Sleeping Bin Beauty 

Earlier this year someone thought I was dead.

Granted, during that time period there were a fair amount of people who were overdosing on drugs and would perish or become comatose in their car, so I understand the concern involved. Sleeping in the bin of an airplane might get you sent to another city, but no one assumes you’re dead (unless you’re in the back of an MD-80). Sleeping in the breakroom between flights might get some pranks pulled on you, but you’re relatively safe. Sleeping in history class in school got either a ruler-on-the-desk wake up or some lipstick applied to the somnelant student by the teacher. I’ve slept in my car before, most notably when I had to trailer my sister’s car 200 miles south and then return that same night/morning. Stabbing myself in the thigh with a pen was no longer sufficent to keep me awake, so I slept in a Wal-Mart parking lot for a few hours. I had to get to work by 1pm and that included needing time to return the trailer. At no point was I mistaken as ‘dead’; if I had been, U-Haul would have been furious.

It was late February of 2017 and I had worked late that night/morning. I was fighting off a head infection of some sort, which in addition to being up late and then getting up four hours later at 7am to get the kids to school meant I was prettttyyy sleepy. I had 30 minutes between dropping the kids and the feed store opening, so I pulled off in a local park, wrapped myself in a blanket to fight off the chill, and enjoyed the beauty of the waterfall that could be seen from the driver’s seat. I just remember a long blink and resting my head against the car window. 

I wish my car was this nice.

BOOM BOOOM BOOOM!!

I jumped in my seat and looked out my window, adrenaline flowing so high I could have thrown a clamshell of aircraft brakes across a room. I thought it was a park ranger come to berate me. Half asleep, mostly high, and running on internal emergency mode I rolled down my window to speak with my elderly gentleman awakener. “Yes sir? How can I help you, sir?” was what rolled off my tongue with zero forethought. 

“Are you okay? You’ve been like this for about a half hour–you haven’t moved–and I was worried you were dead!” His white hair was neat and he was dressed in a tan coat with a red scarf. He look very anxious. “This is the second time I’ve knocked on your window!”

“No sir, I’m okay, I’ve just been really sick and I worked late and I had to take the kids to school and I’m waiting for a store to open.” As you can tell I speak in run-on sentences when awoken from a sound sleep and have to give an accounting for my actions. 

The elderly man gave me a hard look over. “You sure you’re okay? Lots of people dying in their cars recently.”
I shook my head, still high on the adrenaline rush. “I’m okay. It’s just a beautiful spot and the sun is rising–I didn’t intend on falling asleep.”

He nodded, apparently satisfied. Then he said, “I was worried. This is how my friend died, in his car at a beautiful park. He took his own life. I didn’t want to have it happen to you if I could help it.”

What do you say to that? What do you say to a person who misses his friend? What do you say to one who still cares, even if he doesn’t know you? What do you say to someone who loves a total stranger, enough to be sure I’m safe? 

I reached out the window and grasped his one hand that had come to rest on my door. “I’m sorry about your friend. I’m sorry I scared you. Thank you for checking on me, I really appreciate your concern.”

He nodded. “Glad you’re okay. You should probably go home and go to bed.”

I drove away from that little park feeling thankful, feeling loved, feeling really tired and sick, and slightly giddy-sick from the post-adrenaline rush. I didn’t get his name but he made an emotional impact that I still feel many months later. The whole episode probably lasted less than two minutes.

I would hope we all care that much for fellow strangers who may be in distress. Or maybe accidently wake them from a dead sleep.

Main Landing Gear

I’ve taken up roller skating as my chosen form of exercise. Not flat track roller derby, but the recreational type we kids did in the 1980s. As an adult I’ve attended several seasons of roller derby as a bystander and have even caught a few derby players in my lap as they tumble off into the crowd. Who wouldn’t want to cheer for ladies who wear the team moniker of the Hellbombers? Their introduction to the track at the begining of a game is heralded with air raid sirens, and it calls to the aircraft worker in me.  Alas, I do not flat track derby but am a mere apprentice skating in circles on a wooden floor. I’ve often thought that the wide, smooth concrete surface of the ramp would make an excellent skating area, but the City and the Company definitely would put a stop to that, pronto!

