reality is that the last few years have been extreme. La Nina and El Nino cycles have affected weather on large scales, and the payback for such a mild winter this year will be severe droughts in areas that can ill afford them (or more of them). Weather extremes have a negative impact on the economy, which affects the ability of people to take advantage of air travel for vacation or business travel. But, after last year, I was ready for a warm winter. Maybe not quite this warm, but from a day-at-the-office perspective, I’ll take it. After all, until you’ve had deicing fluid on your clothes or in your hair, you just can’t relate!—By Chip Wright