A day in the life of the world's busiest airport

"Game time!"

An hour ago, Toney Frank was reminding his crew this is Founder's Day — UPS's 106th birthday. In two days, if all goes well, his team will hit another milestone — 30,000 safe workdays — which will call for a party.

Frank asks his crew members what they'd like to grill.

"Steak," they reply in unison — before bursting into laughter. The Atlanta air division manager shakes his head.

"What is steak?" he asks. "Chopped beef." If they hit their goal, they plan to celebrate with burgers.

For now, there's work to be done. His starting call is the cue: Dozens of workers in yellow vests begin to zip between planes. Semis arrive. Armored vehicles pull up to the jets with "high-value cargo," better known as cash.

Most nights, four UPS planes fly out of Atlanta – three to Louisville, Kentucky, and one to Philadelphia. It's a small operation compared to the hub in Kentucky, but the pressure is real.

Sometimes they carry something special, like live whales or terra-cotta figures; most nights it's mail, flowers, floor samples, lobsters – whatever comes in from Atlanta's workday and has to be somewhere fast.

Packages are tagged, secured, weighed and collected in massive containers designed for the 757s, A300 and monster MD-11 that UPS is flying tonight.

It takes this team 45 minutes to load an A300 scheduled to depart at 9:56 p.m. But with less than an hour to go, some packages aren't on site yet.

"This is why you get this right here," Frank says, rubbing his bald head. "This is pushing it, but hey, that's what we do."

Some of the containers are being hoisted onto the empty jet. One by one, they're locked into place.

At 9:39 p.m., the final topside container heads up. A crew pushes it over the jet's rolling-ball floor, and for the first time, the yellow vests glowing on the dark ramp halt.

At 9:41, the container comes back out. Something is wrong.

At 9:42 p.m., it sinks back down, away from the plane.

At 9:46, the cargo door closes without the last container aboard.

Glitches are real, says night manager Mark Ballman, but there's always a backup plan. In this case, the bottom of the container popped out just enough that it couldn't be locked into place. If it's not secure, it won't fly.

The crew could've swapped containers or tried to fix this one, but they might've missed their flight time. He had to make the call, and he decided this container could catch a later flight.

So at 9:50, the captain's paperwork is validated, and the door is shut. The plane pushes back at 9:52, four minutes early.

But soon it returns. The captain realizes paperwork needs to be revalidated.

This 9:56 flight is finally in the air by 10:15.

One down, three to go. At 10:31, the second flight pushes back, and a little brown truck from somewhere in Atlanta whips into the facility.

They're not done yet.

Source : http://www.cnn.com/interactive/2013/11/travel/atl24/index.html

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