The following is a fictional story I wrote to give our Customers a better idea how the great People in Dispatch watch over our planes.
The lady in the seat next to me is pale. Her hand is shaky as she reaches over to grasp my wrist as the bumps jostle us and the Flight Attendants take their seats to ride it out. I peek out the window to see the Rocky Mountains ahead of us. “I’m sorry, I just don’t like this turbulence,” she says and I try to help comfort the 70-year old grandmother heading out to see her newest grandbaby. She probably didn’t realize that she was sitting next to one of the few people who actually can sleep through turbulence and even enjoys it a bit in a weather geek sort way.
“We’re going to be okay,” I tried to assure her, “There is a lot going on behind the scenes and many people watching over us to help minimize what we’re going through right now.” She seemed to be interested and even better yet, distracted, so I went on.
“Before the flight there is someone on the ground who is planning the route that we will fly. But wait, what’s your oldest grandkid’s name?” I ask her.
“Kim is my smart girl,” she says with a proud grandma smile.
“So let’s say Kim is grown up, and we’re lucky enough to have her working at Southwest Airlines as a Flight Dispatcher. She is on the ground taking care of you before the flight happens by planning the safest route, but the job doesn’t stop there. She continues to keep an eye on the flight and any new weather that may pop up along the way that may be a problem. Any time there is a change that could impact the flight, she relays this information up to the Pilots, who she has been working with since the flight started, and they plan a way to avoid or at least minimize the effect of the turbulence. Sometimes you just can’t get around it, but you can make the ride a bit easier.”
“Oh my heavens,” she says, “So can the Pilot do something too?”
“Yes, he is also keeping an ear and eye out for changes as well. The two Pilots are constantly listening to their radios and all the talk happening between all the flights in the area and Air Traffic Control. They can hear other flights asking for different flight levels or reporting where turbulence is. Air Traffic Control, Kim, our Dispatcher, and the Pilot all work together to either reroute the flight or make it fly at a different level to help make the Passenger’s experience as good and as safe as possible.”
“They’re like airline sentinels keeping guard over our way, aren’t they?” she says, making a great analogy.
As if on cue, I hear the engines' tone change a little and feel that little push as we start to descend a bit, and the bumps weaken to the point where it just feels like driving on a washboard road. She smiles a bit as if she just found out a little secret. Her grip loosens, but still she holds onto my arm gently. “I think Kim is taking care of us,” she whispers.