I’m sitting in the Red Carpet Club in the Denver Airport, watching the activity on the ramp.  It amazes me how many things have to come together in near perfect timing to get a plane unloaded, cleaned, and then loaded again for the next flight.

Airport Operations

This plane came in about 20 minutes ago, and as it was completing its taxi to dock at the gate, the support crews were already staged and ready to unload.  Within seconds after parking, a communications link was connected to the front of the plane, the tow bar was connected to the front wheels, the baggage conveyors were pulled up to the cargo hold doors, and the baggage carts had pulled up to collect the bags from the cargo hold and get them to the baggage claim area or their next flight.

Within minutes after that activity, the fuel and catering trucks arrived to pump the gas and replace the empty food carts, respectively.  The cabin is cleaned, the latrines are purged, the plane is inspected both inside and out, and then passengers are boarded in preparation and anticipation of that next flight.

No one does it better, faster, or more efficiently than Southwest Airlines, but all major airlines at their main hubs seem to do it incredibly fast.

As a million mile flyer on one airline and a million more air miles on a combination of several other airlines, I can tell you from personal experience that moving planes in and out of the hubs is both a science and an art.  It’s a science because everything has to be timed perfectly in order to achieve the minimum time at the gate and the maximum time in the air.  It’s an art because something always seems to go wrong and the very systematic activities that I mentioned above are often times accompanied by the chaotic (and on the verge of panic) response to those ill timed warning lights or shouldn’t-be-there drips outside of the plane. 

It’s probably good that we don’t know how many times those actually occur and what was done to actually fix those problems!

I’ll keep my fingers crossed that today the odds and the hard work of all these ground personnel hold up and we’ll push back and get in the air on time.

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