The local rink has a 70’s and 80’s night and I will go up after work and catch the last hour or so. The floor isn’t packed, it has a wide variety of ages and abilities  attending, and everyone is pretty nice. You can ask for tips and advice without being sneered at. I like roller skating because it’s a low impact sport with high cardio ratio. My arms, shoulders, and knees have been compromised by years of repetitive motion ramp work, so jogging, jump roping, working weights at the gym, and the like are off limits. The sport has improved my balance, has made my ankles and knees stronger (an unexpected  benefit), and actually gives me a whole body workout.

There is one caveat to the “low impact sport”–falling. Then it’s a high speed impact! One skater I spoke with tonight, P.(who as it turns out is a 250 trips a year flier on my Company’s aircraft), said that falls were inevitable and you have about one second to prepare. Bend your knees and drop towards the floor, he said, the impact will be less severe from the distance of one foot verses six feet.

The Snack Stand Lady at my rink, H., is married to a Southwest ramper. He works mornings and I work nights, so if we saw each other it’d be on the Employee Bus. I get to see him on my skating night and we talk shop a little bit, as he assists with skate rentals. We have people we know in common, as airport workers do. It turned out that my frequent flyer skate advisor, P., knows people I know. I have always said that everyone knows someone at the airport!

I wear the traditional roller skate and not inlines (blades). I’d like to say it’s because if a set of quads are good enough to land a 757, then I should be pretty safe. 

Boeing 757 main landing gear. Looks like a quad roller skate. (Copyright Airliners.net)

As it turns out, I’m a little klutzy and trip over the front wheel of the inlines; short legs and all that. Plus blades put too much pressure on my broken arches, so I’m waiting for my offspring’s feet are large enough so I can give him the pair of blades I bought years ago. The way he’a growing, that should be another six months. Then HE’S gonna need those 757 landing gears!!

I did fall on a rink almost a year ago. It was bad and the reasons behind it are embarassing, but as I lay on the hard wood floor and the skating ref crouched above me asking if I was okay, I thought, ‘It shouldn’t be this hard to make my mouth move and form words.’ I did get up, checked the size of the goose egg on my skull, computed how bad the concussion headache was going to be (Bad, with a capital B), temporarily fixed my newly broken new glasses, and finished the skate session. By golly, I wanted my money’s worth of skating!!

I imagine it looked something like this.
I’ve gotten a concussion at work. It was in 1997 and it involved a cargo door with broken counterbalances. Generally, you yank the release cord and the cargo door gently settles into position to lock the door. In the 1997 incident, my skull was the stopping point of the 100+lb door. Ouchie. Nowadays the trend is to bash my head on the fire suppression system’s protective steel cages that protrude 2″ from the cargo ceiling of an Embrarer 170/175. It hurts like the devil, but I haven’t done it hard enough to concuss yet. The day that happens there will be staples or stitches involved! 

My coworkers think I’m crazy to pick up roller skating at my late age (I’m at least 10 years younger then they are!) but my last skate partner, Ken, was 84 years old. I think if I can survive airplanes, skating shouldn’t be too lethal. Just ask Ken.

It’s Really Sandy Out Here

Dust storm!!!
This photo was taken at PHX Skyharbor Airport in Arizona. Coming at the airport is a haboob, which is a giant sandstorm (remember that scene in The Mummy?). A girlfriend of mine had the opportunity to live in PHX for a year and said that haboobs are like snowstorms–except it’s rocks and sand blasting your skin off and your lungs out. Duck and cover is the name of the game. Needless to say she has since returned to the Midwest where black ice and snow drifts are her worst problem. I have friends who transfered to work at PHX two years ago and they say haboobs + ramp work = suckiness!

Thankfully, my airport is not in haboob territory, but the City uses hot sand on the runways in the winter in addition to plowing. The sand not only melts the winter weather from the runways but also provides traction for the aircraft tires. We’ll have planes roll up to the gate and the underside of the wing, the main gears, and the tires are caked in a slushy cold sand and snow mix. There are times I’ve tried to time darting under the wing to chock the wheels to avoid getting big, cold, gritty blobs of runway mix from falling on my head and down the neck of my sweater. It fails more than it suceeds since the brakes are putting off extreme heat and is melting the snow faster than I can get under and get out. Ick. Remember in Calvin and Hobbes where Calvin would make frozen slushballs just to get Susie? Lemme tell you, the plane is Calvin!

