Captain's Corner

Captain's Corner is the editorial section of this website. For subjects that might be more subjective then others, controversial, or may require an opinion - that's what this section if for. Click on the below selected topics from the rest of the website for more:

Tarmac Delays - If we are lucky (luck in timing on getting the mentioned three items and getting a good place in line!!) then our tarmac delay at our divert airport is minimized and while we are past scheduled arrival time, hopefully it is not too long. However, if the weather persists and our destination is a major airport then you can bet that there is a lot of other flights trying to do the same thing as your flight. This is where tarmac delays can start getting very long, very frustrating, and where it seems that no one has common sense in rectifying the situation. Your Captain is the one responsible for the safety of your flight and what to do in this situation. Unfortunately, over the years, the Captain's authority in these type of situations has been eroded by airline management and operations. For various reasons (won't get into it here), instead of backing and helping the Captain with these situations, it seems you have to fight to get some common sense into their mindset. Know that your crew and especially the pilots and Captain are just as frustrated with tarmac delays as you, after all they are sitting there too! Most Captains will keep you fully informed as to what is going on, even if it is not the best news. Many times the Captain must decide whether to give up a place in line or try to go back to the gate (if one is available) if your delay looks like it will drag on. Traffic might be moving, but your flight might be number 25 to takeoff. This whole process is a constant balancing act. Experience is a big factor in knowing what to expect, know possible shortcuts to cut the delay, or have a threshold where enough is enough and service is required from the ground support.

The bigger problem is this. While all of these organizations waste time blaming each other for delays and the conditions passengers must endure, little real effort is being done to solve them. What does it take? All groups must have empathy and a work-together attitude instead of playing the blame game. Passengers must understand that no one has control of the weather or the duration and severity of it - I believe most passengers do. The FAA must improve the efficiencies of the air traffic control system through modernization of equipment (presently in the works) and better procedures. However, most of the work needs to be done by airline management and more specifically the flight operations department. Policies and procedures must be written and implemented to reflect a realistic and flexible environment. As the on-scene commander and the one person responsible for the safety of your flight, the Captain must have the authority, backing, and trust of the respective airline that s/he is the one that can best judge what needs to be done with your flight. This doesn't mean that the Captain does anything that s/he wants, but it does mean that s/he is the final decision-maker that is balancing the needs of the passengers, delay expected, services required, etc. Some of the policies, procedures, and actions taken by airline operations seem to have no logical sense. How does this happen? These plans are formulated by incompetent people that make decisions in their ivory towers with little regard as to how it plays out in the real world. While this is a generalization, unfortunately it is more prevalent then it should be. That's why your Captain, many times, is between a rock and a hard place. With little trust in how the "system" is supposed to work, you are left on your own to do what's best for your passengers. Airport operations are also uneven in their handling of the divert situation you are encountering. Some are great, and some think it's the airline's problem and will only get minimally involved. This mainly focuses on availability of other gates, portable jetways that can be brought up to your aircraft (hardstands), security for passengers, and support services. As you can see, it can be a very complex process and you just have to wonder, if this always has the potential to happen, why don't people just do their job and have as much set procedures and policies as possible (with needed flexibility) to handle these situations and minimize the discomfort level that all encounter during these times?...see Tarmac Delays

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