By Doug Dunbar

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DALLAS (CBS11) – As passengers, we spend our lives waiting in line at the TSA checkpoints, then waiting at the gates for our flight to leave.

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Our biggest worry often times, will there be enough room for my carry on!

What we almost never think about, is what it takes for that moment to happen. When we walk down the jetway, on board,and to our seats. How many people does it take for that moment to happen. That the plane is clean. Bags are loaded. Catering has filled the drink and snack bins. fuel has been taken care of. How we are getting from here to there is planned, and most importantly, all the safety checks have been done.

It’s far more than you probably ever thought.

In our exclusive access given to us by Southwest Airlines, we had a front row seat to just how many people touch that aircraft, in so many different ways. and for Southwest Airlines, this is just one of their 3,800 flights a day! 180 in and out of Love Field alone!

Ramp employee at Southwest Airlines (Doug Dunbar - CBS11)

Ramp employee at Southwest Airlines (Doug Dunbar – CBS11)

First and foremost, if planes engines aren’t turning, the airline isn’t making money. So when a flight pulls in, and passengers unload, the engines are off. Do things get stressful at that point? iIll let Justin Fox, Ramp Manager for Southwest at Love Field answer that.

“It is stressful, we do have high expectations for our employees,” says Fox.

High expectations because we all want perfection. we want a clean plane, bags on board, we want to leave on time, and arrive early. Every airline in the industry knows that and that’s what they strive to deliver. For Southwest, maybe some added pressure, since this is the airline that built it’s foundation on a crazy ten minute turn decades ago when the airline nearly went under.

Fast forward, the ten minute turn would never work today, but for most of their 737 models, it’s a tight 35 minutes they aim for.

How it works

Long before arrival, those inside the command center, deep in the bowels of the airport, are planning ahead for the arrival, the turn, and the departure.

Of many aircraft, including ours, Flight 5706. They are recalculating passenger numbers. Are there any tight connections they need to worry about? Is there an outbound flight that needs to hold for a few minutes for inbound passengers on 5706? Which gate will they use. Did someone else need to move into that gate?

A lot of questions to be answered before 5706 even touches the runway inbound.

Out on the ramp, the ramp crew has already gone over the bag unload and load multiple times. Unloading looks easy, but you have to pay attention. Color codes tell rampers which bags stay and which bags are headed to a connecting flight. At the same time, bags to be loaded for the outbound to Memphis, are on carts, lines up and waiting to be loaded. long time ramp worker Marty Bascida says it’s all about preparation.

“It’s preparation,” says Bascida. “It’s knowing how many bags we have, the weights, how much we can put into each hold.

They’ve also been separated into sections. There are three cargo holds on the 737 and ramp needs to distribute weight as evenly as possible, and come up with a final weight for each cargo hold, long before the bags are put in. There is a method to the madness. iI’s not just putting bags in the hold and shutting the door as some would speculate.

At the same time, the command center is dealing with another issue. Huge storms in Houston have backed up traffic at Love Field. They are running short on gates, and some planes will have to take delays because they can’t head south right now, into the bad weather.

On this day, Dale Armstrong is the gate coordinator.

Which planes go where

When Dale ale has a problem, to his right, Oscar Infante’s job is to narrow in on the impact to passengers.

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Rob Williams is command center manager. He says Oscar has a balancing act this morning.

He’ll be looking at connections, those passengers off that late flight, where they going, can we hold that flight.

Southwest Airlines command center at Love Field (Doug Dunbar - CBS11)

Southwest Airlines command center at Love Field (Doug Dunbar – CBS11)

As the plane door opens on Flight 5706, the orchestra below the wing is already playing. ground power is connected. The command center is looking ahead to the departure. baggage workers and equipment move into place.

Eight minutes in, bags are still coming off. The operations agent is having to deal with a last minute issue. Certain cargo and its weight is not going to work in the hold it’s scheduled to load. They’ve run the numbers on a different hold, and it’s going to work, but the call goes down to ramp, that cargo, needs to be moved.

At the same time, catering has pulled up. While Southwest doesn’t serve any meals, they do have snacks and drinks. Lots and lots of drinks. All of them iced down with fresh bags of ice poured into the drink coolers.

Meanwhile, flight attendants on the inbound flight, can’t go anywhere until they’ve cleaned up the aircraft. Let’s be honest. We’re all pretty messy at times as passengers and the airline industry bagged paying most cleaning crews years ago.

Cost saving measure

So, the flight attendants, on many flights today, are the first line of defense when it comes to a clean and safe cabin. It’s not glamorous, and I’m sure it’s not what they signed up for, but they do it, and they are very good at it. time is the biggest battle they fight.

“If it starts snowballing and gets worse throughout the day, you got upset customers, upset crews, that’s no fun for anybody,” says flight attendant Taylor Franklin. “I think getting the plane turned as quick as possible, is in everybody’s interest.”

As the flight attendants clean the plane, and get ready for the next set of passengers to board, Connie Perryman with Passengers Service, is sitting in the front right had side of the command center.

Her sole job, is to work out tight connection issues for passengers. Yes, someone is actually thinking about our connections, even as we are sweating it out when we know we’re gonna be tight.

They’re actually looking at us, and trying to solve our connection problem, without us even knowing it. honestly, It was pretty comforting to see that they actually do this. as a normal passenger, I never thought anyone was looking out for me, except my two legs, that would run me as fast as I could, to the gate i needed to get to!

Twenty-five minutes into the turn, and the fuelers are finishing up. They hook up a single hose underneath the wing. They come in a bit later than everyone else, because fuel has weight, and every flight has to fit into a certain weight and balance envelope if you will, for safety.

Once final passenger and baggage counts are done, then the final number on fuel can be ordered. They deal in pounds of fuel, not gallons like we do with our cars. Jet fuel weighs about 6.8 pounds per gallon, and each fuel order will come is as usually, x-thousand, or x-hundred pounds to be loaded into the wings.

While all of this is going on, the cockpit. One of the pilots has already done a visual walk around of the aircraft. Each and every flight. They walk around the outside of the plane on the ramp, checking lots of things. The skin of the plane, the landing gear, control surfaces, looking for anything out of place.

Ten minutes before push back, and they are reviewing the departure procedure while settling into the cockpit.

As the clock approaches 35 minutes, the ramp crew rocked it again.  Those above the wing, too.

Passengers are all seated and ready to go. Catering done. Safety checks complete. Baggage doors close. Fuel loaded. Ramp crew is in place and ready to push, early.

Command center says they’re good to push.

Southwest 5706 has made the turn, in 35 minutes.

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They’re off to Memphis. 1 down, 179 to go.