Winter eventually ends and the City plows go back into hiding at the garage. Warm spring rains begin and warm spring winds follow, blowing aloft a large portion of the sand that hadn’t been scraped backup by the plows. The wind blows steadily at the airport (nothing to impede it) with varying speeds, spreading the sand into the sewers, the corners of the building, into dunes on the ramp up to a couple inches high. We would ask the City to send out the vacuum trucks to pick up the beaches that were forming. A couple years ago it wasn’t until we delivered several five gallon buckets of sand to the City’s nice sand-free office that the sweeper trucks were sent out. In the summer you can find large patches of weeds and grasses growing on sections of the concrete ramp where the sand is built up and stable enough to make an ecosystem.

After my first couple years on the ramp, I went to purchase new glasses. Not only had my prescription changed but something just was off. I credited it to old glasses. My optometrist looked over my glasses very carefully and asked, “What are you doing to your glasses?” “Nothing,” I replied, bewildered. “The lenses…. the antiglare coating is gone…. the lenses are microscopically shredded, like they’ve been sandblasted!” Little did he know how right he was!!!

I use to have a dandruff problem most of the year. I was humiliated and felt unclean, buying many bottles of Head and Shoulders shampoo, trying to eradicate the problem. There is nothing like digging a fingernail into your scalp and coming our with a nailful of dirt and grit. One day I was able to take a relative out on the ramp and show him around (pre 9/11) since he was an airplane enthusiast. I showed him several of our parked aircraft and he got to watch a live 757 flight being loaded and pushed. He enjoyed his experience immensely and as we returned to the terminal he wiped the sweat from his bald head. “Oy! Gross! I’m covered in sand!” A lightbulb went off in my head. At the next appointment with my hairdresser I asked her, “Is this dandruff?? It itches and there’s a snow field on my shoulders! Shampoos aren’t helping!!” She took a close look, rubbed a sample between her fingers and said, “No, this is mostly sand. From where are you getting all this sand in your scalp?”

There was one warm spring day on the ramp where the wind was the type you lean into just to stay upright, and I took shelter on the lee of the aircraft body. It was shaded and I looked into the sky (because it was a pretty blue) and watched in amazement at what looked like meteorites. It was the sand from the airfield blowing in for dozens of feet above my head, in a sparkling silicate light show. It was a human sand blasting day. Guys who wore contact lenses on these types of days had massively irritated and running eyes halfway into their shifts. They had the economy sized bottles of Visine in their pockets just to get the particles out. 

So the next time you see me rub my eyes or scratch my head and see a light dusting on my shirt, it’s most likely me shedding sand. It’s a gift from winter that keeps on giving most of the year.

Your Bags Aren’t Nice

My mom use to ask me, “Do you treat the bags nice?” I would give her a long look and say, “No.”

The Company tells us, “Treat the bags like your own.” I do–but I also pack in a way you can drop my bag 10ft and the only thing you’ll hurt is the concrete. (The secret is to put the breakables in the middle of your suitcase, padded in socks, sweaters, whatever.)

In this immediate time, I have received this awkward bag, soft on one side, hard on another, and heavier than heck. Even TSA was wondering. Just don’t drop the bag on your toe, it’ll strike you out!!


You know, they do make specific bags for your sporting gear.

All That Glitters Isn’t Gold–It’s Ice

Most of the US is stuck under a polar vortex of some sort, dropping balmy holiday temperatures to the January/February type of cold. The golden tinsel on your festive tree has a frosted edge, I’m sure, and the kids are praying for coal. At the airport, we look around the brightly glittering airfield and ramp areas with a certain dread–all that glitter is a coating of ice. 

Everything but the wing is covered in a layer of ice.
If you ever have the opportunity to watch rampers out the concourse windows during your flight delay, you’ll see that we mince across the ramp in this weather. It’s too dangerous to actually walk, the risk of slipping and falling are astronomically high. Every so often you’ll see a ramper pulling a ballerina or Michael Jackson move on what looks like snow. Unfortunately, that snow is a two inch thick plate of ice and that ramper just pulled a back muscle in the feat of remaining upright. Add mincing, numerous layers (including multiple hats and gloves), sun glare, and 30 minutes to turn their aircraft to the mix, that ramper is exhausted by the end of their shift.

