In the huge effort to fly Afghans to the U.S. on commercial jets

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Bill Venek of Delta Air Lines received a call while driving his daughter to college, telling him that the U.S. military wanted to use commercial airlines to transport Afghan refugees to the United States.

From the border of Kentucky and Tennessee to hundreds of miles north of Indiana, the father and daughter barely spoke. The general manager of the Delta Air Lines charter business took nearly six hours of phone calls, preparing to staff and deploy three dual-aisle jets to transport thousands of people around the world.

U.S. Department of Defense Civilian Reserve Air Force activatedOr CRAF, which allows the government to requisition commercial aircraft and crew, this is the third time since its establishment in 1951. Airlines participate in the program, which pays them the cost of transporting soldiers and other passengers during national emergencies in exchange for the opportunity to bid for the government’s peacetime business.

U.S. forces withdrew or assisted the evacuation of approximately 124,000 people from Kabul quit After two decades of war, the U.S. military was before August 31. They were flown to “water lilies”-military bases in Qatar, Bahrain, Germany and Italy, waiting for commercial airlines to transport them to the United States.

So far, about 25,000 people have arrived in the United States. Most of them landed at Dulles International Airport outside Washington. Philadelphia has also recently received evacuees. The airline transports about 4,500 people from overseas bases every day, and another 2,500 people fly from the port of arrival to military bases in Texas, Wisconsin, and New Mexico every day. The plan may remain in effect until mid-September.

The government frequently chartered flights from commercial airlines, although it rarely invoked World War II regulations. But as the aviation industry continues to recover from finances and operations, the Pentagon’s demand for aircraft will follow. destroy Caused by the epidemic. Wernecke said that defense officials used CRAF this time because “they didn’t get enough volunteers.”

Mark Kansian, a senior adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and a former Defense Department official, said that CRAF allows the Pentagon to bypass reluctance and delay.

The Ministry of National Defense previously initiated the program during the first Gulf War in 1990 and re-launched the program in 2002. According to the US Air Force Air Mobility Command, there are 24 aircraft carriers and 450 aircraft registered.for Afghanistan To evacuate personnel, the department requisitioned 18 aircraft from six airlines.

Since then, thousands of pilots, flight attendants and other aviation professionals have signed agreements for manning these flights on the grounds that they want to help those whose lives have been destroyed by war.

“There was a’sacred cow’ moment-this really happened-and then it turned into excitement, because you have to mobilize everyone,” Weneck said. “Then it became frustration because things didn’t work… Then it became a global team, and the company found a solution, and then it turned into a reward.”

When a United Airlines plane stopped in Germany, the flight attendants went shopping and bought picture books, crayons, socks, toothbrushes and diapers to distribute

Delta Air Lines has 17 crew members for the aircraft: four more than international commercial flights, including a mechanic, an additional pilot, and two charter coordinators, who have undergone everything from deicing to rebalancing the weight in the aircraft. Task training. A wide range of skills is critical, because unlike commercial airports, military bases do not have airline support personnel.

Military bases also lack in-flight catering services that usually provide food for long-distance flights. Delta Air Lines crew stocked extra meals when they arrived in Hahn, Germany, and used dry ice to keep them cool. The airline also equips the aircraft with a “flight kit”, which contains spare tires, landing gear and other parts in case it needs repairs.

Obstacles appeared in some early flights. Due to insufficient meals, the crew of a flight provided pork for passengers, but for religious reasons, they did not eat pork. In other cases, American armies When the plane arrived, they were not ready to board the plane, and the crew exceeded their time limit. They were subject to federal regulations for how long they could work without rest.

Airline staff said that most of the women, men and children on these flights were carrying items in plastic bags. There are about 300 people on a flight and only a few checked luggage. Airplanes are a new experience for many people, and for some, flushing toilets are the same. Delta Air Lines pilot Bill Ott heard that passengers on an earlier flight were impressed by a glimpse of the German forest in the sky, and told the translator that they had to send a signal to the cabin when their plane flew over the night lights of New York. alarm.

Artemis Bayandor is a former flight attendant who now works in the security department of United Airlines. As soon as she read the company-wide email, she knew that she wanted to volunteer as a translator. When she was a child, her family fled the Iranian revolution, and the kindness of the flight attendants during that journey inspired her to join the aviation industry.

As the flight slowly filled up in Bahrain, passengers nervously asked her if the plane was actually flying to Washington. “The fear is really real,” said Bayandor, who speaks Persian. “They thought they were going back to Kabul.”

Bayandor loaded her small suitcase with lollipops, Twix and KitKat chocolate bars, which are very popular with many children. When the plane stopped in Germany, the flight attendants went shopping and bought picture books, crayons, socks, toothbrushes and diapers to distribute.

There are obvious differences in attitudes between teenage boys and girls on board. Bayandor said that for these boys, “they are very nervous and they have left their lives behind.” “But the girls are very excited. They will ask me questions about music and costumes.”

A woman boarding was pregnant. Bayandor joked with her that she was forbidden to give birth on an airplane or in Germany, which does not allow birth citizenship. The passenger replied: “I will hold this child until I reach the United States.” Her daughter was born a few days after arriving in the United States.

These flights excited the airline staff involved. Co-pilot Jennifer Shields has flown from Washington to Wisconsin twice. She recalled an Afghan woman carrying a baby down the steep steps to the tarmac while holding her toddler’s hand. Her eldest child was struggling to disembark until a female National Guard soldier swooped over and picked the child up and down.

“There are tears in my eyes,” she said. “That’s how it is, you see. The human spirit-it’s amazing.”

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