At BWI, weary of bad weather

March 03, 1994|By Peter Hermann | Peter Hermann,Sun Staff Writer

By the time Al Devine had finished his eight-hour shift of loading suitcases onto airplanes at Baltimore-Washington International Airport early yesterday afternoon, the snow had turned into a driving rain that made weather-weary workers miserable.

"Right now, with the rain hitting your face and the cold wind, it's pretty bad," said Mr. Devine, 48, who has been loading luggage for USAir for the past 14 years.

At 1 p.m., his shift over, he stood in the middle of the terminal, his jacket soaked, his hair dripping wet.

"I'm waiting for summer," he said. "It's been a rough winter. This is the roughest one I've seen."

Yesterday's storm caused only minor delays and scattered cancellations at BWI -- nothing like last month's ice storm that shut down air traffic on the East Coast -- meaning workers who must spend their time outside had to endure the harsh elements.

"There's a lot of slop," said Wesley Chavis, a skycap who has worked at BWI for five years. "And it's cold. And the wind is blowing. And the snow is blowing."

Yesterday morning, airport workers struggled to keep one runway open, officials said, but by afternoon the slush had mounted and airport administrators were forced to shut down the two jet runways for an hour while they plowed.

That brought out 90 to 100 workers, six of whom had been on the job since 7:30 a.m. Tuesday, to plow the seven miles of runways to get the airport ready for the evening push, one of two times during the day when air traffic is at its peak.

Duncan Henderson, the associate administrator for BWI airport operations, said officials try to give the workers as many breaks as possible to keep them fresh.

"I'm very proud to say that the safety of these workers is just as important as the safety of our passengers," he said. "If we can't give them breaks, at least we feed them very well."

Fortunately for the plowers, Mr. Henderson said, slush is easy to deal with. Unfortunately for air travelers, he said rain on top of snow can be dangerous for landing and departing planes.

"Wet snow or slush is hardest on the airplanes, but it is easy for us because you can push it and remove it."

And workers took the latest storm in stride.

"It's a challenge," said Mr. Chavis, the skycap. "The cold weather doesn't affect me. I'd rather have the cold then the heat. Passengers seem to be going along OK. They're not letting the weather worry them. They're traveling."

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