November 10, 2011

A Day In The Life: Ground Operations

Welcome to the first edition of our new column, A Day In The Life, where we will take you on a behind-the-scenes tour to see the inner-workings of JetBlue each month and meet one of our 14,000 crewmembers, where you will learn more about all of the different people that work together to get an airline off the ground! In this first edition we meet Mike*, a Ground Operations Lead based at JFK.

Mike starts his day when many of us are ending ours, at 8:30 p.m. He arrives at our home at Terminal 5 (T5) at JFK early and spends plenty of time saying hello to just about every single person in sight. Even before he’s reached his locker room, crewmembers stop him to say hello, ask a question, make a joke.

At the start of his shift, Mike steps into one of the Ground Operations break rooms for the daily briefing, where everyone gets their assignments and any relative announcements are made.  He looks official in his JetBlue Ground Operations uniform with his safety vest, and duffel bag, which includes headphones to communicate with the pilot, a radio to talk to our Airport Operations, six wands for navigating planes to the gate, and a bypass pin which locks the aircrafts landing gear once the plane is safely docked at the gate. A display monitor in the break room lets crewmembers know when flights are coming in, at what gate, their baggage counts and where the airplane is headed to next.

After the briefing, Mike immediately finds his assigned crew for the day, generally composed of 3-4 people who are rotated to work with one another for the entirety of their shift. Mike is a Ground Operations Lead, which means that he is responsible for his crew, ensuring that they all work together to get planes in and out on time.

“What time is our first flight due in?” Mike asks his crew.

“We’ve got 40 minutes. Gate 20, FLL (Ft. Lauderdale) turning LAS (Las Vegas),” one of his Ground Operations crewmember’s answers.

“Let’s meet at gate 20 in 15 minutes. You get the baggage. I’ll secure the  equipment,” he communicates to his crew, and off he goes, out the door of the break room, down the hallway, and out another door which takes you to the ramp, also known as the tarmac.

“I like to hurry up and stage the equipment before the flight comes in,” Mike says as he hustles around the tarmac, to locate the necessary equipment for turning the flight. First tugs pulling luggage carts, then belt loaders (that feed bags in and out of the belly of aircraft) and finally a pushback (a vehicle that helps to push the plane back from the gate) with a tow bar. He drives them all over to Gate 20, where his first flight is due in 15 minutes. He then does a FOD walk, (Foreign Object Debris), picking up anything that could damage the aircraft upon its arrival.

Due to Mike’s leadership, he and his team have all the needed equipment in place when the Airbus A320 aircraft arrives from Ft. Lauderdale. The team quickly springs into action the moment the plane’s engine turns off, attaching the wheel chocks (to keep the plane in place), tow bar, and bypass pin, which locks the plane’s nose gear in place to ensure safety. While potable water is being replenished, the pre-conditioned air that cools the cabin is connected and the belt loaders are being placed into position. Mike also performs the arrival “walk around” inspection, required for all arriving and departing flights to ensure the aircraft’s safe operating condition.

Once these tasks are complete, Mike speaks with the Captain to give him essential information about baggage loads for weight and balance, then the flight needs to be cleared for takeoff. The Captain checks in with Airport Operations to get clearance for departure. Once clearance is given, Mike then gets on the pushback , a mechanized vehicle that is attached to the front of an aircraft via a tow bar, and slowly begins to push the plane. Mike carefully follows the designated yellow lines, until the aircraft arrives on its designated stop point. Then the Captain turns on the plane’s engine to proceed to the runway for takeoff.

Mike works as a leader, which sets the example for his crew, carrying out the tasks alongside them and ensuring everything is completed in a timely fashion. You can tell he has earned the respect of his crew and that a lot of care goes into each and every flight.

After the flight takes off, Mike then completes his FAA-required report, documenting the load factors (the amount of people and bags) of the flight. Then he and his team take the opportunity to grab a slice of pizza in between their next assignment.

Ground Operations work is essential to the overall JetBlue operation. Pilots, flight attendants, and  airport operations crewmembers are visible; you see them when you travel and you know what they do. These guys and gals are on the ground, rain or shine, day or night, ensuring that your plane and your bags are in good shape and ready to go, on-time, to your scheduled destination. Mike is just one shining example of the several thousand Ground Operations crewmembers that help keep our airline running like a well-oiled machine.

Thanks for reading and be sure to check back next month for the next edition of A Day In The Life!

Check out the below video of the pushback towing the plane from the gate to the taxiway.

*Please note that Mike is not the actual name of the crewmember, but rather represents our Ground Operations crewmembers at JetBlue.

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