Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Blue, Blue - My Love Is Blue ~ Early Evening Thoughts

After having been away for a "few" weeks, I thought my return to the blog would be somewhat unnoticed. Two emails quickly settled that idea. So, as promised ~ an explanation of "blue" ice . . . And while I explain this, my vice-president is at an undisclosed secure location.

In the 80's I worked for a major airline. Which one is somewhat immaterial, but I will offer the hint that it was in bankruptcy at the time with the pilots doing very interesting things to let everyone know we were operating that way.

Those of us in reservations were an unusual group of people. Because we were not at the airport, we were considered somewhat apart from the rest of the world. Although, in our customers minds we were the ticket counter and as such should be able to see people who were there or, in one case find out if someone had left a briefcase on the floor. I was sitting next to the person who got that call, and hear him say: "OK, let me look - OMG someone just walked off with it . . . " When he finally got the person on the phone calmed down and got him convinced that indeed he really wasn't at the airport and wasn't able to check for the missing item - he'd earned a trip to his supervisor. . . and not a pleasant one either.

As reservation agents we had a fairly powerful reservation system to use. We had access to multiple "windows" which allowed us to look up various types of information and display them all on the same screen. We could look up flights in one, fares in another, airport weather in yet another and return flights in a fourth.

As reservation agents we were supposed to only work on screens that had to do with the business of reservations. Alas for the airline, that was NOT the case. It wasn't too long after I started working there that I was introduced to the "dark side" of the system. (cue theme from Jaws here. . . )

We were connected to the various airports, hotels and car companies who all had sites resident in the system. There was no Expedia/Travelocity connection that allowed someone to go directly to another reservation system. All entries involving cars, hotels or such involved requesting what you wanted and pushing enter. At that point an electronic message would be sent (as I told my travel academy students) to the Valhalla of all computer requests - Actually ARINC (Aeronautical Radio, Incorporated)located in Chicago who would, in their own sweet time, send back an answer.

That's a long way around to say that hotels and cars kept quite a bit of detailed information available - all on "pages." They were updated by that company or by the airline itself. What was discovered was that - with a specific entry - we as reservation agents could update them as well. And a completely immediate, unmanageable and totally private system of IM's were born.

One that was used a lot was XXX car company - page 100. That XXX would ever get to that page was pretty slim - as in none. The chance that the reservations office supervisors or later the travel academy people would discover what was going on - even less.

That was an amazing world - IM's before IM's had even been invented, conversations with people from all over who knew of the place and some very seedy, funny and downright erotic stories and such. The kind of talk that would get one banned from AOL ... but very few knew about it.

That, however, is for a later post -- especially how those private conversations came back to bite me in the butt and cost me a job.

Blue Ice - quoting from Wikipedia: "Blue ice in the context of aviation is the frozen material formed by leaks in commercial aircraft lavatory waste tanks, a mixture of human waste and liquid disinfectant that freezes at high altitude. The name comes from the blue color of the disinfectant, and is a sardonic reference to the Blue Ice line of products used for cooling ice chests and similar applications.

Airlines are not allowed to dump their waste tanks in mid-flight, and pilots have no mechanism by which to do so; however, leaks can occur. There were at least 27 documented incidents of blue ice impacts in the United States between 1979 and 2003. These incidents typically happen under airport landing paths as the mass warms sufficiently to detach from the plane during its descent. A rare incident of falling blue ice causing damage to the roof of a home was reported on October 20, 2006 in Chino, California.

On January 28, 2007 at the Timberlanes subdivision in Tampa, Florida, under the approach path to Tampa International Airport, a red Mustang automobile owned by Andres Javaze was struck by a large block of ice estimated at 50 pounds which crushed the rear of the vehicle. A neighbor named Raymond Rodriguez reported hearing a whistling or whizzing noise as the ice fell from the sky before impact and watched as it smashed the vehicle. However, the chunk of ice was not blue and is not thought to have fallen from an airplane. The incident is being investigated by the FAA.

Blue ice became known to many people from the last 2003 episode of the HBO series Six Feet Under, in which a foot-sized chunk drops on an innocent bystander. It is also the title of a 1992 film where Michael Caine's character describes the concept of blue ice,and it also described on the tv show MANswers ."

Now, as reservation agents we had access to a lot of information, but nothing that involved maintenance or inner workings of the airport. . . until someone discovered that (long before blogs) someone at the airport was writing the "Blue Ice Newsletter" in the computer. Whoever was writing this had an acid sense of humor, biting wit and a complete command of what was happening on the ground/tarmac and mechanics role in the controlled chaos.

Who knew that airplane parts were interchangeable from one type of airplane to another? Who knew that "tug" operators (those zippy little luggage and plane pushing/hauling carts) could do so much damage. Who knew that it was possible for a few mechanics to service more planes than they should have - and get them in the air. Who knew that by canceling a return flight of an overseas trip, they were cannibalizing the parts into other aircraft - sending them on their way and when they returned, the parts would be pulled and the return trip of the overseas flight would "continue."

The author of "Blue Ice" knew, and it was written in black and white - well, more green - and was intended for airport personnel only. Don't ever put a members only sign on a site like that - at that time reservations would find out about it and pile in. And we did. We could find out about cancellations before anyone else and other interesting tidbits about what to fly and what might be best avoided.

Ever since then - "blue ice" has come to mean to me, something that simply continues to unfold in a highly dramatic and damaging way. Something that appears to be complete chaos - without form and void. Something that will simply not go away. Even when the tanks have been pumped. (OK, just how did you think those tanks on aircraft got emptied? By the blue ice elves?)

And since it's a mixture of excrement and disinfectant - the analogy is right there in plane plain sight.

--- more to come

1 comment:

Laurie said...

Oh Bill, I have missed you soooo much! I am so glad to see you back posting. This just makes my week!

Big hugs,