In my nine months as a secretary in a medical billing office many year ago, I frequently heard the ladies complain about how cold the office was. Nowadays my office is 8*F and I need ice skates to go about my day. There are many rampers further north than I am that would find eight degrees positively balmy. With the windchill factored in, the ramp at Minneapolis, MN was showing -48* the last few days. You know how injuries hurt worse when you’re cold? I dropped a piece of luggage on my toe and I thought it was a sledgehammer. You know the line in Peter Gabriel’s ‘Steam’ where he wails “Iiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiii!”? That’s the noise I made.

Yesterday my locality was blessed with the temps going above freezing and a gentle rain ensued, followed by dropping below freezing again. Today everything is sheathed in a sublime glaze of ice. That means the seats of the equipment, ignition switches, curtains on the bag carts, steering wheels, gear shifters, the brake pedal–everything is coated in scintillating ice which won’t go away. It’s beautiful at first but very quickly becomes a hazard. There’s nothing like the accelerator freezing when you’re trying to not punch a hole in an airplane. Many of the procedures we find unnecessary in good weather are vital to keeping aircraft from being holed in icy conditions.

‘Why not salt?’ you may ask. Road salt eats airplanes–holey planes are really frowned upon by the public, no matter how it was accomplished. We sodium formate, which can be used to de-ice the ramp surface. The runways are doused with hot sand. The aircraft are baptized in anti-ice fluids. 

Looks like a regular day on the job.

Pilots also find ice challenging–challenging to stop their aircraft. Already there have been multiple reports in the news feeds of a/c sliding off runways. The funniest sight is found in the employee parking lots; flight attendants returning from warm weather stations and watching them struggling to sweep snow and scrape ice off their cars dressed in heels and business length dresses. I am sure they are not muttering blessings during this process.

Be safe this winter, readers. Those of us on the ramp are use to dealing with the bad conditions for 6 – 12 hours at a time. The office workers have a lot less practice in this weather. In the meantime, I like diamonds and gold sparkle–but not the icy type!!

A Bad Day At Work

passing-away
Death by cardboard box.

My training instructor, Jack, was a funny guy and very good at his job. He was deathly serious at the beginning of our ramper training, impressing on us that we were about to start working in one of the most dangerous industries for fatalities. “You’ll get hurt doing this job, but you will die if you don’t follow the procedures I’m about to teach you. I’m going to teach you the B.I.B.L.E.–Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth.” The next two weeks of classroom training consisted of just that–what to do, what to look for, and what NOT to do. Many of us remain alive today thanks to his sharp wit enlivening what could have been dull-as-rocks-but-essential-to-not-be-killed classroom training.

“Watch where you’re walking. Don’t assume other drivers on the ramp see you. Don’t assume aircraft engines are shut off. Don’t be careless. Be aware of your surroundings. Don’t pass between carts that are hitched together. Don’t participate in horseplay. Watch for your coworker’s safety. DON’T watch the propellers spin.”

“Don’t get complacent. Don’t bring a bad day to work with you.” Death occurs with both of these don’ts.

boeingingestion
Engine of a Boeing 737 after ingesting an airline employee, post accident investigation photo.

The above picture horrifies most people and rightly so. This is the reality of my job. Ingestion constitutes a short bad day for the deceased employee and a long bad day for the employees who witnessed this, the passengers, the company, everybody. This is a very bad day for the family of the deceased. Jack told us in training, “Leave your bad day at home. If you bring your bad day to work with you, someone will get hurt.”

