February 25, 2020

Here’s why extreme cold is disastrous for air travel


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delta-plane-de-ice-reagan-national-airportBy Alex Davies   From

Extreme cold in the Midwest and Northeast has led airlines to cancel more than 6,000 U.S. flights over the past two days,

Commercial planes are no strangers to extreme cold. Above 37,000 feet, the air is far colder than it is on the ground. Low temperatures on their own don’t stop air travel.

So why the problems at O’Hare?

Cold weather is in fact to blame, because it creates conditions that slow down airport operations.

Heavy snow can reduce visibility to the point where officials decide it’s unsafe to take off and land. Ice buildup on aircraft is especially dangerous. In his book, “Cockpit Confidential,” airline pilot and blogger Patrick Smith explains that even a quarter-inch thick layer of ice on a plane can disrupt “the flow of air over and around a wing’s carefully sculpted contours, destroying lift.”

Ice on the ground makes things tricky, too. ’s Airport was shut down for several hours Sunday after a Delta plane skidded off the runway into the snow. No injuries were reported.

The problem is that while planes can be de-iced (usually by spraying them with a mix of water and glycol alcohol), getting ice off a runway when the temperatures are low and there’s no sunshine is much harder.

“There’s hardly anything you can do,” Jack Gartner, who worked in operations at New York airports for over 30 years, told Business Insider. Especially since you don’t want to risk damaging the pavement on the runway. Potholes and other imperfections in the pavement make takeoff and landing less safe.

On top of the threat posed by ice, there’s the fact that cold weather slows down the work that has to be done on the tarmac. In conditions like these, workers at Minneapolis-St Paul use a buddy system, Operations Manager for Field Maintenance James Riley said. They don’t spend more than 20 minutes at a time outside a vehicle or shelter, and so they’re “not getting as much done.”

The equipment used to pump jet fuel can freeze, so refueling planes gets tricky. That slowed American Airlines operations at O’Hare Monday, an airline spokesperson told The Chicago Tribune.

Simply put, cold weather makes it harder, though not impossible, to do everything necessary to get a plane in the air or on the ground safely, and to make sure everyone involved remains safe as well.

Usually, that means flights are delayed. And when things get really bad, it means cancellations.


Snow, ice, and freezing equipment and workers slow down airport operations.

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Related story:

JetBlue has stranded passengers in , and there’s little it can do to get them home

BdN0so3CUAEWrtm.jpg-largeBy Alex Davies From Business Insider

With a string of abysmal weather around its biggest airports during the holiday travel season, JetBlue has been dealt a rotten hand this week.

After canceling hundreds of flights, the airline has passengers stranded all over the place and is struggling to get its crews, planes, and passengers where they should be.

jetblue-sign-airport-1And now, with exceptionally cold weather heading to the Northeast, it has stopped nearly all flights into and out of New York and Boston airports until Tuesday morning.

Despite the bad weather, many of the JetBlue customers stranded in Barbados, some of whom may not make it home until the weekend, blame the airline for mishandling the situation and keeping them in the dark.

New York-based dermatologist Tabasum Mir was supposed to fly out of Barbados at 2:45 p.m. Saturday afternoon, but the plane from New York didn’t even arrive until about 9 p.m. in the evening. Passengers had checked in and gone through security, and it was only via the airline’s iPhone app that some passengers found out the flight had been cancelled, Mir told Business Insider.

Another traveler, Brookes Moody, said JetBlue “did not give a specific reason [for the cancellation] over the loud speaker, but the staff said it was due to the flight crew clocking out — not because of the weather conditions, or backups at JFK.”

A JetBlue spokesperson said its efforts have been complicated by new FAA rules, which limit the number of consecutive hours pilots can fly, that went into effect on Saturday, making it harder to schedule extra flights to get people home and planes and crew in position.

Once the flight was canceled, travelers say JetBlue was unhelpful.

“Staying at the airport wasn’t an option. Everyone had to leave the terminal — which took awhile because that time of night there was no immigration officer on duty,” Moody said.

Mir said passengers were given back their immigration slips one at a time, forcing some to wait for about an hour.

Things were not much better the next morning. Passengers were told a flight would leave around 10 a.m. in the morning and that they should be at the airport by 8 a.m., Moody said. But no JetBlue employees appeared at the airport until after 8 a.m..

Once everyone had checked in and passed through security, Moody said, they finally got some good information from the pilot, who explained that they were delayed because a plane had skidded off the runway at JFK, shutting down the airport for a few hours.

But “even then,” Moody said, “the Jet Blue authorities were unapologetic and seemed reluctant to be held accountable for any of the snafus.”

“There was virtually no Jet Blue presence at the airport. And no, they weren’t helpful when they were around.”

She posted this photo of travelers waiting at the airport on Sunday (attached)

Like most airlines, JetBlue usually doesn’t pay for accommodations for passengers stranded by weather events. Mir said JetBlue didn’t pay for anything, but “luckily we were staying at a friends [sic] villa.”

The airline did cover the $1,700 hotel cost for Moody and her family. Rabia de Lande Long, who has been stuck in Grand Cayman since her Saturday flight was cancelled, told Business Insider her hotel costs were also covered.

At least Mir and Moody made it back to New York by late Sunday afternoon. In an email Sunday evening, Alissa Myrick told Business Insider that she and her 6-year-old daughter were supposed to fly back to on Friday, and hadn’t made it home yet. They had been put standby on the Saturday flight that was cancelled.

They are now are confirmed for a trip home on January 10 — a full week late.

Asked about the situation in Barbados, a JetBlue spokesperson said “we are prioritizing adding extra North Bound sections to get customers back from the Caribbean.”

But now that JetBlue is stopping nearly all flights into and out of New York and Boston airports until Tuesday morning, the situation isn’t getting any better.

“I realize people joke about it not being so bad being stranded in Barbados,” Myrick said. “But people have to work and go to school.”

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EDITOR: See amazing photos attached of the St. Joseph Lighthouse on North Pier, Lake Michigan, on Jan. 6, 2014. ncrenegade.com and mytechnologyworld9.blogspot.com


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