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The (First) Blizzard of 09

Adventurer B

An odd thought ran through my mind the week before Christmas. Spending my second night in a hotel while the "BLIZZARD OF '09" dumped a couple of feet of snow on Baltimore and much of the Northeast, I began to realize, we have this all wrong. We need to have Christmas in summer like they do in Australia. That way our Christmas travel plans would never be interrupted by snow or ice storms. Perhaps we could all go to the beach and have a "barbie." (However, I am not sure I could wrap my brain around snowstorms in July...)

Having your travel plans interrupted by Mother Nature is no fun. (My vacation started the next day but I wasn't going anywhere.) But, given that we have no choice when massive storms blow our way, I made the best of it and took pictures. The sights in the terminal at Baltimore/Washington International were bizarre indeed for the week before Christmas: The place was deserted. When can you see a airline terminal in a major US city completely empty?


Here's the Bad News Board. Even the flights that were still listed didn't make it in. Better to keep those planes out in the system moving other people. Getting them needlessly frozen to the ground only inconveniences more people. I can't remember having seen this many cancellations for a long time.

The main ticket counter out front. About five Passengers and ten Employees. Hard to believe it's the week before Christmas.

A peek outside shows why. The storm has just begun to bear down on the airport. Major highways are passable but will be closed by midnight.

Inside the Main Terminal there is one passenger, on his laptop. Cleaning staff vacuum around him.

The food court, usually a bustling place, serves only a few Employees who have taken a break from snow removal operations on the ramp.

Me, getting off the hotel van for my second night at the Holiday Inn. Notice the SUV behind me.

Here's the same SUV the next morning.

This was a shot of the gates mid-blizzard. Crews are trying valiantly to keep the jetbridge areas as clear as possible.

Only 12 hours later, the same area after the storm passed. The ramp had been cleared of most of the snow though, it was still ice covered.


