Saturday, April 18, 2015

Always pack a suitcase

I'm currently sitting in a Marriott hotel in Alabama. I'm supposed to be cooking up scrambled eggs for my kiddo.

This week I picked up 10 3/4 hours of extra flying. Two day trips.  Five hours and a quarter hours was on Thursday and 5 1/2 on Friday. Thursdays trip went fine.

Friday started okay. The original Captain (who I was looking forward to flying with) and Flight Attendant called in sick for the trip. I had a reserve crew.

We blocked out on time. He took the first leg. Weather. Slight delays as Clearance was issuing reroutes to aircraft waiting to takeoff. Away we went.

Weather at the out station wasn't horrible with 1200 broken and 3/4 mile visibility...except it was a localizaer approach. We needed 1 mile visibility. Our alternate was our hub.

Getting closer the front was passing through. The visibility was 3 miles and winds shifted so we could use the ILS. Fine.

While being vectored for the approach the winds shifted again and we had a 10 knot quartering tailwind. Clouds were still low and the visibility was just 1 mile. We discussed it and planned on landing with a tailwind on the ILS was better than a headwind with the localized as we could go lower with the ILS.

In and done. This was the first of four legs. We planned for a quick turn. Once boarded we were told there was a "Call for Release" program in effect. This meant that the Center controllers needed to meter the aircraft arriving and would sequence us in. My leg. Up and away we went with a minimal delay.

Mild turbulence. In and parked close to on time. Plane AND terminal change.

Originally we had 50 minutes between flights. With the delays we had just 30. I've been around long enough to know when I need to slow down and eat.

I stopped by a Subway and snagged a Veggie Delight Chopped Salad. I get every single option which makes it a steal for $6.

Blocked out a few minutes late. No delays on the departure which was good as there was a huge line of weather moving in from the west. We were headed east.

Great tailwind. At cruise I ate my salad and chatted up the Captain. It turns out he was an Offensive Lineman for the University of Michigan. My wife went to Michigan State. I told him he went to the "wrong" school.

Choppy ride at FL310. We tried FL350...worse. We went down to FL270. Better.

Mild weather in Alabama. With the winds coming from 120 at 9 knots I figured they'd be using runway 15. Nope runway 33. Another tailwind approach. The tailwind through my planning off a bit and I had a firmish landing...which made my Captain laugh as my previous landing was butter smooth. "At least I know you're human," he replied as I had been flying very smoothly until that point.

Once at the gate and parked I whipped out my Ipad to send out a Union email. I then did my postflight and called for clearance. That's when the fun started. ground stop. The first delay was just 35 minutes. We figured it'd be best to board up and be at the ready if the ground stop was lifted. It wasn't.

The next ground stop was pushed until 9PM. My Captain had to be off the ground by 9:02 PM to be legal under FAR 117. He started his day earlier than I did.

After several phone calls we ended up cancelling. Long ago I learned to always bring a suitcase. Never assume you will always come home even if it's "just" a day trip.

I was being Junior Manned to fly the next day. At first it was a 8 AM departure and I'd be done by 10:30 AM. We were annoyed but content. On the way to the hotel they cancelled that flight and assigned us a 2 PM departure done by 4:30 AM. That annoyed us.....our entire Saturday was shot.

I had bought a box of eggs that morning as my daughter asked for scrambled eggs Saturday morning. Saturday afternoon was to be spent going with my family to a friends birthday party. I'd miss all of that.

The Captain had planned to be home last night to go to his kids soccer and baseball games. He'd actually gotten the day off of reserve to attend those functions. He'd miss all of that as well.

The Flight Attendant just wanted to commute home and sleep in her own bed.

For all of this I get 4 hours of extra pay or 200% actual flight time, which ever is greater. Given the short flight I will get 4 hours pay....roughly $170. Not worth it really. I do get another day off this month that I get to pick. Eh.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Flying a lot more

I've been flying a lot more lately. This is due to me loving what I do and to make more money. The company recently started paying 150% pay for any extra flying done and 200% pay when they are really short handed.

This month alone I've picked up almost 20 hours of extra flying. The flying was all done on weekdays where I would have otherwise sat at home. That extra flying will be worth about $1300 at my current pay rate.

