Wednesday, July 1, 2020

A whole lot of Anchorage

So I got to fly again.....crazy long legs.

For June I bid a line and was given 3 Anchorage, Alaska trips and 5 other "hybrid" days.

A hybrid day is a day where they will find flying for me. If they can't find flying for me then I get paid anyway. It's a pretty good deal as I pick the days to be available.

I thought I was ready for a long flight. For a year I have been flying to South America regularly. I was wrong...Alaska is the OTHER direction.

Flying up to Anchorage is easy. The flight leaves at 2:50 PM and arrives around 7PM Alaska time. The flight is almost 7 hours but it's daytime. The aircraft is the new Airbus 321 NEO.

The NEO has new engines and a slightly different flight deck. There's new technology and a few new buttons. The thing that took time to learn was CPDLC. In short it allows pilots and ATC to communicate via text message. It's neat...but takes time to learn.

The overnight is about 27 hours long. Do the math and back. The return flight leaves at 11:50 PM Alaska time...or 2:50 AM Dallas time. Big difference. When I left South America I would leave between 11 PM and 12:30 AM Dallas time depending on the overnight.

For South America Overnights I would take a nap around 5 PM...get a good 5 hour rest...waking up around 10 PM well before deep sleep.

For Alaska when I got to bed at 5 PM it's really 8 PM.....I get 5 hours sleep and I am in deep sleep when I wake up at 10 PM which is really 1 AM. I am groggy and irritable.

But enough complaining. Alaska is a beautiful. Sad I can take/post photos of the approach into the Ted Stephens Airport. The view is breathtaking. Arriving flights land on 15 or  25 L/R. I flew the first trip up there and landed on 25 R. On final there's a long mountain chain to the east of the airport....or right in front of you on landing. Quite the sight.

Almost every airline stays at the same hotel. Nice but vacant with the current stuff going on.

On my first trip I just stayed in the area on foot. Enough to see.

On my second trip.....well on the way we lost a lot of oil in the number 2 engine and had to divert to Seattle for the night. We arrived in Anchorage at 11 AM the next day and still left at 11:50 PM that night...I didn't do much.

On my third trip I decided to explore.

I rented a car for the day from Enterprise. The agent said normally the cheapest car is over $110 a day. I paid $32 all in...because of the current conditions

They opened at 7:30 AM. I was in the car by 7:33 AM.

I drove south to Seward. Amazing drive. I've never seen so many signs alerting of photo opportunities.

 After lunch in Seward I headed back. The drive was 250 miles total and filled up most of my day.

Back in my hotel room by 4 PM. I tried to sleep and got maybe 4 hours sleep. Rough.

The sun is still up at departure time. If we take the northern track back the sun sets for about 30 minutes then continually rises on the Captains side for hours.

Each time I get back I am a zombie most of the day. As beautiful as Alaska is....I don't want those trips in the future. The trip back is horrible on the body.

Next month I have my first trip back to South America....headed to Ecuador thru Miami.

As far as my position goes...I am safe for now. I think I am safe thru July 2021. Beyond idea...but no one really knows.

As far as my hybrid days I was used for 4 out of 5. I did 2 LAX turns where I flew there and deadheaded back. I also had one STL overnight. Not bad. I get a total of 84 hours pay this month.

Friday, May 1, 2020

Remember when we used to fly airplanes? too

It's May! The last time I flew an airplane was April 9th. One leg from Pittsburgh.

Over the last 3 weeks I did have vacation, but I was also on call for 9 days....and never was called. I've never been home this long outside of training in over 12 years. I've grown my quarantine beard.

Being home as helped my family. My wife has worked from home for 3 years. With 2 kids, one being school aged, also at home due to the Corona it's been hard. If I had been working my wife would have a heck of a time doing her job and keeping track of a 3 year old and 9 year old. The 9 year old is pretty self sufficient, but the 3 year old is not.

That being said....I want to fly. I was hoping to be called at least once during my recent 5 day on call stint. Nothing. Due to contractual rules I couldn't even volunteer to fly.

So the elephant in the room....will I keep my job? No one really knows. Well I guess some CEO has an idea. As I'm number 13495 out of about 16200. I am lucky that I got hired out of flow as I would be about 14161....about 600 numbers. Maybe it will help...maybe not. If things get worse and furlough will help.

