Aeronautical Randomness
Dear Media: We don’t wait on runways!
December 8, 2011

I’d like to correct a common error made by news reporters.  It may not seem significant to you, but it drives most of us nuts.  To help make the point, I’ll share something that happened years ago when I worked for United.

In Los Angeles, we boarded the communal hotel shuttle.  As usual, it was packed with people.  When we arrived at the hotel, the bus pulled into the circular drive and stopped about twenty feet short of the main entrance.  Somebody abandoned their car and it was causing a little bit of a backup.

After we sat still for five minutes, the captain stood and leaned towards the driver. “That’s close enough,” he said.  “We’ll get out here.”

It seemed like a reasonable request… As I said, although short of the door, the bus was fully in the covered driveway of the hotel.

“No. I can only let you out at the front entrance.”  There wasn’t the slightest hint of politeness in her tone.

“I’m getting off this van.  Open the door.”

“Sir, you need to sit down. I’m not opening the door.  I will get in trouble if I drop you off anywhere but the front entrance of the hotel.”

Either the company had overly stringent rules or the woman was slightly misinterpreting management’s guidance.

I was intrigued watching the captain.  He often explained to passengers why they could not deplane and now HE was trapped on a bus.  I was also annoyed, but I kept quiet.  I was more curious to see how the captain would react.  I wondered if the other riders were having similar thoughts.

Another five minutes passed.

“You open this door right now or I’m dialing 911.”  He was getting loud.  I believe I also saw a vein on his neck start to throb.

Passengers clapped as the driver opened the door.  (If only it were that easy on the airplane!)  We funneled out, without tipping, and walked into the hotel.

In the lobby, the captain phoned the bus company.  We were correct.  The bus drivers were instructed not to drop off guests anywhere other than the airport or hotel.  The rule was intended to prohibit drivers from picking up or dropping off on the street.  The supervisor informed the captain that the hotel driveway would constitute a hotel drop-off and apologized for the driver’s confusion.

Those are the facts of the actual story.  Now, let’s move to the hypothetical.

Although the situation didn’t escalate further, imagine the captain had called 911.  Also imagine that the local news covered the story.  At 11:00pm, the reporter read the following script:

“Today, a hotel bus was stuck on the FREEWAY for ten minutes while passengers were trapped inside.”

On the freeway?  Huh?

That would change the circumstances around my little story, wouldn’t it?

A bus stuck on a freeway would be a really bad situation.  How would all the other vehicles get around the bus?  That would cause quite a backup.  It might even shut down the freeway.  No, no, no, Mr. Anchor… we weren’t stuck on the freeway.  We were in the hotel driveway.  BIG difference.

Seem absurd?  Not really…

After an airline delay debacle, most reporters state that the aircraft was stuck on the runway.

To be fair, on rare occasions, aircraft will park on a closed runway during a delay.  But, 99% of the time, we sit on a taxiway or the ramp.

At an airport, the runway handles all the high speed action.  Airplanes takeoff and land on the runway.  We taxi on taxiways and park on the ramp.

Comparing the bus story to flying: runway = freeway and taxiway = driveway.

When you say the plane waited on a runway, you sound a little silly.  If we were stuck there, nobody else could take off or land.  The airport would be closed. (Remember, most “stuck on the plane” delays are caused by airborne traffic backups and/or lack of gate space… not the aircraft’s actual ability to takeoff or land at that airport.)

So, please, please, please… the next time you cover an airline delay, use the correct terminology.  You will sound more professional and my wife won’t have to listen to me scream at the television.

About author

Renewed Pilot

I've endured a roller coaster career in the U.S. Aviation Industry. Currently flying the 737 on my third try with the same legacy carrier, I have also flown for a regional, fractional and start-up carrier. My piloting experience includes the 737, A320, 727, Citation Excel, Citation Bravo, Saab 340 and many light singles and twin engine aircraft. I reside in the suburbs of Nashville, Tennessee.

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There are 3 comments

  • M. ONeil says:

    You scream at the TV when stuff like that happens too?! Glad to know I’m not the only one! As always, nice blog. 🙂

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