Stories by Guest Contributor

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Areas affected by Zika virus - Photo: CDC

“Thanks, United” – it’s not a phrase you hear very often these days, but I want to give some credit where credit is due. Just a few weeks ago, after finding a great fare, my wife and I decided to take a long weekend trip to Cancun at the end of February. We were looking forward to sitting on the beach, soaking up some winter sun, and enjoying drinks at one of Cancun’s many all-inclusive resorts. Well, a lot has happened since then.

First, the Zika virus became big news. In case you’ve been living in a cave for the last few weeks, Zika has been spreading like wildfire throughout South America and has recently been making inroads into Mexico and the Caribbean. On the surface, Zika doesn’t sound so bad – it typically has mild flu-like symptoms and tends to clear up pretty quickly. However, doctors have recently noticed a scary trend, wherein babies born to women who contracted Zika during pregnancy exhibit alarmingly high rates of birth defects. This led the US Centers for Disease Control (CDC) to issue an unprecedented travel warning, recommending that pregnant women avoid travel to all affected areas. Concerning, but still not worth canceling a trip over, given that neither of us were pregnant.

Getting ready to fly -- passport ready - Photo: Caribb | FlickrCC

One conversation between a passenger and a colleague of mine went, “How long does it take to fly to Los Angeles?”

“About 12 hours.”

“OK, and how long does it take in economy?”

“About 12 hours; it’s the same airplane.”

“I’ll need to think it over, I’ll call back another time.”

“Yes, sir, economy and business travel take place in the same dimension.”

A couple years ago, I worked at the reservations call center of a major airline. Though every aviation-related profession comes with its share of strange, funny, and horrifying stories, I believe that call center agents get very close to knowing how passengers are thinking and feeling (good and bad). Maybe due to the the personal disconnect of talking on the phone, people often said things they might not be willing to say “in real life.” I wanted to share some of the more memorable (i.e. funny/horrid) stories that happened in my call center. Since these stories are true, the carrier that I worked at will remain anonymous.

Lufthansa being prepared for flight during snowy conditions - Photo: Andrew Poure

You’re sitting on a airliner preparing to depart from a major hub in the U.S. midwest, staring out the window. On a clear spring day, you’d pushback and be off the ground in moments, and see the shining Great Lakes and expanses of green fields and trees immediately after takeoff. That day is not today.

No, the scene out your window is white and grey as far as the eye can see. Amber and red strobe lights, from both aircraft and ground vehicles, add to the almost surreal landscape. It’s winter in the northern states.

Up front, your pilots intently listen in on two frequencies on the radio: airline ramp control, responsible for push-backs and gate coordination, and one even more specialized channel: the deicing control frequency. Amidst the chatter are pilots, ramp agents, tower personnel, and others all racing to solve a dozen different problems around the ramp, most of which can be blamed on cold and snow.

The captain picks up the PA microphone. “Good afternoon folks, it’s gonna be a little while before we’re able to push-back for departure. Please take your seats and we’ll get moving as soon as we can. We’ll keep you posted.”

We all know winter weather is a major driver of flight delays and challenges for airlines, but what exactly are some of the things happening at the airport that keep your plane sitting on the ground those extra minutes when the flakes are flying?