New York’s “Crazy” Blizzard of ‘78
I’m still crazy after all these years!
It was towards the end January, 1978, when the “mother of all blizzards” hit New York. It hit with such speed and severity that NYC was closed for three days, and with only heavy construction equipment able to clear the runways, ramps and access roads. Being the Ramp Field Manager living closest to JFK had some disadvantages (tales saved for another time), but after three days of cancelled Flights JFK was finally re-opened and the first flights began to arrive.
As usual, I was the fortunate one assigned to come in and coordinate manpower on the ramp while facing up to some unique challenges in recovering our operations. The first two 747 arrivals from Europe were a struggle as there simply was no empty equipment to unload cargo and mail. We had even employed and exhausted the LD-3’s normally used by the outbound bag room; until that gang started screaming that there would be no place to load the outgoing.
I caved in and everything had to come off, and per my usual practice of making “fearless decisions,” I decided to just place the containers on the ground in the gate areas of Flight Wing One. That helped for a time, but very quickly that space became unavailable as aircraft servicing equipment, snow melting pits, and mountains of un-melted snow were parked there as well. And of course, by now the terminals that had three-days-worth of delayed passengers yammering to leave, and the departing flights were getting grid- locked as soon as they got off their gates.
It was a time for another “fearless decision.” In order to save time, I decided to leave the inbound cargo and mail onboard whatever flights arrived, and tried to turn the departures around as close to schedule as possible -- by loading only the departing passengers and their bags. I advised Load Control of my decision, and suggested they use the inbound weights to figure out how the outbounds were loaded.
I was advised that I was crazy, but I often thought that character trait was embedded in my job description. Of course, I realized that none of these aircraft was going back to the same European city -- it had never in the history of aviation worked out that way! So, the returning CDG cargo and mail went to FCO, the FCO went to MAD, the MAD went to LHR … but at least the eastbound flights and their stranded passengers left JFK and their bags accompanied them.
The next day there was a flurry of hot messages from Europe. They probably had decided that JFK had screwed-up the simplest of ramp tasks – not being able to understand the three-letter destination codes on bag tags. But in spite of our apparent craziness, to this day I am convinced that at least the eastbound passengers on those magnificent 747’s enabled them to finally leave a city which had been virtually paralyzed for three days.
They no doubt loved TWA then (the way we miss it now), but I’d just as soon not have to ever discuss how the European stations might have managed to sort out the mess we’d dropped in their laps in order to solve JFK’s problems!
Angelo Patrizio (1973-1979) served in maintenance, labor relations, quality control, ramp services, and revenue performance analysis at JFK and 605 Third Ave.