Explorer B
I remember back in the late 1990s when Southwest made their move into places like Providence and Manchester. The major network carriers laughed themselves horse: "Hah! an airline named 'Southwest' is going to come waltzing into the 'Northeast.' I guess no one told them about a thing called 'winter!' Fast-forward to today, when Southwest is often the only passenger airline flying their assets around with smarts and sense. As soon as PHL got snowbound, planes flying there from places like JAX and BNA would simply leapfrog PHL and head to our airport in Manchester instead. At the height of the storm in Providence, Southwest flew three empty planes up here where they could wait out the storm. Indeed, I've never seen such nimbleness and ad-hoc maneuvering of assets like Southwest does. Applause all around!
Explorer C
Great photos, thanks for sharing them. I was just glad that storm passed us up in Chicago.
Adventurer C
That's one heck of a storm. Nothing one can do when Mother Nature dumps like that. I'd be real interested in some follow-up, maybe from Bill, our resident schedule planning expert, on your "blizzard model". Please share your rescheduling procedure as you keep planes out of the "trouble zone" and the rest of the system operating. Obviously, a plane stuck on the ground in a blizzard is "lost" for a period of time and it's best simply not to fly there and keep it working elsewhere in the system. Then, how do you get all your aircraft back in the "right" spots a few days later? Is that a manual process or computerized in some fashion? Must make for a crazy 48 hours.
Explorer C
Great update, Ray!! I landed at BWI late Friday evening on SW flt 988, just hours before the blizzard moved in. I want to give a super big "THANK YOU!" to all the Southwest pilots, flight attendants, gate attendants, etc. that helped to get me home right before the snow!!
Aviator C
JJG, I can provided a general view of our procedures for major weather events. Let's start with a normal day. Twice each day, representatives from all our operating departments and our Proactive Customer Service folks meet to review the operation and to receive a weather briefing from our Staff Meterologists. When major events start to appear, a group of our top Leaders begin planning for the possibilities. Should the weather event become a "sure thing" that promises wide disruptions we have a Weather Disruption Task Force (WDTF) that meets as needed (often 4 or more times a day during an event.) The WDTF coordinates with the affected stations, our Crew Scheduling Department, our Maintenance folks, our CS&S (formerly reservations), our Emergency Planning group, and our Dispatchers about if and when we should suspend service (and for how long), where to place aircraft so that we can restart serviced quickly, and how to reschedule our Crews so they are where the airplanes are. It is very much a team effort with many involved departments.
JJG, Just to chime on what Brian posted....we live by an old saying in our Department: "Planning is orderly, reality is chaotic" (or someting to that effect!). We actually don't write our schedule at all to maintain operability during major weather events like blizzards or hurricanes. There is no way to predict them and every one is completely unique in its coverage and impact. So, we write our schedules based on normal weather conditions--and because bad weather is seldom the norm, we leave recovering from it to our experts that actually have to execute it. And thanks, Ray--GREAT post and pics!!!! Bill
Adventurer C
Thanks Brian and Bill, I appreciate your feedback. I think I already realized that you didn't "schedule" for bad weather. The objective in your world Bill is to maximize the daily activity any single jet can generate in terms of the number of profitable flights it can accomplish. And you do that across all your fleet even taking advantage of the fact that flight times are reduced in the summer because of the stronger west to east jet stream. (I do enjoy reading your stuff Bill.) What I can't get my arms around is when the whole carefully crafted system is shot to heck (and I know you don't use that soft a word) because of snow, etc. It must be a very difficult task to restore order when planes and crews are in the wrong spots. I'm assuming that individual aircraft get reassigned routinely so tail # whatever becomes flight # whatever. I guess the objective at the end of any day is to make sure you've got the right compliment of 700s and 300s (and rested crews) at each airport in the system to begin anew the next morning. I just can't imagine how hard that must be with a major disruption. I've got one compliment to add. I've been involved in many weather related delays. You folks at SWA are always friendly, professional, and willing to go the extra mile. Once I was flying back from LAS to MDW into what would be the teeth of a snowstorm. I was on the phone with Customer Service early in the day when there were some very full flights without available seats. Your agent worked VERY HARD to find me a seat on a connection home to beat the storm getting me out of LAS and on my way ASAP. I think I flew through PHX and was on one of the last planes that actually made it into MDW that day. It doesn't always work but it is never for lack of effort on the part of your fine company. Happy New Year fellas.
Explorer C
OMG the blizzard is so scary! Why does it always have to be during Christmas? It usually spoils all the fun for the holiday vacation. By the way, great photos, thanks for sharing!!! April
Aviator C
JJG, thanks for the followup and sharing the nice words about our Employees. I think your observations illustrate that our goal during irregular operations is to consider the needs of individuals: Customers, Employees, and other airport workers who assist us. We try to balance their needs with our operational needs. Do we always succeed? No, and sometimes we can be overwhelmed, but we learn from those mistakes. It can seem like a daunting task to "put the system back together," but our WDTF folks take that into account when they begin to reduce or shut service down. Their game plan always includes the restart phase right from the beginning of planning. That is one of the huge improvements I hade seen in my 15 years at Southwest. For my first few years here, we kind of played weather disruptions by ear, hesitant to make decisions because the opportunity existed to keep operating as long as we could. Today, we will try to make a decision as early as possible, based on sound probablilities. There are times when we might stop service a bit too early, but on balance, letting everyone know our game plan in advance so alternate arrangements can be made (including the restart gameplan) has led to much less overall disruption and frustration. Happy New Years to you too! Brian
Explorer C
hey brian and bill think you could transfer over to res in okc sure could have used you expertise and knowledge so we would not have gotten stranded at the okc reservation center all night on christmas eve and am christmas morning. alot of unhappy big kids here and little kids at home waiting for santa. also could have used some "male" muscle when trying to shovel and push our stranded cars. bill i think you are the guy that years ago when we had dispatch just in reg bulletin and not as it is now we use to enjoy you comments, also much easier to understand back in the " good ole' days" many things were much better in the ole' days...
Explorer C
brian and bill - sure wish ya'll would transfer to the okc res center, we could have used your expertise when we got stranded her all day and night christmas eve until about 9am christmas day. needless to say there were many unhappy big kids here as well at little kids at home waiting for santa. the only help we knew we would get would be if santa and his trusty reindeer decided to stop and pull our vehicles out of the snow but obviously he was too busy that evening. also we could have used your male "muscles" when all of us girls were trying to shovel and push each others vehicles. we did eventually get some help from some male reservation agents but no other help at all. bill, i think you are the guy who we always enjoyed reading your dispatch bulletins back in the good ole' days when it was just in our daily bulletins. back in those days when we all were a "swa family" things sure were alot simpler and what a pleasure it was to come to work. we do appreciate you all and hope everyone in dallas has a very happy, healthy and safe 2010!!!!!!!!!