Behind-the-scenes at Denver Airport: my ride-along with United

The offer from United Airlines airlines was intriguing: “Want to spend the night at an airport to see what happens between the last flight of the night and the first one the next morning?”

Who wouldn’t?

My adventure took place last week and is documented in my August ‘At the Airport’ column on USA TODAY: “Behind-the-scenes: What happens at an airport overnight?”

Pop over there to read the full story, but in the meantime, here are some snaps from the night:

Much of the evening was spent in the maintenance hangar, where 8 United aircraft were in for various types of repairs.

Between midnight and 6 a.m. one airplane was scheduled to have an engine replaced.

I was reassured to learn how planes get fixed overnight – and that they also get a good cleaning.

During an early morning visit to the Flight Operation Center, I got a peek into the cupboard ‘shop’ where Captains and First officers can purchase extra supplies – such as clip on ties and epaulets for those extra shirts.

An overnight ‘ride-along’ with United Airlines

My overnight ‘ride-along’ last week with United Airlines at Denver International Airport was exhausting – but exhilarating and extremely educational.

I’m working on a full-length slide show (so far, I’ve got 60 photo keepers) and report for my next At the Airport column on USA TODAY,  but sharing a few snaps today here on to get the ball rolling.

At around 10 pm, my tour started at United’s Station Operations Center – a darkened room where about 50 people were seated in clusters at desks with multiple computer screens doing everything from making sure passengers made their connections to monitoring weather and  gate assignments.

Then it was off to the maintenance hangar, where 8 airplanes were undergoing service checks and repairs, included an engine swap for an Airbus 319.


While in the hangar, another airplane was visited by a fast-moving cleaning crew, who were doing everything from cleaning the lavs and galley (with different rags and cleaning solutions) to making sure seat back literature was refreshed and the tray tables were washed.


At 3 am it was back to the Station Operations Center, which was pretty much empty, except for Zone Controller Mike Lowrey, who I’d met earlier in the evening. He was checking with maintenance to see if all the planes they’d been working on overnight were ready for morning flights and doing what he could to make sure the first flights of the day would leave on time.


3:47 a.m. : A quick look in the concourse to see if anything was happening. Nothing. Yet.

The Flight Operations Center opens at 6 a.m.  That where captains and first officers such as Michael Daigneault can pick up supplies and plan for their flights.

My flight back to Seattle left, on time, at 8:08 a.m. I even got a set of plastic wings from the crew.

My full report on my overnight ride-along with United Airlines at Denver International Airport will show up during the week on USA TODAY.



Here’s where those planes on trains are going

Yesterday I posted this photo of one of  the planes-on-a-train I spotted during my walk in Seattle’s Ballard neighborhood.

It’s not all that uncommon to see a trainload of these green fuselages going by, but this is the first time I’ve had a chance to stop and snap a (non-blurry) photo.

It took no time at all for members of the avgeek community to answer my question about where these plane came from and were heading to:

“That is a 737 fuselage headed from Wichita [KS] to Renton [WA]  where the main 737 factory is located. They go through the Cascade Tunnel along Highway 2 and down the coast line from Everett to Seattle,” wrote a reader named Bruce.

Brian DeRoy, a former Boeing communicator, weighed in with more information:

“These are fuselages that come from Spirit Aerospace, in Wichita.  They ship them to the Renton factory where the wings, engines and all the interior stuff is done. Additionally, the train flat beds are specially made and, yes, need to be low enough to get through tunnels. They are a daily site here as the 737 factory cranks out more than 1 plane per day.”

DeRoy reminded me that while planes-on-a-train are not an uncommon sight here in Seattle, they shipping process doesn’t always work out perfectly: in 2014 a train with six 737 fuselages derailed in Montana, sending three future planes down an embankment. All six – made of aluminum and titanium – were eventually scrapped and recycled.

Thanks to everyone who weighed in with information.

Photo by Kyle Massick



Planes on a train

I’ve toured the Boeing factory in Everett, WA a few times, but still don’t know enough about building airplanes to tell you where this airplane part was headed.

But I can tell you that in Seattle it is not that unusual to see a trainload of these parts going through town.

I snapped this pic on a walk through Seattle’s Ballard neighborhood yesterday on the way to the beach. There were lots of other folks on the path, but no one else seemed as entertained about this train-on-a-plane scene as I was.

Hoping one of our avgeek readers can share details on where these parts end up.



Greetings from … Boston Logan Int’l Airport

I don’t get to fly to or from Boston Logan International Airport that often. But I’m always pleased when I do.

If just for the lobsters, which can be purchased as toys or as meals for now or later.

I don’t get to fly Delta Comfort – the airline’s premium economy seats – all that often either, but I’m glad when my Delta status snags me one of those seats.

And on my Delta flight from Boston to Detroit this week, I found this note sticking out of the seat back pocket.

I made note of the cleaning crew’s work – and the airline’s gesture – and kept my note as a souvenir. But my seatmates didn’t. They left them behind – on the floor – for the next crew to cleaning crew to deal with..