UPDATE: January 2016. United told employees it is using "tail stands" to manage this problem. The stand, which works like a kickstand on a bike, is attached to the rear of the aircraft to keep the aircraft from tipping.
"To better manage this we will be initiating the use of tail stands to prevent the tail tipping of 737-900/900ER aircraft," United said. "Stations will begin to see the tail stands in mid January, along with a lesson."
ORIGINAL POST A few weeks ago I was on a United Airlines flight in which we were not allowed to get off the plane until ramp workers unloaded the rear cargo hold.
It was a mess, and I think some passengers on the Boeing 737-900 missed their connections because of what I estimate was a 20-minute delay. As you can see from my Tweet at the time, the captain apologize profusely:
What happened? Luckily I have knowledgable readers here at briansumers.com. One of them shared with me some internal information, and it seems there is some concern these planes will tip if bags and passengers aren't offloaded in the proper manner.
Here's what United told employees in a recent bulletin:
Recently, there has been an increase in tail tip incidents on the B737-900/ 900ER fleet. Tail tip incidents may result in employee or passenger injury, as well as aircraft and Ground Service Equiment (GSE) damage. To prevent possible injury or damage, it’s important to unload the AFT cargo hold first.
What's a tail tip? According to United, "a tail tip incident is defined as 'the rising of the nose gear off the ground during an aircraft offload process."
As you might expect, United is being careful with the 737-900s. According to the communication I received, ramp workers should unload the rear cargo hold first. The only exceptions are strollers or "special delivery gate items."
Luckily the internet is filled with tail tipping videos. Certain aircraft - I'm looking at you, 737-900 - are more prone to the phenomenon than others. Below, watch the nose of this Delta Air Lines aircraft rise at about the eight-second mark.
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