Getting planes to the gate and off again on time always were a complicated process. Most airlines have long used paper to designate that a flight has arrived, is at the gate, and then left. That works, but paper doesn't change.
"The paper was accurate when it's printed, but by the time you got it out, something already changed on it," Chad Hullender, senior business tech, American Airlines, said.
American Airlines has hung up the paper for a new computer-based system it calls Vantage Point. Vantage Point gives the traffic planners in its O'Hare ramp tower a real-time look at all of its planes on the ground at its nearly 70 gates. If Flight 255, for instance, is due to depart and the ramp tower wants to verify, a planner clicks the ready button, and up pops numbers.
"We can see in real time how many bags are loaded and passengers loaded. That benefits the traffic planner because it gives a realistic perspective on how ready this aircraft would be," Hullender said.
The numbers change every time a boarding pass or luggage tag barcode is scanned. In theory, there's no need to call the gate and ask about status. Planes are given color codes and colors change as departure time nears. If a departing aircraft isn't ready but a plane at another gate is, the planner makes changes and perhaps avoids a later traffic jam.
"I can see places where I can do things. I can see opportunities not visible to me before," Hullender said.
If a plane needs de-icing, it gets a color code. The same goes for a medical emergency. Planners used to write that down or just remember it, but now it's on screen, in color, and they're more aware of each situation- with a basic goal.
"We're getting to the gate on time. Not holding on the field and we're making sure we get to grandma's house on time," Hullender said.