Around the Nation
5:06 am
Thu November 1, 2012

Airlines Work To Get Planes Back In Place

Originally published on Thu November 1, 2012 6:41 am

Transcript

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

And now, here's our daily look at the bottom line. Hurricane Sandy affected countless people who travel for business, not to mention airlines themselves.

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

In the New York area, Newark Airport and JFK resumed service yesterday, and LaGuardia is open again for business, with limited service.

INSKEEP: Airlines canceled thousands of flights this week, with nationwide effects. To understand the scope of the problem, and the recovery, NPR's Wade Goodwyn spent time inside the Operations Center at American Airlines, in Dallas.

WADE GOODWYN, BYLINE: To walk into the American Airlines Operations Center as they struggle to cope with the aftermath of Sandy, is to stumble upon a scene of utter chaos. Flight dispatchers sit helplessly at their stations, their faces and arms raised to the ceiling in supplication, desperately beseeching God. The center manager, surrounded by banks of computer screens flashing red, rests with his head on his arms, weeping so quietly almost no one can hear.

(SOUNDBITE OF OPERATIONS CENTER ACTIVITY)

GOODWYN: Oh, all right. None of that is true. Here's what it really sounds like.

UNIDENTIFIED FLIGHT DISPATCHER #1: I just got a call from Kennedy, and we're down an airplane tomorrow. We don't have an aircraft. Kennedy is opening up later on today. We need a Triple 7.

UNIDENTIFIED FLIGHT DISPATCHER #2: I've already set it up.

UNIDENTIFIED FLIGHT DISPATCHER #1: For there tomorrow night? Oh, you have?

UNIDENTIFIED FLIGHT DISPATCHER #2: Yep, I've set it up already. We're going to...

GOODWYN: The fact is, at the American Airlines Operations Center at DFW, it seems just like another normal day. When Jon Snook, vice president of operations, planning and performance at American, is asked about the crushing lack of desperation in his Operations Center, Snook sympathetically explains.

JON SNOOK: No, and I think - I think what you have to put in to context is that somewhere in the world - every day there is something happening, somewhere. And while obviously, this is a very significant event for the Northeast of the United States, we deal with hurricanes and earthquakes and tsunamis, and volcanoes erupting; somewhere in the world, pretty much every day.

GOODWYN: On flight dispatcher's Russell Buescher's desk are long reams of computer printouts.

RUSSELL BUESCHER: These are routing charts, and these are actually routing charts for the Super 80s and the 737s.

GOODWYN: Buescher is finding - and substituting - operating airplanes for broken ones.

BUESCHER: OK, I'm back on 2216. It's Aircraft 4, Whiskey Mike, and it's got a stab trim inoperative. So right now, it leaves at 13:45 local. Of course, we're not going to make it on time because it just happened. So...

GOODWYN: The focus of attention, at the moment, is - not surprisingly - the restoration of operations at Kennedy and LaGuardia. Center manager Mike Eastin is in charge of operating the airline, from his horseshoe-shaped station. The problem, at the moment, is not so much getting his planes into LaGuardia. It's what happens to his passengers when they get there.

MIKE EASTIN: We get a lot of passengers that are flying, that don't really know - just because we're flying there, maybe someone else isn't, with this kind of mess. So you get people that are coming up there, thinking they're going to connect easily. And there's no hotels. So we're doing a lot of discussions about lack of hotel space. And again, the transportation is probably the biggest thing.

GOODWYN: Today will be a big test of the New York airports' readiness. At American's Operations Center, they say they'll be ready for the day's headaches.

Wade Goodwyn NPR News, Dallas.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

INSKEEP: Now, those who are skeptical of their chances to get a flight, may have an alternative if they're traveling in the Northeast. Amtrak says it is restoring limited service in the Northeast Corridor - although not yet through New York City.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.