Traditional furlough is like a game of musical chairs. The airline announces how many chairs are available. Pilots start picking chairs in seniority. When the music stops if you don't have a are furloughed. This will take time as if the senior pilots need training they will keep the junior pilot around until THEIR replacement has been trained.

For me....if they furlough 2500 pilots and things are optimal...and they train 100 pilots a month (very optimistic) then it would take 2 years to get to me. That's traditional furlough.

As things improve international travel will take the longest to return. Airlines could pull a rabbit out of their hat and use Force Majeure and furlough out of seniority to save money. Lawsuits would occur and eventually airlines would have to pay....but it would save them money. Will they do it? No idea...I didn't go to Harvard.

For the time being I'll keep growing my beard and being Mr. Mom.

Monday, March 30, 2020

Last Flight out of Quito

My how the world has changed since my last post.

March has been bizarre. I bid reserve by accident. Most of the time on reserve at my airline reserve pilots get between 0 to 50 hours or so of credit. I will end March with over 82 hours of credit.

I say credit and not hours flown...because it's complicated. Long story short I get a minimum of 5 hours 15 minutes of credit for each calendar day I work. If I fly a 30 minute flight today to an overnight and then a 30 minute flight back tomorrow...I get 10 and a half hours of credit. Additionally if I fly 8 hours today and 1 tomorrow I still get a minimum 10 hours 30 minutes. Deadheads pay the same as flying. When I'm not on reserve it's easy to make money by flying super short flights and getting more credit than flying.

For reserve this month I bid short call. Short call gives me 76 hours pay no matter how little I fly. If I get more than 76 hours credit then I get the extra. So this month I will get an extra 6 hours pay...about $966 before deductions.

The month started off with full airplanes and long flights. The first trip had an overnight in Madison, Wisconsin (where it was freezing!!!!) and then an overnight in Guayaquil, Ecuador...where it was 85 degrees and humid. All South America return flights are red-eyes. Guayaquil earned the rank as my least favorite red-eye as it left at 1:40 AM which at the time was 12:40 AM my home base time. The other red-eyes I do leave at least two hours earlier. When I rest before a flight I don't feel as tired as I don't get into deep sleep. I was in deep sleep before the Guayaquil flight. It was rough.

Before my next trip started the Covid-19 issues began to be taken seriously in the United States. Flight reservations began to quickly cancel. No longer were my planes full...they were half full at best for the next trip where I had overnights in Boston, Charlotte and Quito.

This trip was interesting as it included a trip to Montego Bay, Jamaica. I flew the leg from Boston and the Captain flew the leg to Charlotte. It was odd leaving a bunch of folks on an island in the middle of a pandemic. Their vacation though.

We were scheduled to fly the last flight out of Quito as that country was closing their borders. The crew bringing the plane down to us had a long day ahead. They were to leave Boston, fly to Miami, sit 4 hours, fly 4 1/2 hours to Quito, sit 2 hours then immediately deadhead on my flight 6 hour flight to Dallas. Normally they would overnight in Quito. I texted the Captain of the inbound to see if they were up to all of that. They could totally refuse in Miami as it would be a crazy long day. He said he was fine with it.

The flight down was full plus a company pilot in the jump seat....that checked two bags. I thought this was odd. Why would a company pilot fly down on the last flight to the country? It turned out he lived there with his family. He moved them all down there 4 years ago. With everything shutting down he knew he wouldn't be able to go back to work until May 6th. Crazy times.

Quito is a very high elevation city. Even though I spend hours at 8000 foot cabin pressure altitude, the elevation at Quito drains me. The hotel is at over 9200 feet!! I stayed in my room except when I needed food. I ate the hotel buffet (cleaning my hands after touching any public handle or lid) alone as there were few hotel guest. I went to nearby American fast food places for lunch and dinner.

The flight out was booked full. Boarding started on time, but the fueler arrived late. We needed almost 41000 pounds of fuel due to weather in Dallas requiring an alternate. With Quito being so high it also meant we had to be extra cautious on takeoff as we were at max takeoff weight.

Departure was set for 11:50 PM. We wanted to leave early. Well the fueler was only 1/2 done at 11:35 PM. Nine open seats in the back. Again we were to be full. Through my window I saw a lady sprinting through the terminal. She boarded at 11:40 PM. Still 8 open seats. The agent said two families just made it to the ticket counter. There was no way they would make it in time. The fueler finished and we reluctantly closed the door at 11:50 PM to be off the ground by midnight.