The man who died in this picture was an aircraft mechanic in Texas, who had many years on the job with his company. I don’t know what his state of mind was, if he was having a bad day, but I am willing to assume he’d gotten complacent, particularly after several decades of working on and maintaining engines that, at times, have to be running for further diagnosis. I wasn’t there, I don’t know the particulars, but it is a sobering reminder of what the end of my day may look like if I’m not careful. For example, there was a day eight years ago where there was a family emergency happening, and while it was not directly involving me, my mind was nowhere near the airport or my job. After a couple close calls on the gate I went to my supervisor and asked to be sent home, saying that someone was going to die if I stayed. He said “Go”and I left for the day. My coworkers outlived my bad day.

air-india-ingestion
Mumbai Dec. 17 :- The remains of Air India ground staff that had been sucked in an aircraft engine at Mumbai airport, Flight No. AI 619 Mumbai – Hyderabad.  (photo credit: Ravindra Zende)
This is a post-ingestion accident photo for Air India. Yes, that is the mortal remains of a fellow ramper who wasn’t fully sucked in. “Why,” you’re shouting in horror at the screen, “why are you posting these?? It shows a lack of respect for those who died!!” I’m posting because I need to be reminded of the consequences of what a really bad day at work looks like, and because you need to know the risks your airline friends take daily. Remember these pictures and the risks we take when you’re trying to get reduced fare or standby passes from us.

The danger isn’t always getting sucked into cowled engines either. During my training class in 1996 Jack told us of a ramper who’d been distracted and wasn’t watching where he was while working a propeller plane. This man was decapitated by the spinning props–and then his head was launched through the skin of the aircraft into the occupied passenger cabin. There was a lot of therapy the company had to pay for after that. Another incident happened a few years ago at a small airport local to me. There was a new hire ramp employee who’d been on the job for several months. He was a hard worker and very good at doing his job. One day he was not careful and was decapitated by the propeller of the small craft he was working. My sister knew his family.

I am thankful for the training I have received through the years. Training new hires is always tricky because they don’t know what to watch out for yet. We’ve all been forcibly yanked away from danger by coworkers at some point. Branded into our soul is the command to NEVER WALK IN FRONT OF AN ENGINE. Not until you’ve verified visually, audibly, and aurically that it is turned off and spooled down. Never trust someone else’s word that an engine is turned off. Never assume since the rotating beacons are off that the engines are off too. Pilots turn the beacons on and off in the cockpit. I’ve seen beacons left on for the entire ground time and other times never turned on at all at departure. We’ve had pilots park their Boeing 737s, grab their bags, and race to their next outbound flight–all the while forgetting to turn off the engine of the plane he cruised in on!!!!

Go behind the engine to chock the wheels, not in front of it. You’ll be able to come back to work if you get blown away–there’s no coming back after turning into a human slushie.

Visions on the Ramp


In June I saw this LowBow, which is a first (for me). It was raining and the clouds blew to the east, leaving a rainbow behind. This is the first time I’ve ever seen a rainbow barely make it above the horizon in all my years at my airport.

Years ago, I was waiting to for a plane to arrive at the gate so I could pick up the connecting bags and run them to their connecting aircraft. That afternoon I saw the best weather phenomenon ever. Facing directly west on the compass, the sky was split down the middle into two, like Two-Face on Batman. To the right of center were blacker than black storm clouds that had lightning arcing through them. To the left of center the sky was clear and a beautiful pristine sky blue. The piece de resistance was the rainbow that started in those storm clouds and arced all the way back towards the blue sky.

Outstanding. I have learned to love the sky.

 

Caution: Falling Objects

Working at the airport, one doesn’t necessarily worry about the sky falling. We are not Chicken Littles. There are only a few doorways that concern us, and honestly, they’re extreme low bin ceilings, doorsills, and protective cages covering fire suppression systems in the aircraft bins.  And people falling out of jetways onto the ramp. All of those things endanger our craniums. Falling bird poop is a concern, but that’s more of a blow to our pride.

Our job has the potential to be very deadly and being turned into a human slushie via engine ingestion is one of the more colorful ways rampers and other ground workers can die. Decapitation, heat stroke, hypothermia, and being crushed to death are more common. Being poisoned by long term toxic chemical exposure is also a concern. These are merely a few reasons more why this job is worth being paid more than $9 an hour; I don’t think the reasons listed above are risks you’ll find at Starbucks.

At times, our job requires us to move underneath the airplane, such as to check for possible damage to the skin, to attach air conditioning hoses, accessing the panels to open cargo doors, hooking up pressure hoses for an air start, or simply to just put big rubber chocks at the landing gear so the plane stays where it’s parked. A vast majority of the time airplanes are solid creatures that mostly don’t move, but as this photo shows, occasionally landing gear fails on the gate. If you search the net, you’ll find lots if pictures of various aircraft with landing gear that failed while on the tarmac.

