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Plane leaves the gate and rolls back and then just sits there, why?

Plane leaves the gate and rolls back and then just sits there, why?

Old Jan 13, 09, 6:33 am
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Plane leaves the gate and rolls back and then just sits there, why?

Well after years of dreaming I am now officially a new airline traveler. People recommended this website and participation on the message boards as a way for me, as a new airline traveler, to get a better understanding of the whole airline travel industry and some of the frustrations I have faced as a new traveler. So here is my first question:

On my first flight, the plane left the gate right on time and rolled back and then just sat there for what seemed like forever. It appeared the pilot was testing something because they kept running the engines, lights turned on and off and a variety of sounds went off in the cabin. The whole thing seemed kind of crazy to me. If the pilot was checking the plane out, why didn't he do this when we were loading, so we could of gone on our way sooner.

What was all this about?
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Old Jan 13, 09, 8:01 am
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Welcome to FT BNT, someone gave you great advice!

I'm not an industry insider; please correct me if I'm wrong, my guess is:

1. Crew doesn't start getting paid until cabin door is closed.
2. Flight is "on time" if it pushes back on time.

Pilot probably saw a light that either after pushback or before and decided it wasn't critical to pushback. If the test took long enough, you flight would lose it's place in the takeoff queue...at particularly busy airports, missing that window can be really time consuming. How long did you actually sit?
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Old Jan 13, 09, 8:04 am
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Of course there is no way to know what happened in this particular case. The only information I can offer you is to relate a similar instance while departing FLL last week. In this case a similar occurrence occurred. The cause appeared to be a malfunctioning APU along with a problem with the connection to the power from the gate. This caused the pilots to have the plane reconnected to ground power, in order to reenter all of the information into the flight systems that was lost due to no electrical power being available. All of this was done while sitting back from the gate. They then started the engines, and off we went.
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Old Jan 13, 09, 8:15 am
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There is always a pause after pushback as many things are happening - you just can't see them.

- Tug has to disconnect from nose gear and get out of way.
- Wing walkers have to get out of the way
- Pilots are still running startup checklists
- Engines start. The Auxilliary Power Unit (APU) is usually used to start one engine, then the other. This is why you will see the lights flicker as electrical power switches between the systems. You will also lose air conditioning as the pressurized air is diverted to start the engines.
- Other planes may be in the way to begin taxi.
- Might need clearance from controllers to taxi.
- Might be in a ground hold due to air traffic control, but normally that will happen while still at the gate or after taxi to a remote penalty box.

Lots of stuff is happening, just hard to see from your little sideways window.
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Old Jan 13, 09, 8:31 am
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Originally Posted by MarcPHL View Post
Welcome to FT BNT, someone gave you great advice!

I'm not an industry insider; please correct me if I'm wrong, my guess is:

1. Crew doesn't start getting paid until cabin door is closed.
2. Flight is "on time" if it pushes back on time.

Pilot probably saw a light that either after pushback or before and decided it wasn't critical to pushback. If the test took long enough, you flight would lose it's place in the takeoff queue...at particularly busy airports, missing that window can be really time consuming. How long did you actually sit?
The crew starts getting paid when the brakes are released.
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Old Jan 13, 09, 8:44 am
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These posters are right.

Why do you think that JetBlue aircraft sat on the runway for 6000 hours? Pilots contracts specifically state how they get paid. And they don't get paid for sitting at the gate. Active taxi is gate push back. I.E if they aren't in the plane for a given amount of time they will not get full, or zero, credit for that flight. Thats why you find a lot of delays on the runway. Would you do the same thing if it meant paying the rent? Probably so. I don't give em a hard time but it does suck for us.
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Old Jan 13, 09, 8:52 am
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I talked to a frat bro of mine who is a AE pilot and now is in HQ @ DFW. He said that it the flight is on time when the door shuts and the delay is maybe mechanical, congestion or other things. Pay is not a reason to push back according to him. Also, I thought that likely they need to keep the gate clear for the next arriving flight to it. Sometimes they don't have much downtime at a gate.

UPDATE:
I talked to another frat bro with Virgin America and he said they get paid when they push back and if they push on time then they "departed" on time.

Last edited by AADJ; Jan 14, 09 at 11:43 am
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Old Jan 13, 09, 9:03 am
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During a long haul from HKG to YYZ we sat at the gate for 1 hour before actual departure. the winds shifted and takeoff patterns had changed. This meant the crew had to recalculate fuel for the the change in flight plan.
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Old Jan 13, 09, 9:32 am
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It's also possible there was an air traffic delay, but they needed to clear the gate for an incoming aircraft.
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Old Jan 13, 09, 10:23 am
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Do pilots even have control over when the door closes? I thought that was a decision from the gate agent in coordination with operations. Sitting in F on my last flight I overheard the gate agent tell the crew that they were going to close the door 10 minutes early since everyone was onboard, but we would not push for 5-10 because they were still waiting on some bags. We pushed back a couple minutes after the scheduled departure (door close) time.

I also think the decision to pushback is dependant more on ATC and ground controllers than the pilots. No point in pushing back and running the engine/APU if you are in a ground hold. I can see closing the door in this case anyway since it frees the gate agent to close out the flight, pull back the jetway and move on to other gates/flights.
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Old Jan 13, 09, 11:26 am
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Originally Posted by RonGinDC View Post
The crew starts getting paid when the brakes are released.
Not the case everywhere though. Some crew are on 'duty time' over here, rather than block time.

Some companies also just have the base salary.
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Old Jan 13, 09, 2:24 pm
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Originally Posted by Brand_new_traveler View Post
On my first flight, the plane left the gate right on time and rolled back and then just sat there for what seemed like forever.
It depends on how long "forever" is.

What you describe is normal if "forever" is a couple of minutes. They don't start the engines until the pushback has begun. As the engines start the electrical source changes from the APU generator to the engine generators and the air source changes from the APU bleed air to the engine bleed air. Taxi can also be delayed by congestion or sequencing based on your departure order.

If "forever" is more than a few minutes then there was likely some problem getting the engines started, generators online, engine bleeds operating properly or some other system working correctly. There are many systems which can't be checked until the engines are running. If something doesn't work initially it must be taken care of before proceeding.
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Old Jan 13, 09, 4:40 pm
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I would be curious to know what "forever" translated to.
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Old Jan 13, 09, 7:09 pm
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In addition to the dastardly conspiracy theories above (unions, contracted pay, on-time statistics, etc.) it's also possible that there was a long take-off line that the plane needed to wait for. Or there was an Air Traffic Control/destination delay or hold, but the plane needed to push back to get in the queue (you can't get a slot in the takeoff line if you're still at the gate, iirc). The pilots may also have noticed some type of anomaly and had to test/verify the problem, but determined it was OK to proceed.
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Old Jan 13, 09, 9:44 pm
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I didn't read all the posts so maybe this has been said...

Some times pilots do not discover a problem until they start engines. I was sitting at gate C10 in SEA today and a QX aircraft was just getting ready to go. They start up the #2 engine (right side) and then just sit there (still at the gate). I see the pilot pull out his cell phone, and based on my experience as a ramper, that is a bad sign (means the pilot is talking to Maintenance). A few minutes later, the engine was shut down and the door popped open.

I never got a chance to find out what the problem was, but obviously they didn't realize there was one until they started that engine.
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