I was hoping for a boring flight. About 150 miles south of Panama the Flight Attendants called us stating a passenger passed out and was being attended to by two Doctors.

About ten minutes later one Doctor said land now while the other said wait. We began the process of calling our company medical personnel while also planning for a medical diversion. We knew wherever we landed we would be stuck....for a while...due to Covid-19.

Thankfully they called back stating the passenger was awake and responding to the IV of fluids. The passenger was in their 70s traveling with his adult children. He was dehydrated and didn't take some medication. Ugh.

The rest of the flight was really bumpy due to turbulence all over. About 2 hours from landing we got a message that the CDC would meet our flight for a full Coronavirus inspection. Sigh.

I made an amazingly smooth landing and we pulled into the gate surrounded by flashing emergency vehicles. Thankfully the inspection was quick and we were released.

After that trip the rest of the month was flying around planes less than 25% full...or deadheading. I did fly to Pittsburgh empty to be put into storage.

The enormity of all this is too much for me to process. I'm just going to keep flying until they tell me I can't.

Stay safe. Stay healthy.


Wednesday, February 19, 2020

I love Jury Duty

February is almost over. I have worked just 5 days...really 4 and 1/4.

I originally had 3 trips this month. Two 4 day trips and a 5 day trip. At the beginning of the month I had a few days of vacation that carried over from January.

Being junior I get mostly crappy vacation days. Thankfully with flexible scheduling it's not a big deal.

In January I had 16 days off. I didn't do much beyond annoy my wife. I did take a quick trip to Madrid, Spain. By quick I mean I was on the ground for just 25 hours. It was fun traveling with just a backpack. I got a whole row of coach there and a nice business class suite on the way back.

While on vacation I was given a jury duty summons. It was for 7:30 AM on a Thursday. My first trip of the month was a 4 day finishing at 7 AM that same Thursday. The trip was a red-eye trip from Ecuador. 

I sent an email with the summons to my Chief Pilots office and the entire trip was removed.....with pay. At second year pay that was $3381 to attend jury duty. The day of jury duty I was home by 8:15 AM. Nice!

With the vacation in January, being a little more senior and jury duty.....I haven't worked much this month.

In January I did take my first trip south of the equator. I had a 5 day trip that ended with a red-eye back from Quito.

Quito airport is 7700 feel MSL. The hotel and city of Quito is almost 1500 feet higher. I have never been so high. The headache never stopped. I have no desire to go back. I made the best of it with a trip to stand on the equator though.

By this summer I will go from the bottom 20% seniority to the top 40% as they expand the status. I will really enjoy the seniority by then.

If only there were a way to get more jury duty summons. Ha.

Wednesday, January 8, 2020

Well that was not fun at all

The Airbus is a fabulous aircraft. I truly enjoy flying it more than any other plane I have flown. True I've only flown 5 different transport category jet aircraft...but the Airbus is my favorite.

For new readers I started with the CRJ-700 as a First Officer then the ERJ-145 as a First Officer, CRJ-700 as a Captain, ERJ-175 as a Captain, MD-80 as a First Officer and now the Airbus 320 series as a First Officer.

The Airbus is automated, quiet and spacious. When things go wrong the ECAM walks you through fixing many things.

On Christmas day I had three flights to complete before heading home.

I started in SFO with a flight to DFW in a 321. This 321 was legacy US Airways and only had about 5000 cycles on it. There was a MEL on the left generator. The generator was having issues and was taken offline. We ran the APU for the entire flight to take the place of the left generator.

We were full plus two jump seaters. One was a Airbus 330 dispatcher and the other was an Airbus pilot from Alaska.

Things were fine until we started our descent to DFW from 33,000 feet. Once the engines idled down things got "exciting". The RIGHT engine had a compressor stall. The ECAM stated the engine failed...but it was still making power. We followed the ECAM checklist. One action was to take the number right generator offline. The left was already offline. We were left with just the APU. If that failed we would be on the RAT.

Once the ECAM actions were done we were on one engine as the right engine was idled per the checklist. I made a radio call I never thought I would make...."Pan, Pan, Pan, Pan American 1198".

I advised ATC that we were on one generator with one engine idled. We were given priority to the airport.

