Ahead of Hurricane Irma’s landfall in Puerto Rico, a Delta Air Lines flight from New York was able to burn into San Juan this afternoon, load up passengers, and squeak out again, threading its way through a rain band as the hurricane approached.
Jason Rabinowitz, an aviation industry observer, tracked the flight all along the way on Twitter.
The flight was even at a bit of a disadvantage—it took off 34 minutes late from New York’s John F. Kennedy airport. However the weather in Puerto Rico wasn’t dangerous for flying—yet.
Landing a flight is only half the trouble. Getting back out is the other half. Airlines typically move their fleets away from storms, parking them at other airports out of harm’s way. If the flight couldn’t get out of San Juan in time it might leave the less-than-three-year-old Boeing 737 airplane exposed to winds, rain, and debris, as well as being out of reach for several days. The current list price for the model is $104.1 million, though airlines typically get bulk discounts. (When this particular plane was delivered in 2015, its list price was $99 million.)
Despite the delay in leaving New York, the flight managed to get out of Puerto Rico at 12:41pm, 24 minutes ahead of its scheduled takeoff.
The turnaround was remarkably quick. From touching down on the runway to taxiing to the gate, unloading bags and passengers, cleaning the plane, loading new bags, boarding new passengers, taxiing back out and taking off: 52 minutes. A full plane would have 180 passengers.
The flight then rode a gap between the hurricane’s outer rain band and the center of the storm to find open sky.
It landed at 4:15pm ET back in New York, 46 minutes ahead of schedule. What the passengers thought of it we have yet to learn.