Saturday, October 25, 2008

V.I.P. Movement

During our ride in the crew van from our hotel to the airport, the first officer and I were discussing how easy a day this should be. A little rain had kept us confined to our rooms for most of the morning but it was starting to clear up and all appeared to be going well as we arrived at the airport.

This day's trip would consist of just two legs. Cancun to Miami and then on to San Juan for the night.

It's interesting how many international destinations have a duty free shop immediately after the security checkpoint. Cancun is this way. All the passengers have to funnel through a gigantic duty free shop before reaching their respective gates. That's pretty good marketing. It worked on me....I felt compelled to buy a bottle of tequila for future consumption.

Arriving at the gate was our flight plan and all the other assorted documents already prepared for us and in a nice little folder. The plane had just arrived and a small army of cleaners had already begun to do their work on the cabin. They do nice work here in Cancun. Still looking good....

One of the first things I check on our flight plan is the arrival fuel at our destination. Today there was a little extra, so I looked down the page and saw that our dispatcher had put a note on it about adding extra holding fuel for a possible "VIP movement" right at our time of arrival. I smelled trouble.

"VIP movement" means a presidential or vice presidential aircraft would be at Miami. And that means that they have priority and all other air traffic will be cleared from the immediate area. In other words, nothing moves until the VIP is gone.

Having seen these VIP movements before, I knew that they don't always go as planned so I called our dispatcher and ordered 3000 more pounds of fuel. That should be enough I thought. So off we went towards the runway.
As we taxied out we had our eyes on a huge rain shaft extending downward from a very large thunderstorm that appeared to be heading our way. "Cleared for takeoff" said the tower just as the downpour let loose on the airport and visibility dropped to about zero. "Unable", we replied as I parked the brakes while we waited for the storm to pass. Did they really think we would take off in that mess?
A few minutes later and after an arriving AA 757, we were airborne, climbing out, and pointed towards Miami. Cancun sure has some nice beaches and very clear water.So far so good. Havana Center cleared us right on through their airspace and soon we were over Key West and ready to start downhill. But that's when we got the bad news. "Expect holding due to awaiting Air Force One departure from Miami...You may reduce your speed at your discretion."

So around and around we went in the holding pattern. A ten minute hold soon turned into twenty which then became forty! Good thing we added that extra fuel or we would have diverted a long time ago. But that extra fuel was running out on was just about time to divert. Still no word on Air Force One. The airport was still closed to all air traffic!

I had just made another PA to our passengers that we would be diverting to Ft. Lauderdale in five more minutes if Miami didn't open up when we heard Air Force One call in on the radio. They were finally airborne and on their way back to Andrews AFB. Cleared direct of course!
And then we received our clearance to exit holding and to expect a visual approach to Miami. Wow, that was close. Our total hold time was just over one hour. Multiply the expense of that by the multitude of airplanes that had to hold that afternoon and then figure in the inconvenience to all the passengers with their connections, etc. What a pain!

As expected, the terminals at Miami were a mass of annoyed passengers as we hurried to reach our next gate in a distant terminal. As we arrived at our gate, sure enough, the flight to San Juan was delayed about one hour due to "VIP Movement".

All in all, it was just another day at the airlines. The delays could have been caused by just about, ATC problems, mechanical problems, you name it. It just happened to be a VIP issue this time.
Ah, the joys of commercial air travel....

Lets hope our president had a good movement that day.

For a look at some more of my photos, please aviate over to Plane & Simple.


mlesser said...

Hi Len,

I kinda like that we dont really have that sort of thing in Australia. Or at least i havent really encountered a lot of it. At the small airport i was working out of in Kununurra, we got some political, military and a few RPT jets a day, and basically the jets would give way to us in our cessnas if we were first in the curcuit. Of course most of the time we would let them go first just out of courtesy.

Good blog as usual!

Have a good one,


Len (Barfbag) said...

Hi Mike,

It's especially annoying when there is a perfectly suitable Air Force base right near Miami that they could have used just as easily. That would have saved the airlines and their passengers a whole lot of grief that day.

Hope all is well in your flying world.


ProPilots said...

Did you say you hoped the President had a good movement?

Oh yep, there it is. You did say that!

I'm heading to MIA first week of November. Love the weather down there this time year.



YeLLoW heRbiE :) said...

Hello Captain.

I was flying over South China Sea yesterday and flew into a big CB. I guess with all the hype about global warming, us pilots are affected in a bad way. My captain said that these kind of weather was not normal many years ago. Blame global warming? I'm not sure.

Len (Barfbag) said...


Perhaps the delay was because he was having his movement!!

Len (Barfbag) said...


I'd have to raise the BS flag on your captain for that comment! CB's have always been around all over the world.


Bangkok Blogger said...

Yep - VIP movements are a pain ! Its the same on the roads in Bangkok !

Excellent movement comment !