(Photo credit: Ryan Michaels)

See where the airplane is touching the ground? There’s a space under there I have to crawl under in order to place a locking pin and hook up a towbar in order to get your plane off of the gate. Thankfully, no ramp agent was killed while working this Southwest flight, but I am sure the passenger who took the picture was glad he was on the plane, and the plane was not on him.

My Company implemented policy discouraging employees from crossing between the aircraft and the pushback tractor, despite being a main work area. To walk around the nose and then the tractor adds many feet of walking which is not necessarily condusive to an on-time departure. Think– I’m carrying your 67 lb. carry-on and three umbrella strollers from the jetway with only sixty seconds before I have to push your plane off the gate, you better believe covering an additional 50 feet is less than ideal. Crossing over the towbar and under the nose saves my arm and keeps my assets from being disciplined for having a “late” plane. The fact that at any moment the plane may play Hungry, Hungry Hippo is just part of the job risks. It’s not my upper management that will perish if there is a mechanical failure, but I will accept the risk in their behalf. After all, they’re the ones that leave us out to play in the lightning.

In twenty years this hasn’t happened at my Airport–we’re more likely to have a plane slide off a runway in bad weather. However, we’re trained not to trust aircraft any further than we can throw them. It’s good to have a reason to stay sharp and have quick reflexes.

Airplanes like to play deadly games.

“The Clothes Make the (Wo)man”

There is nothing worse than trying to pull down your underwear to use the toilet and because you’ve sweated so much, you can’t get them down, precipitating near disaster.

I’m getting ahead of myself.

I wear a uniform provided by The Company’s Current Apparel Provider. The colors haven’t changed much in twenty years but the ingredients and quality of the uniform has been varied. The shirt color has gone from sky blue to ash grey to dark blue to navy to robin egg blue to the eye searing safety color called Lime. With all the color changes came higher and higher percentages of polyester and less cotton. On paper in some air conditioned planning office this is a great idea, since poly is easy to wash, difficult to stain and hardly wrinkles, even when the shirt has been in a laundry basket for three days. In real life, the higher poly content is a real game changer. Imagine you’re in the parking lot of your favorite amusement park at high noon with the sun searing down, high humidity, and at least a mile walk to the ticket booth. What to wear? According to The Company, shirts and pants so high in polyester that you sweat in air conditioning, muchless a heat index of 108*F.

Over the years our uniform pants have also transformed from a high cotton blend to a poly count so high they rival my sister’s 1980s spandex collection. The original pants of 1996 retained wetness because of the high cotton content, which wasn’t awesome when there was a large pool of melted fish juice in a bin and I was the lucky (read: low seniority) ramper to have to unload that bin. (There were two Fish Incidences that inspired me to keep an entirely clean set of clothes in my locker, including undergarments, socks, and shoes.) Those 1996 pants had a tendency to shrink when washed so I found my pants getting smaller and smaller.

The next evolution of work pants had more poly/less cotton but the ratio was perfect, IMO. The downfall was that wherever Asian country they were made in, those seamstresses forgot to knot or finish entire seams. There was one incident of getting into a bin–and the entire inseam from knee to crotch failed. There should not be hot summer breezes whipping past unmentionables unexpectedly. Imagine my mortification and the horror at the thought of exposing my coworkers to such a traumatic sight!! So what does a girl do when there is potential scandal?? I very carefully shuffled to the Supervisor’s Office, borrowed a stapler, and stapled my inseam shut. I did not volunteer to get in any more bins that day nor do I recommend using staples as long term stitching as they have a tendency to tear flesh. At home that night I inspected the rest of the pants from that batch, and I found that all the seams were unfinished by the hip pockets. Needless to say, it was a fault that ran through the entire run of pants. For the next year we all got glimpses of each other’s underwear at the pocket seam. Some guys went commando so when you DIDN’T see underwear it was time to avert eyes, quickly!!! For those of use whose thighs rub (and that’s quite a few men too) those pants wore through at the inner legs and you had to be careful your pants hadn’t turned into Daisy Dukes that day.