Beyond that there's a vacancy bid open at my airline. Not holding my breath as it's being run with a displacement bid. My airline is closing yet another base.

When I started back in 2007 there were 8 pilot bases. By the end of the year there will be just 2. Thankfully I live in the largest base that should be safe from being closed.

When a base closes all the pilots are displaced. They are pushed out to the remaining bases. The pilots from the closed base can choose any seat their seniority can hold. Junior pilots in other bases often get shuffled around. It's a huge game of musical chairs.

I won't be displaced as I'm a very senior First Officer. There are less than 50 First Officers company wide that are senior to me. There are over 1000 First Officers junior to me.

The bid closes next week.....results will be out about a week after that.

Monday, April 6, 2015

First time here....hope it's my last

April is here! Time flies.

On a two day trip. Flying with a Captain I have not flown with in 4 years. Back then we were both on a larger, more powerful, all together better aircraft. Now we are both flying another plane solely due to quality of life. To fly the better plane we'd have to commute.

We both talked about how much we truly despised the current plane. When you've had the best.....it sucks to go down 5 levels.

The first day was three legs. He's an old school guy and always takes the leg out. No biggie. I took the next two. The first two flights were uneventful. The last was normal except for the last 5 minutes.

Headed to HPN...White Plains, New York....filled with uppity folks who despise regional jets but don't want to drive to JFK/LGA to fly a "big plane".

With a 130 knot tailwind we were projected to arrive 50 minutes early. The flight is a bit overblocked as the NY airspace can be congested.

The reported winds favored a straight in landing to runway 16.  As we got closer the ATIS stated runway 16 was in use. There was a light 5 knot direct crosswind.

I briefed and setup my descent for a straight in approach. Passing 11,000 feet we were told the airport was being turned around and now runway 34 was in use.

This would add 5-7 minutes to the flight, but still early.

On the downwind the approach controller stated we were number 3 and would be following a Gulfstream at 12 o'clock, 4 miles and 1000 feet below.

The NY airspace is busy. It was a clear night but with all the ground lights we did not feel confident following the aircraft we thought SHOULD be the Gulfstream. We advised we were looking for it.

On base I saw the airport and felt confident I could keep it in sight. Cleared for the visual and assigned 170 knots.

The Gulfstream was in clear view 3 miles ahead.

Once we switched to tower frequency we heard our flight and told to slow down as there would be a departure between the Gulfstream landing and our landing. We had not been cleared to land, only to "continue".

At 1000 feet AGL the Gulfstream was still rolling out. I told the Captain that I didn't think this was going to work. I mentally went through the go around profile. With the departing aircraft I included the possibility for the instructions to include a turn.

At 700 feet the Gulfstream was just still clearing the runway when Tower cleared the aircraft holding in position to takeoff.

The Gulfstream cleared by the time the departing aircraft started rolling.

At 500 feet the aircraft ahead was airborne.

Nice and soft landing followed by moderate braking and done. So I thought.

The HPN airport only has 4 gates. They will not assign a gate to a flight until they land. A bit odd. We were assigned gate 2. In and done. So I thought.

We were still 40 minutes early. We walked out to the curb to wait for the van. Being so early there was no van waiting. We saw another crew and asked where they were headed, happened to be the same hotel. They were concerned if we would all fit (7 total crew members between us). I called the hotel and asked if the vehicle was large enough. The hotel insured it was.

We talked a bit and watched a JetBlue crew walk past. I told the other crew they should all get in first since they arrived first.

The van arrived. We walked out to see Jetblue hopping in. We told them that we had all been waiting and both of us had called. They didn't care. We let the other crew hop in and we had to get a cab. We thought we were almost done.

We walked over to a cab and hopped in. We told the driver where we were going. He started shaking his head and took our bags out....not telling us why. He said we had to call our own cab as cabs are prearranged.

It took 4 minutes to get through as the line was constantly busy. I was told I had to pay via credit card and over the phone. Fine.

30 minutes after landing we were in the cab. The 7 mile drive cost $33! The hotel paid me back in cash on check in. Finally done.

