Ghostbuster Air, or; De-verting and De-icing de Plane

 


Recently I went south to Houston to see family and friends.

This time I flew out of a regional airport that turned out to be both closer and cheaper than our nearest big city hubs.

The security is much less stressful to get through at a regional airport and this particular regional airport actually lands the big jets and not so much with the little sickness-inducing prop hoppers.

It is also neat to walk up a portable ramp to board your 737—it seems to harken back to an earlier and simpler more frisk-free day in air travel.

I had a good time in Texas and got to catch up with my family and lots of friends I went to high school with.

I also went to a Houston Rockets basketball game—made much better by the fact they won handily.

All-in-all it was a good week.

As these things go though, the time to depart arrived much too quickly and I found myself heading to the elaborate maze that is George Bush Intercontinental Airport to put up with the “major hub insanity” it takes to get on an airplane there.


After waiting two hours for my flight and having a nice discussion with a female flight attendant on her way to Hawaii, I finally boarded my flight.

As an aside, I was reading a story the other day that said basically; the way airlines board their passengers is the absolute least efficient way to load an airliner with people.

After standing halfway to my seat several times because people could not seem to figure out how an overhead bin works or much less how to fit their carry on items in them, I tend to agree with that article’s conclusion.

Personally, I think it would be much easier to load passengers from the back of the airplane to the front so everyone could get straight to their seats.

Of course, we would have to let the first-class passengers on first. Because, you know, they love to be seen sitting in first-class. If they loaded a plane solely from back to front who would get to look at and be amazed by these financial giants in their human-sized seats?

But I digress.

I said “hi” to the pretty girl seated next to me and eventually the plane took off.

I passed the time looking out the window, reading the Houston paper’s reviews of the game I had been to the night before, napping and listening to songs on my mp3 player.

The flight we were on was one of the ones with little TV monitors on the back of every seat. I looked at it when the flight safety video came on but ignored the thing for the most part because right next to the monitors is a little slot where you can put your credit card to buy programming for a low, low price.

Screw that.

Even if you don’t elect to buy the satellite feed, the monitors spew a constant feed of where the airline can take you and how great they are.

This got tiresome for the girl seated next to me and I could see her looking for a way to turn the infernal thing off.

I looked at her situation, smiled, and said something pithy like, “Be nice if they put an off switch on it” (this because I have a remarkable range of words to use when it comes to women). Then I looked out the windows at the cloud-filled sky below us.

When I turned back around, both the monitors in the next two seats were black.

I immediately wondered where the bright girl had found the switch.

I finally found my switch on the very same non-movable armrest that was currently engaged in an attempt to permanently bruise my thigh. The switch was very cleverly disguised with a word that I seem to recall was “off”.

I spent the next several minutes grinding my teeth at the complete stupidity of earlier remark and put my earbuds in to listen to some music.

About 45 minutes before we were scheduled to land, the pilot came on the intercom and said because there was a temperature something something at Hayden (the regional airport I flew out of), we would be diverting to Denver.

Crap.

I knew the weather was going to make the drive home a challenge already and had been happy I had arranged an early afternoon arrival so at least some daylight might be a possibility.

I could see that idea flying out the window and crashing through the clouds below.

Because I had missed the first part of the captain’s announcement I asked the girl next to me what, exactly, the deal was. I learned that we had diverted due to a temperature inversion and started hearing conversations about shuttles and the like.

Eventually, we sailed through a thick layer of industrial-grade cloudiness and came in for a landing on the snow-covered Denver runway.

During this experience I kept thinking, “If Denver is this bad … and we couldn’t land in Hayden … how bad must Hayden be?”

I shared this sentiment with the girl next to me and she agreed.

My original plan was simple: 1.) Get on the plane; 2.) Waste time keeping to myself; 3.) Get off the plane; and 4.) Drive home safely.

I have found though, that nothing brings people together more than a shared danger (or shared annoyance in this case).

While I obviously had little to say to the girl next to me for a normal flight. I did have conversation for the remainder of this diverted one.

After landing, we were told that a representative would be meeting us outside the gate to let us know what our options were.

A few minutes later, we arrived at the gate and were told we would be refueling and, when that was completed, heading on to Hayden.

Then we were told that if we wanted to “leave the plane to stretch our legs”, we could.

Whew.

“But you can’t leave the gate area.”

… okay …

“… and you have to take all your luggage with you.”

Really? No, wait. REALLY?

I immediately tell the girl next to me, “I hate to be this guy, but I think I am going to use this opportunity to take a leak”.

She smiles and her and the guy sitting in the aisle seat get up to let me out.

Even though I was sitting in the back row of the plane there are three smarter people already in line for the toilet. But I get there.

When I get back to my seat, pretty much everyone else has decided taking a bathroom break is a better idea than trying to deboard (great nonsensical-sounding word “deboard”) and there is a line stretching about half the length of the plane.

There is still a long potty line when the attendant comes back on and says we’re refueled and will everyone return to their seats so that we can go get de-iced.

I share my empathy with those in line who give frustrated sighs and return to their seats.

The plane taxis out to the de-icing area between the gates and the runways … where … we … wait.

During the waiting period no permission is given to those who still would like to use the facilities.

I’ve never been on a plane that has had to be de-iced before (even though I have flown out of Denver on many winter days), so I watch intently when we get to the de-icing area.

When the de-icing begins I notice a tanker truck with a large boom atop it. At the end of this boom sits a woman in an enclosed box that has all kinds of nozzles and appendages sticking out of it.

The cool thing is that as the tanker approaches our plane I notice there is no one in the driver’s seat. I can see the steering wheel turning but no one turning it.

I assume the woman in the now up-in-the-air box is also driving the truck.

I point this out to the girl next to me and she agrees it’s pretty cool.

Then they start de-icing the plane. First, they spray a clear something or other all over the plane and follow that up with a coating of some kind of green ick for the wings and air control surfaces.

I can see just enough out the opposite window to know another truck on the other side is doing the same thing.

Our plane now looks like it has starred in “Ghostbusters”.

Finally we head toward the runway and the monitors pop back on to give us the safety lecture … again.

I comment that it is nice that our seats can be used as a floatation device in the event of a water landing because they are damn sure not good for sitting on.

This gets a laugh. Or maybe just a chuckle.

Normally the wing of an aircraft is not much to look at as you take off. Put some green goo on it though and watching the wing is a riot. As you approach takeoff speed the goo dances in weird little waves as it attempts to cling to the wing and, sooner or later, somehow manages to disappear altogether.

As we fly to Hayden I wonder why the airline hadn’t been giving us free TV to watch for our inconvenience. Seems the least they could do. But they don’t even offer.

The landing in Hayden was anticlimactic as the runway was completely clear.

That didn’t stop most everyone from doing another thing I have never witnessed on a plane before: As we touched down and slowed to taxi, applause broke out.

***

The drive home was uneventful as the roads were clear and the weather mild.

Five days later though and I still have a bruise on my thigh from that damned armrest.

 

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