Wednesday, November 2, 2011


Troubles on the tarmac


JetBlue, the low cost airline, is facing stiff penalties for letting roughly 100 passengers sit in a plane on the ground for seven - 7 - hours.

The food and drinks apparently ran out and the bathrooms apparently were at capacity, so passengers were more than a little "uncomfortable."

The question is not "What happened?" but "Why was it allowed to happen?"

The plane, from Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International (FLL) was bound for a northern airport. Before it got to its scheduled destination, weather conditions forced the airport to close.

The plane was diverted to another airport.

That, in itself, is not a major problem when passenger safety is the First Priority. Besides, diversions happen all the time.

But things went from bad to worse when the plane landed at the alternate airport.

Apparently shortly after the plane got on the ground, that airport also was closed due to weather conditions.

Now the problem goes from "worse" to "inexcusable."

I'm guessing that the newly landed aircraft - re-routed from another airport and unexpected at the airport where it landed - couldn't get a "gate," a jetway where passengers could disembark.

Since all flights were grounded, the planes already at the gate were "stuck" there; they could not leave for their destinations.

Realistically what could JetBlue have done? I'm a bit claustrophobic when planes are on the ground waiting for a gate so I gave this some serious consideration. I've also flown into a number of airports in the U.S. and elsewhere.

JetBlue could have done one of two things.

Thing 1, possibly the least inconvenient, would be to send a truck and buses to the plane.

The truck would bring stairs so passengers could safely get off the plane and onto the ground. This is not an emergency and there is no need to risk passenger injuries by using the emergency slides.

Lots of airports - probably most have mobile stairs and most airports have buses - if not owned and operated by the airlines, then airlines could borrow from the rental car companies or the airport authority, whichever runs the shuttles.

Thing 2, a little more inconvenient for the airline but a lot more satisfactory to the people paying to ride, would be to push back a grounded flight from a gate to make the gate available for the incoming flight.

Does this take a flight crew?

I don't think so.

It does take a push truck and a couple of people to guide the push truck's driver to avoid clipping other aircraft.

Where to put the moved birds? How about a maintenance area? What about the military section of the airport, assuming there is one and the Air National Guard gives its OK for "until the storm's over" parking permission.

In truth, the empty pushed back aircraft could be parked on the taxiways and runways, although getting them back can prove a logistics problem later. Use taxiways and runways as a last resort.

Lack of planning seems to be the bane of airlines.

Qantas' management grounded all its flights in the face of a threat of a strike. Management's pre-emptive strike.

While that may have seemed like a good idea at the time, management failed to gets its passengers booked on other airlines' flights. "Sorry, we're closed and you (passengers) are out of luck."

Then there was the Chief of Security at a U.S. airline that told me, after 9-11-2001, that terrorists couldn't get on board his airplanes using methods I proposed. "Impossible," he said - and continued to believe that even though a number of journalists proved my point.

I don't know if airline people simply ignore risks or just refuse to deal with them.

There certainly was no excuse for JetBlue to leave passengers sitting on a plane on the ground for seven hours.

What about the fuel costs? Even at idle, jet engines are expensive to operate.

Now JetBlue faces the potential of huge fines by the government. I understand it is offering free tickets to anyone on the flight who is willing to once again board a JetBlue plane.

A financial and PR fiasco that could easily have been avoided if someone had a plan - of even if someone "stepped up to the plate" and made the right decisions.

An expanded and updated article on airlines' image problems can be read at

If I wrote it, you may quote it

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