At airport, workers forge ahead in uncanny quiet
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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 06/05/2020 (1119 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Deep inside the Winnipeg James Armstrong Richardson International Airport, in the parts where passengers never get to go, Allan Tam works quickly, quietly and alone, lifting a few final suitcases onto a cart. There are about a dozen in all, tagged for final destinations in Halifax, Ottawa or Toronto.
He pauses as he surveys the airport’s baggage room, a vast concrete cavern dominated by loops of conveyor belts and the high-pitched whine of machines. Usually, he says, there would be 24 other people working down here with him, loading as many as eight flights before 8 a.m. with up to 100 bags each.
Now, Tam, who has handled baggage here for 15 years, is down to a morning crew of just four. The main central carousels that carry bags are turned off; no reason to use them.
The steep decline of traffic is “pretty scary,” Tam says, but he’s noticed loads are starting to creep up: one day, he hopes, it will be normal again.
It is 4:45 a.m. An hour from now, the first flight of the day will depart, a WestJet Boeing 737 bound for Toronto, carrying about two dozen passengers. Only eight more departures are scheduled for the rest of the day.
Usually, the terminal is an exciting place to be at this time, says operations manager Jeff Rorabeck, who is working the overnight shift. The airport is just waking up, and by 4:30 a.m. up to 1,000 passengers are milling about, buzzing with excitement as they await early flights to sunny destinations.
There isn’t any of that now. Passengers trickle through in ones and twos. There is no anticipatory energy; no groups of people hugging goodbye or hello. Now, Rorabeck says with a laugh, there are probably more people in some grocery stores than in the airport.
“The atmosphere is so subdued now,” Rorabeck says. “Every shift is almost like an evening shift.”
“Every shift is almost like an evening shift.”
But they are forging ahead. The quiet, says millwright Chuck Olson, has allowed airport maintenance crews to get ahead of many preventative maintenance tasks; when travellers return to the terminal, he says, “she’ll be ready.”
It’s given him a chance to reflect on the critical work of keeping that connectivity flowing.
“It brings you back to perspective on it,” Olson says. “We’re still at work every day. So you realize, OK, our job is important. We have to be here, because if we’re not here, then they (the passengers) don’t leave.”
Outside, the horizon begins to glow pink with the dawn. On the tarmac, the WestJet plane sits ready. It takes only a few minutes for Tam and his crew to finish loading suitcases into its belly.
The plane’s windows shine like bright oval eyes, and through them, a few passengers are visible as they shuffle down rows of empty seats.
— Melissa Martin