Thursday, April 4, 2013

What if Your Plane Was Hit by Lightning and a Highly Perishable Product

This past Tuesday, April 2, I was trying to get back from Oklahoma City to Amherst, Massachusetts.

I had had a fabulous stay at the University of Oklahoma in Norman, during which I gave two  lectures as part of a Dream Course there. I wrote about the outstanding hospitality of my hosts in a post.

The weather in Oklahoma on April 1 was delightful -- warm and sunny,  but,  on my flying day back, it was fray and stormy, and I had heard thunder since about 4AM that night.

When I got to the Oklahoma City airport, courtesy of my wonderful host, Professor Janet K. Allen, I saw that my flight to Dallas was delayed and that I would not be able to make the connecting flight to Bradley airport in Hartford/Springfield.

So I agreed to be rerouted to Chicago O'Hare.

The lightning was continuing and as I stood in line waiting to get a sandwich I started a conversation with the lady in front of me who asked where I was flying to. She then told me that a plane that had just flown in from Chicago had been struck by lightning.

I wandered over to my gate and saw no plane, but, given my endless academic curiosity, I proceeded to investigate. She had also told me that there were long lines and that the airline was offering vouchers (I would not mind seeing Hawaii again).

The Southwest plane below was the one that had been struck by lightning as it was descending into the Oklahoma City Airport, and the mechanics could not start working and checking it out until the lightning was more than three miles away, for safety reasons.
The passengers had seen a bright flash of light in the plane when the lightning struck.

Many nervous passengers that were scheduled to fly on the above plane to Chicago were milling around Gate 18 whereas others were being rerouted.

A woman with an infant against her chest approached the gate agent.  I was going to talk to him since as a professor,  who teaches a course in transportation and logistics, among other operations-type courses, I wanted to gather more information that I could share with my students. I dug up this article from Scientific American on what can happen when lightning strikes a plane.

The woman said that she was traveling, via Chicago, on Southwest,  to Manchester, New Hampshire, where she was relocating to, and on the plane above, with the other cargo, was about a 4 month supply of breast milk.

Breast milk is a perishable product and, I thought to myself, having just had our latest book, Networks Against Time: Supply Chain Analytics for Perishable Products, published, that this "product" has similar characteristics to that of human blood -- you have to give it willingly and it is ingested into another human body. Blood supply chains are one of the case studies in our book.

The mother was panicky. She had done her homework and had about a 10 hour time window in which to get her very valuable packages back into the freezer.  I could really empathize and, being a problem-solver, I offered some suggestions.

In about 40 minutes or so, the plane was cleared for flying and the passengers had boarded (but two who were having lunch were not let back on board once the doors were shut).

And  I went to thank the Southwest gate agents when I heard that the plane from Chicago to Manchester would be held for the mother, her baby, and their valuable cargo!

In my research, I came upon this interesting post about shipping perishables, including blood and breast milk, in disasters, such as Haiti.

About an hour later, I got on my American Airlines flight to Chicago and eventually made it back to Massachusetts. On my leg from O'Hare to Bradley I was seated next to an executive and we talked non-stop. He had been to 116 countries and was in Vienna, Austria when I had been there in March. We discussed everything from our favorite cities to the US healthcare system and how he, at age 72, cannot even think of retiring since work is so interesting. He works in the international insurance business so we also talked about trust, reputation, and the importance of meeting people face-to-face -- and, hence, one of the reasons we fly so much!