Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Epilogue: Surprise & Delight

We learned as we gathered at the gate that a significant storm system was moving into the Chicago area and could result in delays at O'Hare.  The captain seemed to think that we would still have a window of opportunity to operate our flight at near the scheduled times.  We boarded our completely full aircraft and departed, as normal.

As we taxied toward the departure runway, I thought it odd that we made a left turn, crossing the active departure runway, onto the taxiway between arrivals and departures.  The sound of the #1 engine spooling down as it does upon gate arrival confirmed my suspicions.  We were being sent to the "penalty box".  A ground stop had been declared at O'Hare and our departure would be delayed indefinitely.  The captain did an admirable job of explaining our situation, adding that he would give us periodic updates.  The flight attendants immediately offered water to customers parched by the mid-summer heat and understandably anxious from the news.  Just their presence in the cabin calmed things, I think.

Updates came but they didn't hold much good news or much promise that good news would be forthcoming.  The captain's calm, professional delivery kept anxieties to a minimum.  As we approached the hour mark, the cabin crew offered snacks and a mix of soft drinks.  Unhurried and friendly, the atmosphere remained calm. The gentlemen behind me actually joked about missing their connecting flights.

At near the 2 hour mark, the Captain's news was decidedly not good.  We had been given a takeoff slot hours in the future and the crew would reach their FAA-mandated maximum duty period constraints long before then.  They were making a last-ditch appeal to Air Traffic Control via our dispatchers in Chicago to advance our place in line.  But it was clear that he wasn't hopeful.

A collective moan rose in the cabin.  The cancellation of a full flight between the nation's two largest air hubs sounded like disaster because it certainly would be for those affected.

Without warning, I began to simultaneously hear and feel a rumble from the left hand side of the plane (I'm sitting in the window seat at the left emergency exit). I recognized the familiar engine start as soon as it began.  Seconds later, "Ladies and gentlemen, we were successful!  ATC has moved us to the front of the line. If we leave right way, we're going to Chicago.  Everyone take your seats as quickly as you can."

Folks were seated and the flight attendants had the cabin cleared of service articles as quickly as I've ever seen it done.

"Flight Attendants, please be seated for departure."  The guys behind me laughed, "I don't think they needed to be told!"  No, they didn't.

At present, we're flying a strange arc out to the west of Chicago in order to circumnavigate and come in behind what the captain described as a Level 4 storm, "the kind that can uproot trees."  Fine with me!  I don't hear any arguments from the Type-As seated all around me, either!

And, if anything, I'm prouder of my airline-employer's performance today than I was earlier, in spite of our 2-hour plus arrival delay.  Anyone should be able to do a good job under perfect circumstances (we weren't able to do even that for a while, sadly). 

It's a customer-pleasing, expectation exceeding performance under uncontrollable circumstances that separates the truly good from the merely passable.  I used to work for the truly good.  I'm excited to think that I may have that opportunity again before I retire.

I have a really, really, REALLY good feeling about that.

P.S.  As I exited the airplane and stepped onto the jet bridge, I overheard a woman behind me say, "They did a really good job!"

Yes, they did. 

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