Today is 3 legs with a deadhead on mainline home.


Monday, March 30, 2015

More flying please

April is almost here.

My airline, like many regionals, is having a problem with having enough qualified pilots in the RIGHT seat. First Officer attrition is higher than Captain attrition as First Officers on the bottom of the list are bailing for other Regionals with a shorter upgrade time. The often repeated "chasing the upgrade" race.

Upgrade times at airlines are very fluid. The posted upgrade times are whenever THAT guy chose to upgrade. For example lets look two pilots. Bryan hired March 30, 2007 and Chris hired March 30, 2008.

Years go by and Bryan is a senior First Officer with a big vacation planned this year AND a baby on the way. He knows he will need time for both. The CBA at his airline states upon reaching Captain all vacation must be rebid as a Captain instead of a First Officer. Since he's a senior First Officer he can hold the best vacation weeks during summer. Most junior pilots get January-February vacation followed by August-October.

A vacancy bid is opened and Bryan could hold Captain. He decided to bypass for quality of life. Chris puts the bid in and gets the award. Suddenly "upgrade" time drops by 1 year....even though it's somewhat artificial.

Every airline has First Officers who choose not to upgrade.

Today I had a 777 First Officer on my jump seat. He's been at my mainline partner for 25 years. He works 9 days a month as a First Officer and enjoys great quality of life. He can hold narrow body Captain on anything in the fleet. He's staying a First Officer due to quality of life.

That said.... I hope to be Captain soon.

In the meantime I will be content in "making" Captain pay as my airline is paying First Officers double time for picking up extra flying.

My strategy going forward will be to bid low time lines with a lot of days off with the plan to pick up extra flying on days off. It's a gamble as there could not be extra flying to be had....but I'm a betting man.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

So what's going on?

March has been busy. I turned a year old (now 38!) and will celebrate my 10th wedding anniversary tomorrow.

I had two really great trips this month. I purposely bid overnights in the Bahamas. Aside from my first 4 day trip, my only other overnights were in the Bahamas. It was like a paid vacation!

My flight arrived at noon and left the next morning at 7:30 AM. I had a great crew and we treated the overnight as a vacation. We had lunch and beverages at the hotel before going out and exploring and enjoying local food and beverages.

Looking forward things are bumpy for my airline. We are shrinking...and fast. I'm hoping to upgrade soon, but not holding my breath.

I did test the waters by applying to other regionals. Within 35 minutes of applying I had a phone call from a recruiter from a regional looking to set up an interview. Within 5 hours I had another phone call from a second airline offering a class date stating I have plenty of experience and could upgrade within 2 years.  Both would mean cutting my pay in half and having to commute. I will ponder it, but will likely not go.

Over the years I've enjoyed very good quality of life by living in base. I've spent countless and valuable extra time with my family I could not have had if I commuted. That has come as a sacrifice as I would have been a Captain elsewhere. It's a price I had to pay and glad I did.

Things might change soon though as my wife was given notice that her job of 13 years will no longer exist locally come the end of the year.

Being a pilot I can live just about anywhere and commute. Since she is the primary bread winner (till I upgrade) we are considering a move. She's a DNA Forensic Scientist (with a Masters degree if anyone knows a great gig opening!) so she has a job in demand, just not much locally.

That's all for now. I don't want this site to go stale. I will try more updates soon.

Monday, March 16, 2015

I'm still here

If you are seeing this then you correctly typed www.geekinthecockpit.com instead of geekinthecockpit.com. I'm working on getting both working.

I've moved the site to blogger. It's free. The last host was costing me $130 a year. Pricey for a blog.

I'm still a senior albeit disgruntled First Officer. The upgrade time was 7.5 years. I hit 7.5 years next month. I doubt I will upgrade before fall.

More later. A lot going on outside of flying right now.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Well isn't that special

Day 3 of a 4 day. So far I've only done one of my original flights. Weather has dessemated my schedule.

My original trip was decent but got back at 9PM on Saturday. It was just a single leg in. I had no desire to sit in a hotel all day on a weekend. I traded into a new trip that finishes at 3:30 PM Saturday. It was a 3-4-2-5 trip. Better.

