Holds and diverts and storms, oh my.

Bos - Mke - Ind
Bos - Mke - Ind

This was our third leg for the day. We began in Omaha around 2Pm and flew Omaha to Milwaukee and then off to Boston. Boston to Milwaukee had us holding over Grand Rapids for 30 mins before we made the call to run to Indianapolis for more gas. You’re holding over Michigan with fuel burning away and planes above and below you all doing the same – thinking about plan B. Chicago has been in and out of holding patterns for most of the day and airports are full of diversions already. This means a long wait for fuel and the potential for the Passenger Bill of Rights to be an issue. We’ve got a full flight and several infants on board that can be heard through the bullet proof cockpit door. To make things even more fun, our APU is inoperative which means we have no air conditioning on the ground and I am certain that if a dozen planes are waiting for fuel already, no one is going to be in too much of a hurry to get a ground air cart for us.

So looking around at where to land while the engines are chug chug chugging at our fuel. Dispatch and I decide Indianapolis is a good option and we have enough fuel to make it – if we leave “Right Now”. And then Milwaukee calls to say the airport should re-open soon. But, if we wait and commit to it – no plan B if it closes again. It has opened and closed twice since we’ve been within earshot of them so the odds are pretty good that if it does open soon, it will close again before we get there. And then there is the “Right Now” line.

Indianapolis it is. Fly fast and burn more gas or fly slow and save some in case we need it for something else? There is weather in Indiana as well. Fly slow. “Folks, I know I told you it will be 40 mins until we land but it’s going to be an hour.”

Luckily for us, no one has landed in Indianapolis yet and we’re first in line for fuel – but our crews have gone home for the night and Airtran is there to help. “How do you turn the light on in your baggage bin? Where does the aircart connect to the airplane? How many people does this palne seat?”

And I’m arranging for fuel and paperwork to release us to Milwaukee and the crying baby and the people that have connections and there is a cancelled flight next door so can we put more people on your plane and wow – it really is getting hot back there. What happened to the aircart?

Lets spin an engine to cool things off. Oh, we can’t spin an engine. They are bringing more bags over now because of the cancelled flight and the cargo door is near the engine so it can’t be spun until we load the bags.

“How do you turn that cargo door light on again?” They ask.

I tell the passengers the story, again. I ask them if they want to join me in the jetway, it is much cooler and it shouldn’t be too much longer. A man is off to see his daughter give birth. She is in the hospital waiting for him. I tell him my last name is Stork and draw up the obvious connections. He laughs. So do others. Buys me some time.

The puzzle is coming together now. We’ve got the fuel and the paperwork and the extra bags and people now. Lets go to Milwaukee. The weather is still there and there is no good way to go around it… Time to pick our way through some storms.

Ind - Mke
Ind - Mke

The amazing thing about thunderstorms at night is that the moisture in the air carries the light from the lightning for miles after a strike. Even though we’re not in any thunderstorms, with each strike the cockpit lights up so bright you’re blinded for a moment. “I’ve asked our flight attendants to remain seated for their safety.”

Air traffic controllers are talking to us but we’ve got this cell we’re trying to fly around and we’ll have to get back to you. And dispatch sends a message, “Ha! I did such a great job filling you around the weather and you decided to go right up the middle of it!”

No choice… the line has some breaks in it. And it does… aside from a great light show and few sizable bumps, we make it to Milwaukee to drop off a few, pick up a few and head to Minneapolis for the night.

What makes or breaks a night like this is the crew your assigned to. As the Captain, I have to be able to trust my team will do their jobs and allow me to delegate where need be. The great crews are the ones who know what needs to be done without hesitation and do so with a positive attitude. My crew easily handled all of our issues and even though we were tired and hungry – did so without hesitation and with a smile. This kept our passengers happy but more importantly – me happy!

  • Chris Paterson

    Great post, mate. Really interesting for a wannabe pilot like me to hear what happens when things don’t go so smooth!