Ruminations from the Ramp
Ruminations from the Ramp
By Tony Vasko
We work in an industry where performance is closely measured. As we have seen from recent congressional hearings here in the U.S. and some very unfavorable news coverage, late flights rate right up there in the public's eye. We are partly to blame as many of the airlines have a "siege" mentality when it comes to delays. They draw into their shell and tough it out.
In the good old 1950s, Lockheed Air Service maintained many of the smaller operator's aircraft at the then Idlewild Field. A good customer of ours was Trans Caribbean which had recently gotten rid of its venerable DC-4 and early DC-6 and was flying some newish leased DC-6Bs. Since I was working for Lockheed and not the airline I was not eligible for passes. Still, Trans Carib supported me and I was going to support them.
The occasion was my honeymoon. I had met and wooed my bride and in early December we were married. We still are which makes us nearly unique among our kid’s friends. But I digress. Since it was December we decided we wanted fun in the sun so Puerto Rico was our choice. Who better than the airline I worked on to take us down? Eastern Airlines and Pan American were the other possibilities, but I was determined to give my business to Trans Carib.
No problem and best of all they had a flight at a little before midnight that would allow us time to recover from the reception. We presented our tickets at the counter in the old "Temporary Terminal" building at Idlewild. This was a row of connected Quonset type buildings with various add-ons. There was not too much activity at 10.00 p.m. at night except around the Trans Carib's counter. If we were not the only "continentals" in the crowd of passengers lined up, we were nearly so. Mostly they were Puerto Ricans going home for the holidays. Their mood was festive and there were many children. The agent took our tickets and said they would soon announce the boarding for an on schedule departure at 11.30 p.m.
Having spent a lot of time working in this terminal I took my fair bride upstairs to the "Greeks" for a little coffee and maybe a piece of apple pie (Editor’s note: see GSE Today, April 2001!). I was perhaps showing off to her a bit and wanted her to see where I labored. There were no windows on the ramp level so you could not see what was going on outside. Upstairs you could as the observation deck came off the Greeks. Ominously, when I looked out, the lone Trans Carib DC-6 sitting on the ramp had a bunch of my buddies swarming over number 2 engine. The prop was in feather. Things did not look good. Since the aircraft represented 50 percent of Trans Carib's fleet, they were not going to roll out a spare.
We went back downstairs and I parked my wife in a corner and slipped out through an adjacent gate. Security was not the tightest in those days. No one was going to search us or our possessions, or ask if we had packed our own bags. I went across the ramp out to the airplane. As I had feared, the engine had backfired on the way in. That was a sure sign of an upper land failure to one of the pistons and in spite of a prompt shutdown and feathering, there was metal in the sump and an engine change was needed. There would be no flight until the other DC-6 got back from Puerto Rico at about 7:30 a.m.
I went inside and explained the reality of piston engined airliners to my wife. In her inimitable confidence in me, she asked, "Can't you fix it?" I had to admit I could not. I wondered how the airline was going to handle this little matter. They had apparently picked up all the tickets for the ticket counter was now deserted. They had made sure they had picked up all the tickets because Eastern down the hall had a late night flight too. They made no announcement either. No sense in alarming the passengers after all. Besides they might take their ticket back and try to use it on Eastern.
Some flights were delayed and some passengers missed flights because they couldn't board in time.
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