I just returned from St. Louis, which, as you know, suffered terrible damage when a tornado literally ripped through the airport and its terminal several months ago. You can still see places where severe damage was caused and work remains to be done. But overall, when you visit and walk through the airport to get your flight, it is almost as if nothing ever happened. Airport leaders and staff are really terrific at dealing with such incidents, events that are not in any airport manager’s handbook.
I have also thought a lot about that topic in recent days in the wake of stories of the plane stuck on the tarmac at Hartford for several hours during a recent freak Fall snowstorm.
While news stories focus on what happened on the ground, the real story – and the real solution – lies with what happens in the air. The seeds for the problems that day were sown long before the planes landed. Hartford has 22 gates. There were 28 plans diverted there that day, in addition to any planes already scheduled to be there. In addition, the staff was working hard to keep the runway and taxiway clear of a foot of snow. At the same time, there were other airports in the region that had much better weather and plenty of room and would have been able to handle some of those planes (7 of them declared fuel emergencies to land at Hartford, not much you can do about that). As Ralph Kramden might have said, it was two pounds of bologna in a one pound bag.
The key here, as I wrote in USA Today not long after the incident, is for the FAA, airlines and airports to learn from this and work to come with a way to better handle and distribute these diversions. Hartford had a plan, but it was overwhelmed by what unfolded. There is much to learn and there are solutions. What we do not need is folks trying to use the incident to gain attention, what we do need is people to roll up their sleeves and develop those common sense solutions. We do not need press conferences, we need the work to be done, and we need better communication most of all.
It must have been awful to be on one of those planes that day. It need not have happened. We need to learn why it happened and put solutions in place. We are committed to rolling up our sleeves and participating in that effort.