As is tradition, many are taking to the air this holiday season. And while passengers are sprinting down crowded terminals to catch flights, little do they know all that’s happening behind the scenes to pull off their plane’s quick turnaround.
With a full-access pass from United Airlines, “Power Players” learned how “hot bags,” “magic carpet slides” and command centers managing crews at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport get planes back in the air when the clock is ticking.
When a plane with a quick turnaround lands, bags are pulled by crewmembers before passengers even set foot in the terminal. And if a passenger also has a close connecting flight, their bag is labeled a “hot bag,” and pulled by crewmembers for immediate transport.
“These [bags] are the connecting flights, these are the ones of passengers who have to rush to the gate,” United crewmember Scott Charmelo explained. “This one goes out at 12:37pm; we have a 60-minute window.”
Charmelo is armed with a luggage scanner, which identifies each bag and instantaneously transports its information into United’s system. At O’Hare, this identification is used in the airport command center to monitor the planes at every gate, tracking each of the 200 actions needed to get a plane ready for its next flight -- especially those with a short time frame.
As the same plane Charmelo removed “hot bags” from gets ready to depart again, United’s Dewuan Smith pulls the new baggage into the jet’s cargo hold. With the touch of a button, Smith “magically” makes room for more incoming bags with a mechanical device crewmembers call the “magic carpet slide,” which shifts luggage bag further back into the belly of the plane.
“I don’t need a membership at the gym,” Smith said of the strenuous job.
While the rest of the baggage is loaded, passengers are already filing onto the jet. It’s all part of the synchronized system to get the plane out for an on-time departure to its next destination.
To see if the United flight we tracked made it to its next destination on time, and to find out what pilots are looking for when they walk around their planes between flights, check out this episode of “Power Players.”
ABC’s Richard Coolidge, Jordyn Phelps, Tom Thornton Bob Brant and Robert Brant contributed to this episode.