It is awe-inspiring the things we can do with aircraft. Although it happens thousands of times a day, the airlines fly people to their destinations more or less on time with luggage usually arriving coincidentally or only a day later. When we think of the logistics involved of moving flights around the country and the ground handling infrastructure needed to support the airlines, it really is amazing.
However, due to the extreme efficiency of the airlines, or perhaps not, when a snow storm fouls the Northeast—not an unknown occurrence—it all falls apart. The news of a Jet Blue flight stranded on a the ramp at Bradley last week is something from another world – not one of the more advanced countries on the planet. It’s similar to being trapped on an escalator!
I’ve often had delays in GA related to winter weather since the aircraft I usually fly don’t do ice and heavy snow is something best avoided. There is much to be learned from this situation. First, all the airlines flights going to Newark had enough fuel to get to an alternate – something that some GA pilots haven’t quite figured out even going to the primary airport. ATC did an excellent job of coping with the influx into Bradley and everyone got down safely.
It will be illuminating to see how “Blue” management and the airport deal with the fact that it collectively took them seven hours to figure out how to get people off a parked aircraft. Built-in boarding ladders aren’t just a good idea if a Jetway is the only way to get off. I even vaguely remember when every airport had portable stairs – before the era of the bridge. Maybe a lifeboat system would work. It’s the basis for a great Seinfeld episode.
The airlines are stuck with going where and when they say they’re going – it’s the basis of their business. In GA we have the flexibility of NOT going with the herd and when things start to get ugly – don’t go there! Last year, I had my worst airline delay in a decade, when after giving a safety program at the University of North Dakota, the airline system took two days to recover from a wind event. (Get used to that as the political season heats up.) There are plenty of places one might prefer to get stranded but the distractions were minimal and the people are friendly.
In most cases disruptive weather moves off in 3 or 8 hours . GA can fly but the airlines have equipment hubbed and spoked everywhere and it can take a long time to reconfigure especially as the number of available seats declines. Airports share responsibility for imprisonment debacles and really need to figure out how to deal with international flights when Customs isn’t immediately available. It just doesn’t seem that difficult but then I clearly don’t understand.