This winter has been brutal.

My trip started on Wednesday. On Tuesday my trip started to fall apart. I had just one leg to the overnight.

Twenty minutes to departure and there was no Captain. I saw him name on when I signed in and know who he is....he just wasn't here. Ten minutes to go he arrived. There was an issue with him signing in.

Blocked out 20 minutes late. After deicing we took off 50 minutes late. My leg.

The outstation was reporting heavy snow, 1000 foot ceilings and 1/2 mile visibility, gusting winds and they were using the 7000 foot runway instead of the 8000 foot runway as the shorter runway had an ILS. We had two alternates.

The plane I was flying had no APU and only one operable thrust reverser.

I haven't flown much this year. The aircraft I fly is authorized to land with full or reduced flaps. I prefer reduced flaps as it uses less fuel, quieter and is easier to grease on.

With the inoperable thrust reverser, snow/ice covered runway and gusting winds I elected to use full flaps.

The performance chart for reduced flaps showed needing 5000 feet while full flaps needed just 3850 feet. Both figures excluded the use of thrust reverse and were for a wet runway with good braking.

If braking action was reported "fair" we needed 7620 feet for reduced flaps and 5830 feet for full flaps. The penalty for no thrust reverse was 2238 feet for reduced flaps (a total of 9858 feet) and 1350 for full flaps ( a total of 7180).  Basically if braking action wasn't good....we couldn't land.

I had not had a full flaps landing in months. I also haven't landed on snow in months. Good times.

By the time we arrived the snow was now light and the winds had died down. I still kept the full flaps.

The runway was not plowed well and still covered in patchy ice. The Captain called the runway 2 miles out. I looked up to see a sea of white. I faintly saw the runway lights and outline.

Ice and snow obscured most runway markings. Braking action reported good.

The full flaps made for a heavy feeling yoke.

I made a slightly firm touchdown with the mains and slowly lowered the nose on the pavement and began braking. I opened the one good thrust reverser just in case. We came to taxi speed with 3000 feet left.

Long overnight. My schedule on day 2 changed a few times. Finally settled with a 6:30 PM departure for me. The Captain I flew with was reassigned and earlier departure.

The snow had stopped. Left a few minutes early. My leg again. Arrived early. I was reassigned to a different overnight.

I met crew number 3 for the week. Very Junior Captain....barely senior to me.

In order to keep the streak of good landings going I took the outbound leg again.

During my preflight I found very thin frost on the left wing. The aircraft would have easily taken off with the frost....but regulations state the top of the wing must be free of frost.

The deicing team was no where to be found. We waited 20 minutes for them to drive out to the de-ice pad. We took off over an hour late.

The next outstation was bitterly cold. Just 2 degrees Fahrenheit! They had previously had heavy snow. The ATIS reported just the approach and departures end taxiways were open. Everything in between was closed. The runway was reported as having snow and ice again.

This plane had both thrust reversers. I planned another full flap landing. In and almost done. The parking area had over a foot of snow. The ground crew never cleared it. It made for an "interesting" post flight.

As my crew walked up the jetbridge  (at 12:40 AM!) I noticed I had two voicemails from Crew Scheduling. I use Google Voice and have all Crew Scheduling calls go directly to voicemail....it's part of my strategy. They don't pay my phone bill so there is no reason for them to call me.

The transcription showed they wanted me to have exactly 10 hours of rest and come back to fly another flight back to base. The contract states they must have positive contact meaning two way communication.

I was already tired. The drive to the hotel took 20 minutes due to snow. At best I would have 8 hours of rest. I declined to call them back. I knew it would not be just one flight back but another series of flights.

They called twice more...straight to voicemail. I got to my hotel room and was exhausted. As I laid down my HOTEL phone rang. I just picked it up and set it back down. I knew who it was. I wasn't interested. If I spoke to them there would be no negotiating, I would have to do the assignment they had.

I slept well. I woke up and felt great. The flight they wanted me to fly was staffed with a reserve flown in from another base. It would actually leave at the same time they wanted to fly it. No loss.

So far I am supposed to fly one leg into base, go home and come back tomorrow to finish my trip.

So far.