Nowadays we wear 65/35 poly cotton but the Apparel Company has determined that we need double walled pants since the material literally wears out. So now we’re wearing TWO pairs of pants–in 108*F.

“A hunnert and eight! That’s bullschlocka!” some may say. “It’s only 89* out!!”

Airports are open to the sky, to facilitate landings and take-offs. Miles of concrete bake under a G2V classification star which averages 5,800* Kelvin (pretty hot). Concrete absorbs heat and retains it, just ask people who live in Phoenix about that. When the sun starts to go down, the ramp is just as hot as it was a noon. We’ve got aircraft engines that run constantly and pour off heat, equipment that runs and idles while we load the plane adding to the heat, giant air conditioners blowing hot air into our primary work areas–it’s enough to make you overly sweaty and faint.

So, don’t forget to don your polyester shirt, double-walled poly pants, and microfiber underwear on these uber hot days. You’ll look Company-approved but I guarentee you’ll be struggling with your clothing in the bathroom.

I Don’t Melt In the Rain. But Lightning…

lightning
Just remember, the passengers can’t see the lightning above them–but I can!

Last night a really rocking storm rolled through the area; lots of torrential rains and sky lightning, which is great for my garden and lawn…. but not so hot for we rampers.

The tower coordinators where I work are notorious for turning the volume off and throwing a blanket over the lightning indicator and reassuring the rampers over the radio that “all is well, keep working!” Many times I have worked during a thunderstorm, but you take the precaution of NOT putting the wired headset on your noggin when pushing the aircraft out, unless you want to potentially change your IQ and your hairstyle. That’s why hand signals were invented.

I have the glorious opportunity to watch storms roll in from the west straight at the airport. I have watched two decades worth of shelf clouds, green colored rain clouds, pounding rain racing across the runways and taxiways towards the terminal, and the violent art of lightning arcs and strikes. Sometimes one stands in place and looks at the giant flashes of electricity light up the night in all the various colors it comes in–blue, white, violet, yellow, greenish–and feel your chest rumble as thunder rolls across the field. It’s usually the bolt the goes !!!!FLASHkerBOOM!!!! in the same moment that makes you realize you’re standing on a tarmac full of electrical attractant big metal objects. Aircraft. Jetways. Beltloaders. Tugs. Pushbacks. Ten bazillion luggage carts. Airstarts. Air conditioning units. Right about then reality overrides the Wildman amazement of aerial electrical art and you  hustle for the breakroom.

There was one night when rain was pouring down in buckets–which other than soggy boots, is annoying but not life-threatening–and the occasional bolt of lightning that were picking up in speed and tempo. When it came to lightning, these bolts were ginormous and vibrated the ground and equipment, which is considerable since the pushbacks and tugs have 1″ steel plates all over them. The Operations Tower had not said anything regarding the lightning indicator and their mandate to call us in when it starts howling, and I was getting worried. I was the Lead on the gate, in charge of the life and safety of three other folks who were working to get the aircraft loaded. I called my supervisor on the radio and said, “The Tower has not called us in for lightning. This is ridiculously unsafe, my crew and I are going in. To heck with this plane.” At that moment the Tower started squawking about how the indicator wasn’t going off (remember, that thing starts howling when it detects lightning five miles away) and blah blah blah why they hadn’t called us in. I motioned my guys to stop loading and go in. As I made my way to the building I keyed the microphone and said, “Tower, as long as you have a roof over your head, you can ignore the lightning. It’s me and my crew that’ll get killed out here, not you. We’re going in, taking a delay, and that’s my call as the Lead!” About ten seconds later as I reached the door to the building, a bolt of lightning hit somewhere on airport property. Before the thunder had faded the Tower was on the radio hysterically calling a ramp closure due to lightning.

Lesson learned: my best interests and that of the Tower are sometimes at odds with each other. Save my life first.

ramprubble
What lightning bolts do to the ramp.

As you can see from the picture, a mere ramper stands no chance against lightning. When asphalt gets blown into pieces, you had better believe I’m going inside. I learned a long time ago during the summer of 1996 that I’m not a witch and I don’t melt in the rain. When it’s raining lightning, I’m outta there!!!