Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Blessed be the Nag

Stuck at the Gate Stories

Recently this ‘drome & farm blogger was sitting on a Delta flight that was ready to depart Atlanta, but just not quite ready. Halfway out to turn-and-burn our plane came to a halt and the captain came over the intercom.

Apologies ... a warning light’s gone dark ... just a fifty-cent bulb that should take about a twenty minutes to replace ...

As most airline travelers know, the 20-minute bulb replacement on an airliner lives in the very same time-space continuum as the 20-minute wait at Applebee’s at six on Friday night – a time-space continuum where time is multiplied by three and space is cramped. (I didn’t have the heart to break the news to the fellow in my row who got on his phone to add exactly 20 minutes to his pickup time at our destination. As they say down south, “Well bless his heart”).

An hour went by with the usual PA updates from the captain.

Hey ... I see the guy with the bulb now ... say ... anybody onboard have a screwdriver? ... if so, the TSA would like to speak with you, and we’d like to speak with the TSA ...

Most everyone in the cabin just headed off to Blackberry Land or pretended to be fascinated with the inflight magazine, but here and there were malcontents.

The guy sitting next to me, who had earlier cheerfully introduced himself by saying that he had gotten a seat upgrade at the gate and was under the impression he wouldn’t be stuck sitting by anyone during the flight, was miffed at the delay.

“So a light bulb that warns them about something that never happens burned out. You’d think they could just fix that when they get there.”

This man had been busily inking a flow chart on the back of a Subway napkin before pushback – who knows for what kind of work and for what kind of result, but hopefully not for any sort of high-stakes project.

A few rows back a surviving Valley Girl whined into her cell.

“They’re like freakin’ that this bulb is burned out.”

Almost too fun to imagine her on an airliner with warning bulbs with something to warn about that are left burned-out, freakin' over plummeting to earth .

***

Another airport, another flight. (Long story – too long for the internet).

Two baggage handlers are loading the aft cargo hold of a regional turboprop. Like lots of freight handlers, they’re mad at the freight.

What joker checked a bag that’s four-feet long and weighted like a Mexican Jumping Bean?

The unwieldy thing goes up the conveyor ... the heavy leading end pulls it right off the top of the belt and sends the whole affair over the edge before the guy in the cargo bay, who just knows this is going to happen, can get to it. He watches the lumpy bag go over sort of like he's judging a science fair demonstration (Oh, snap! ).

The guy on the ground retrieves the fallen package and hoists it back up to the guy on the plane, and that guy wrestles the heavy, shifty bag to the top of the pile of smaller bags ... just like they don’t teach in the Stacking Boxes semester in high school Occupational Work Experience class. This is also the last bag loaded, and there is plenty of space between the none-too-form-fitting cargo net for the bag to fall, during, say, rotation.

“Hope they didn’t load our plane that way,” says a woman who may never have even taken a Occupational Work Experience course in high school.

In one of those scenes that’s more reassuring for airline passengers, than, say, seeing someone wearing captain’s bars walk out of the terminal bar, a guy wearing captain’s bars – the one who’s about to be spending some time way up in the air in the airplane with the big heavy slinky bag sitting at the top of a loose pile of haphazardly-piled luggage – takes time-out from looking over tires and props to go visit the rear luggage compartment.

From a cross-the-way-airplane vantage point it looks like he’s saying something like, “Say, fellows ... I’m expected in St. Louis tonight alive along with all those faces in the windows up there, so ... um ...”

The bags are restacked.

Major carrier airline safety has enjoyed very low accident rates recently, but there are reminders all around us that accidents are still waiting to happen with the help of just a few complacent people. A culture of safety vigilance in the cockpit is just part of the equation.

M.O.


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