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I can see you now, all cozy in your seat, snuggled up with a good e-book. Ah, those humming jet engines sure are soothing. Or, if you’re like me, you’ve got your Bose QuietComfort Noise Cancelling headphones on, making those Vanilla Ice tracks sound crisp and clear and reducing those already-quiet jet engines to just the faintest background hum. Accentuating your comfortable surroundings is that jaw-clenching chill you knocked off your body once the flight attendant closed the cabin door.
Because it is absolutely freezing outside right now. Not just in Chicago and New York, but it’s frosty here in Dallas and over in Tulsa; it’s unseasonably cold in Miami and Los Angeles; heck, you can almost ice skate from Biloxi to Tampa because the Gulf of Mexico is so cold. But these things don’t concern you. No, you’re at a comfortable cruising altitude in your pressurized, all-weather aircraft. All that’s missing is your bunny slippers, unless you’re like me and you brought them.
But let’s forget about comfort for a moment and instead take some time to appreciate unsung heroes who made your plane ready for takeoff and ensured a comfortable — and above all, safe — flying experience. I’m talking about those solitary men and women who brave the elements and toil in the biting cold so that every AA flight you board is completely free of ice and snow. I’m talking about the Hollywood hunks and starlets of the tarmac; the all-star team of climate crusaders.
I’m talking about the deicers!
You see them while you’re waiting, they see you in their sleep. Come wintertime, these folks eat snow, sleep on ice and then eat some more snow. They stand in a bucket — a bucket attached to a crane, which is attached to a truck — and point a fire hose at the plane. Their truck travels less than 4 mph, and their work is slow and deliberate. And important.
To get a sense of how these weather warriors work, I enrolled (er, enlisted) in deicer college (er, training).
Let me tell you, this isn’t like taking “Appreciation of Bowling” for your gym credit. This is an eight-hour class with four hours of classroom work and another four of in-the-bucket training. Our manual was 121 pages long, and many of the terms seemed to come straight out of a chemistry text.
The instructor, Fred Miller, was new to the job. “I’ve only been teaching this course since 1980,” he said. Right away, he had my attention — and my respect.
It’s hard to boil down (er, freeze down) in a small space everything I learned from Fred. But here are some high points that you must come to appreciate about the process so you can truly value that comfortable state you’re in right now:
1. There’s a skill associated with deicing. You can’t just spray-paint the plane with the hose, because there are all sorts of sensors and seams that you don’t want to contaminate with either Type 1 deicer (a hot-water–and-glycol mixture) or Type 4 deicer (pure glycol, more commonly known as antifreeze).
2. When you buy antifreeze for your car, those discounted jugs stacked high at the front of the store may be filled with recycled glycol from us. AA has a fantastic record of deicing in an environmentally friendly way.
3. Even if the weather isn’t cold enough to deice all aircraft, the captain or first officer can request deicing if he or she feels it’s necessary.
4. While it’s not a deicing-specific tidbit, I learned that airspeed isn’t measured in miles per hour or even in knots. Rather, the plane’s speed is measured as a fraction of Mach. Pretty cool.
So, please, take a moment to wave to your deicers the next time they’re in the bucket — a bucket attached to a crane, which is attached to a truck — and pointing a fire hose at your plane. They’re out there freezing so you can stay warm and fuzzy.