I continued running checklist and preparing the aircraft. The Captain advised the Flight Attendants and Passengers. Everything seemed to be going smoothly.

Once on final the right engine somehow appeared normal. All the errors went away. We decided to land normally.

There were emergency vehicles on each end of the runway. Normal landing. The Captain went to full reverse on both engines. Both reacted normally. Once he came out of reverse....the right engine fully failed. Gone.

No exterior issues were noted. We taxied to the gate with the emergency vehicle escort. The plane was placed out of service.

The Captain and I ate the company sponsored Christmas Dinner then went to an Airbus 319 for the last PNS turn.

Thankfully those flights were normal. I like normal.

For January I bid reserve (versus a line) for the First Time since 2018. There's a strategic reason due to my contract. Basically I will get paid for 85 hours and only "work" 13 days. Of those 13 I only expect to actually work maybe 8. So far I've worked 4. We will see.

Monday, December 16, 2019

Cleared to fly for 9 more months

Back at my regional airline I had training events every year. For most of them it was a "bet you job event".

My regional airline used to be known for having above average pilots. Training wasn't easy...but it weeded out the weaker and average pilots. The check ride event was a single pilot event. The other pilot in the sim could not help, assist, recommend or comment. They could only respond to commands.  Even if they saw you were about to fail....they could do nothing. Not a positive experience, but you were on your game.

My last few years at the regional,  things changed to a crew checking event. They made training just how we fly. It allowed the crew to work together. Much better experience, but it did allow weaker pilots to be helped by stronger pilots.

At my mainline airline they have been using the crew training and checking for a while. It is train to proficiency instead of train to check. As long as you show a positive attitude and improve, the training department can retrain events within reason. They train and check every 9 months. This was no one gets stuck training in December every year.

Since most of my career is the "bet your job" style training, I still study and prep as though my job is on the line.

I started studying 6 months prior to the checking event. My studying involved reading the systems manual cover to cover twice (even though I would only be tested on just a few systems). I read the aircraft operations manual...twice. I reviewed every training scenario multiple times. I read study guides multiple times. I still felt I was behind.

I wasn't.

On my first day here 2 years ago (TWO YEARS MAN! TWO FREAKING YEARS ALREADY!) I was told that I could relax and I don't need to be stressed in the training environment as I wasn't at a regional anymore. They repeated that....several times. I just can't relax. This is my dream career and I came from an environment where one mistake could cause the sim to stop and the pilot to be sent home and given just one more chance to be nearly perfect or be out of a job.

Yesterday I had a 5:30 AM show time. I am glad I live just 4 miles from the training center.

The briefing and sim went very well. I was paired with a "seat filler" which is a person trained on the aircraft but it NOT a current line pilot. This can be a good thing as they do these training events over and over again. I only had one debrief item. We descended into icing conditions and I forgot to turn on the engine anti-ice until we had been in it for over 2 minutes. Not a huge deal, but it was an item.

Cleared to go back on the line for 9 more months.

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Bus Driver Life

I am truly enjoying the Airbus. This is the first aircraft that I truly enjoy being on the flight deck. The Airbus flight deck is spacious and almost perfectly thought out. I appreciate how quiet it is and the room to stretch and spread out.

My trips have been all over the place. I have enjoyed a double overnight in Portland (I have family near by), 24 hours in St. Lucia (at an all inclusive resort!) and of course many...many...many trips to Bogota, Colombia.

My first recurrent training is coming up next week. I began studying 2 months ago....because that's who I am.

I haven't flown the NEO yet. I was assigned a LAX turn...but it cancelled 2 hours before departure. The NEO has fancy CPDLC (Controller Pilot data Link Communications)boxes and of course new engines. The CPDLC makes flying out of RADAR coverage more pleasant among other things. Right now when traveling over the Atlantic between the Caribeaan and parts of the Eastern US we use High Frequency radios for communication. The HF radios aren't clear and we are talking to radio operators and not controllers. CPDLC is like text messaging between controllers and pilots. I look forward to using it one day.

Beyond that life is great. My 2 year old is still giving me grey hairs. My 9 year old is itching to take another International Business class flight. My wife is finally enjoying the extra income I'm bring home. Long time followers know she supported me for years when I was a regional First Officer making under $40 an hour.

I plan on riding out the Airbus until I can hold the 787 right seat. At least 2 more years. Which is fine with me.