It Doesn’t Always Go Smoothly

The trials of bad weather.

There was some pretty good winter weather this past weekend, and it caused a lot of cancellations and delays. I arrived in Detroit Saturday night, flying in from São Paulo, Brazil and I was scheduled to fly right back to São Paulo at 7:30 on Sunday evening.

The forecast in Detroit was for three to six inches of snow, and we watched the light snow all day on Sunday before leaving for the airport at 5:30 pm. The roads weren't too bad, but a few times the driver skidded and then regained control.

With the snow still coming down as we arrived at the plane, we knew would have to de-ice before departure. The airport was reporting winds gusting to 35 knots and visibility of a mile and a quarter in light snow and blowing snow. We had three pilots for this long flight, and it was my turn to fly.

As if the weather weren't enough for us to deal with, we were told by mechanics when we arrived that the airplane's APU (Auxiliary Power Unit, used to provide power and conditioned air while we're at the gate and also used to start the engines) had just started acting up, and they couldn't get it started. They spent some time trying to fix it, but eventually had to just defer it. This meant we would fly with it as is, with the repair was deferred to a later time. This is allowed for certain items on the plane, as long as there are backup procedures or systems for anything critical.

In this case, we couldn't heat the cold plane for the passengers until we had an engine running, and we would need an external huffer cart to provide high pressure air for starting the engine. Normally this would just be a minor nuisance, but tonight's weather made it more of an issue.

We had to start an engine at the gate, then get pushed back. On the icy ramp, however, the tug driver wasn't able to push us back with the engine running. They had to come de-ice the ramp so he had more traction, and eventually we got going.

Next we headed out to a remote area for de-icing, which took some time but was mostly uneventful. We finally took off for São Paulo a little over three hours after the scheduled departure time. A short ten hours and four minutes later, we landed in beautiful summer weather with temperatures around 90 degrees.

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