Snow and ice can cause havoc for an airline, and we all have our part to play in ensuring the safety of our passengers in these weather conditions.
With regards to snow, most airports are well prepared, and manage the situation efficiently whilst minimising delays. There are always a few airports that are not ready for a sudden snowstorm though. This usually results in an airport closure while the ground crew utilise all the snow clearing equipment.
However frustrating this may be, I’d rather they take this action than leave the runway open in an unsafe state. Rest assured, this would not happen. Landing in snow is – believe it or not – a lot less dangerous than take-off.
An airport will constantly monitor any snow and will ensure the runway is clear and safe by completing constant runway checks. If at any time it is deemed to be unsafe, it will immediately be closed, and any aircraft due to land will be diverted to a nearby airport – or will join a holding pattern until the runway is reopened.
In freezing temperatures, ice can form on the aircraft – Just as it does on your car. Similarly, the aircraft must be de-iced before take-off. De-icing procedures can be seen by watching this video;
As previously mentioned, the shape of the wings is an integral part of the overall aerodynamics of the aircraft. If ice forms on the wings, the aerodynamics are altered as the wing is now a different shape.
This can severely limit an aircraft’s ability to take-off safely. Therefore we must all keep an eye out for dangerous ice build-up. This includes pilots, cabin crew, ground staff, dispatchers and anyone else who has a view of the wings – including passengers. When you are flying, do not be afraid to mention any ice you may have seen on the aircraft. If nothing else, it will help you relax once you know that we are definitely aware of the situation.
De-icing will take place either before the passengers arrive, or once the doors have been closed. If you are on-board, you will see a large machine approach the aircraft and spray the wings, along with any other part of the aircraft that the captain requests.
It may sound a bit like being in a car wash as the fluid is sprayed over the aircraft. Don’t be alarmed – it’s a good noise! If there is a long wait for take-off, and it’s still freezing outside, the captain may request to be de-iced again before departure.
We are all trained to keep checking the wings for ice in freezing temperatures. You may even notice the crew looking out of the window at some point. It’s nothing to worry about, we are simply double checking. You are in safe hands.
YES, ice can be dangerous. But, there are procedures in place to ensure your safety is not compromised. Many lessons were learned from Air Florida Flight 90 in 1982, which crashed into the Pontomac River in a severe snowstorm, and freezing temperatures.