When I left my house Friday morning, I knew the trip was going to be an adventure. The first leg was scheduled to fly to Washington Dulles Airport. After a sixteen hour layover, we were supposed to fly back across the country to Los Angeles. On paper, the trip looked great: four days, five flights, commutable on both ends. However, there was no way possible the trip would be flown as scheduled. As I drove to the airport in Denver, I began contemplating all the possible scenarios in my head.
Friday morning, Hurricane Irene was approaching the coast of the Southeastern United States. Most models were forecasting the storm to track right over Virginia and Maryland. Airlines don’t mess around with hurricanes. My schedule was going to change. I promised myself I would just roll with it.
If you’ve been reading along, you may remember I rode out Hurricane Andrew in Coral Gables back in 1992. That experience led to a healthy respect for major tropical systems. But, I also knew that a smaller hurricane that far inland in Virginia would pale in comparison to Andrew. My personal safety was not at risk… I had no apprehension about operating the flight to IAD on Friday night.
After the commute, I met the captain in operations. He had also been running various scheduling possibilities through his head. We were in agreement that we would have no trouble getting the airplane into Dulles. Getting an airplane out on Saturday was another story.
Captain B had a great idea. With a few phone calls, he got permission to remove leftover catering from the airplane in Dulles. If the hotel lost power and became a shelter environment, we would have plenty of food and water for the crew.
We departed on-time and had a nice evening flight across the country. I’d love to report that we heroically muscled the aircraft onto the ground while the outer bands of the hurricane began their assault on Virginia. But, truth be told, it was still the calm before the storm. When we arrived, the winds were out of 130 degrees at 6 knots with clear skies. The captain made a nice approach and landing on Runway 19C.
After performing the parking checklist, Captain B made a call to the company. Our 3:40pm flight on Saturday had already been canceled. The flight attendants were still on schedule to return to the west coast on an earlier flight in the morning. There wasn’t a plan for the two of us. We were instructed to go to the hotel and call back for our assignment.
We looked a little silly exiting the airport. Hanging from our roller board handles were white trash bags full of bottled water, snack boxes, and a few leftover turkey sandwiches. We were prepared. Bring on the storm.
After we checked into the hotel, we learned we would be operating the flight to Los Angeles on Sunday. We had forty hours to spend at the secluded Northern Virginia property. After waiting out the storm, we were to fly to LAX then Seattle. On the last day, we were scheduled to finish too late for me to commute home. Oh well, I promised myself I would roll with it. I was going to enjoy the down-time and make good on my promise.
By Saturday morning, it looked as if Irene would spare the Dulles area. The forecast updated to show the massive storm sliding a little more to the east. I sat in the hotel most of the day watching news reports and calling family and friends. That evening, we had a nice dinner at the hotel. After dinner, I walked outside just so I could officially say I felt part of the storm. It was a little breezy with light rain.
The local weatherman said the “worst of it” would come around midnight. If I was on the Maryland shore, I would have been concerned. Being inland, I went to sleep at 11:00pm and never gave it another thought. When I woke in the morning, the sun was shining. The storm caused much heartache in other areas, but it spared my location.
Sunday afternoon, we departed for Los Angeles. Over the southwest, we dodged more storms than I’ve deviated around all summer. The hurricane posed no challenge… but, the normally docile southwest weather made me earn my pay.
From there, we flew to Seattle for a twenty hour layover. The next day, I walked all around downtown. I’ve mentioned it before… some cities just have a “routine” I follow on a layover. Monday was no exception.
Monday night, we returned to San Francisco. After a few hours of sleep at “The Roof,” Southwest Airlines was nice enough to give me a ride home at 6:00am. We touched down in Denver at 9:15.
Reflecting on the trip, I’m glad that all the right decisions were made. Hurricane forecasts must be respected and decisions need to be made twenty four hours in advance. As far as I know, all of our teammates stayed safe during the storm. None of our aircraft were damaged. Guests were promptly re-booked on other flights. Crews on the Boston and New York flights had more challenges than those of us at Dulles. They repositioned aircraft to Pittsburgh, waited, then ferried back to operate revenue flights to California.
In all, everyone pulled together to successfully ride out the storm.
Did I ever mention how nice it is to work for an airline where everyone is pulling on the same end of the rope?