Hey guys, I’m at the Denver International Airport. It’s 30 degrees, the snow is on it’s way and the wind is getting crazy. Rain, snow, ice, fog, freezing temperatures… mother nature is a force to be reckoned with, but so is the weather team at United. From their Network Operations Center in Chicago, better known as the NOC, United’s meteorologists monitor weather around the world 24/7. On this episode of Big Metal Bird, we’re getting a behind the scenes look at what happens when winter weather hits. And, meeting a few United team members who work in pre-planning and weather analysis, snow removal, baggage handling and de-icing, Bundle up. This is gonna be a fun one. Let’s say a snow storm is going to impact travel in and out of Denver International Airport. The NOC makes a call to this guy, Henry Bird. Okay Henry. Tell us what happens next. Well, we uh, we make sure that we have the right stakeholders involved. We bring them together and we start to understand how the storm is going to impact our operation and we start our planning from there. So there’s been times when I’ve had my flight impacted by weather, but it’s a beautiful day outside. How does that happen? That’s one of the toughest scenarios to really engage and really embrace our customers and tell them what’s going on. Because they’re looking out, they’re seeing sunshine. They’re like,
Why aren’t you flying? When the reality is, there could be issues down line at their destination city. There could be issues en-route. All while it still looks sunny and you’re ready to go here. It certainly takes a village to make it work. You know, when an event ends and you’ve been able to minimize cancels and you’ve been able to keep people going to where they need to get to, ah, that’s a good feeling. Henry invited me to attend his daily winter weather operations meeting. Let’s go check it out. Sunday morning, ah, I think the temps, the low temps will be about 24 degrees and some northeast winds will start to pick up about 12-15 knots. Until what time is that? I think the snow will start to pick up a little bit of intensity by, um, 3 o’clock in the morning there with some light accumulation possible. Alright, so, with 4-7 inches on Sunday, continuing through to 9 o’clock at night, high risk for moderate to heavy snow, along with high winds, we’re gonna have our work cut out for us. Pre-planning and weather analysis: check. Next, snow removal. But first, let’s go meet the team this snowstorm is up against. Frank, Station Operations Manager. Mary, Ramp Service Agent. Lisa, Lead Customer Service Agent. Doug, SOC Supervisor. Ahh, guys? I’m looking for someone named Terry? I never knew there were this many people working behind the scenes. Okay, snow removal is the key to keeping things running around here. And Terry is the guy that makes it all happen. My role in the SOC is to ensure we have adequate communication with the city and county of Denver and the FAA to determine runway capacity, airport capacity and roadway capacity. This device here, as you can see, is a standard end loader. We also have several other end loaders here and several on the end. And those devices are used to feed the snow melter. These are our snow melters. Which actually can move several thousand tons of snow during a winter operation. Snow removal: check. Next stop, the ramp to meet Raul. He’s the guy that makes sure everyone on the ramp is safe and that you and your bag stay together when weather hits. Even in bad weather, our BRS, our baggage resource support group, do a phenomenal job in proactively working to ensure that the bag gets forwarded to the flight that the customer has been re-booked on. Nice. Baggage handling: check. Now, I’m off to Uniteds flight tower to find someone called the snow woman and talk de-icing. The most important aspect of my job is to coordinate the de-icing operation, to get our planes out as on time as possible. It’s really cool. You can see pretty much everywhere. You can see all the gates, You can see the de-icing pads, you can see the airplanes moving around the airport. Next up, I’m meeting with the Snowflake. His job is to make sure the pilots know what’s going on during winter weather. Okay, so I just met the Snow Woman , you’re the Snowflake. What do you do and what’s a guy gotta do around here to get a cool code name? So what I do, is when we do have a big snowstorm that comes in and hits Denver, is I take on the role of Snowflake that you mentioned and we set up kind of a communication piece between the pilots and the ice house which is down the road. And why do you need to de-ice a plane? Well, ice on the plane increases the weight of the plane and it also affects the aerodynamic capabilities of the wing. So we have to make sure all ice is moved off of an aircraft before they take off. So, you’re saying de-icing, that’s a pretty big deal? It’s a pretty big deal for safety. Alright, let’s go for a ride. Let’s go! Mike and I are heading over to a de-icing pad to check out all the action. But first, here’s a little de-icing 101. The FAA requires planes to be de-iced when there’s any sort of frozen precipitation in the atmosphere. So, how does de-icing work? There are two types of fluids used to de-ice a plane. The first, an orange de-icing fluid, is used to remove ice and snow from the airplane. The second, a green anti-icing fluid, is used to keep future ice from forming. Alright guys, it’s time to de-ice a plane. Three, two, one… Wooo [Laughs] Getting the whole thing here. Deicing: check. [Laughs] There are countless employees working hard to make sure you and I get to our final destinations safely and quickly as possible. Oh, and one more thing. Next time you fly United, provide your contact information and download the United app. That way, they can keep you updated on your flight. [Phone Ring] Alright, let’s go. What if I’m called the snow machine? Ehhhh, I don’t think snow machine, no… How about, ice master?