Monday, September 14, 2020

Another trip in the box

 At my last airline I had a check ride every year. 

For the first 7 years or so it was a "bet your job" single pilot check ride events. There was another pilot in the simulator, but they could never help you. 

My last 3 years they finally were approved for AQP (Advanced Qualification Program). I was in the small group trials for AQP and was actually the first pilot to ever pass that training. Even with AQP at my previous airline there was a lot to do, written exams and an oral exam.

When I came to my current airline, things changed. I am training in the same building as my last airline....but now I am at the majors. 

My first week here they told me , "you're not at Eagle anymore, relax.....we are here to help you." While it was nice to here....I couldn't just relax.

I was then training for the MD-80 down the same hall where I used to get 3 hour orals over almost every button on the flight deck. I used to have to recite over 15 different memory items. Now they were telling me to relax?

While I did have about 7000 hours of flight time before I started at AA, I still felt inadequate. I studied harder than I did for my previous regional jet. For the MD-80 I had my initial check ride in January 2018 and a probationary check ride in October of 2018. Training at AA is every 9 months instead of every year. 

Both events were stressful, especially the probationary ride as that was a job in jeopardy event. Of course I passed....I over prepared. There were written exams and a kind of oral (computer based) for the MD-80.

When I went to the Airbus I again studied hard. The Airbus 320 program was a huge step from the MD-80 but similar to the ERJ-175 I flew. I missed one question on the written exam. My initial check ride I felt just adequate....but did well. That was March 2019. 

In December 2019 I had my R-9 check ride. I started studying 3 months in advance. I read EVERY manual cover to cover.......twice. I did very well.

This morning, September 2020 I had my R-18 check. With all the craziness going on I have been stressed. I didn't start studying until a month out. During the break today my instructor pulled me aside and asked if I was former Eagle. I said I was...he said he can spot us....all of us come more than prepared and don't accept mediocre. 

The ride went very well. I stressed myself out preparing for it.....but was relaxed during the event. I'm an average pilot. The 13 years, 5 fleet types and 8200 hours in the air help, but I think it's my over preparing and conscious effort to know everything I need daily that helps. 

Good till June 2021. 



Wednesday, September 9, 2020

Hoarding

 Though I may be safe for now...I can feel the flames.

As a pilot I am a planner...I plan for multiple scenarios while flying...and in daily life. Always have a backup plan.

Even since June I have been trying to fortify my savings. I have been socking away a rainy day fund for years. I currently have over a years pay at RJ FO level or about 4 months at my current pay level. At the same time I've been shedding bills and conserving more than I normally do.

Each month I have two 3 limits on how much I can earn. There's the FAA flying limit, the company credit limit and the union credit limit. The last two are credits. 

It could get complicated quickly and I hate math so I will use round numbers. Each calendar day I get the greater of 5 hours OR whatever is flown whatever is greater. This is averaged over the trip. The real number is 5 hours 15 minutes...but I will stick with 5.

Now that 5 is a credit amount. If I fly a single 1 hour flight, overnight and 1 hour flight home...I get 10 hours pay even though I only flew 2 hours. The name of the game is to get paid more than I fly. I can't fly 130 hours a month..but I can credit that much.

Normal line trips don't typically have a lot of credit. My Anchorage trips last month were on paper a 4 day trip. Day 1 was a 2 PM flight to Anchorage  arriving same day. Day 2 was a red-eye at 8 PM local (Midnight my base time) arriving at 7 AM in Chicago. Each flight is about 7 hours. I was then supposed to head to a hotel (which it was now day 3) and dead head home early in the morning on Day 4.

Each flight was 7 hours (round numbers). So a total of 14 hours. The trip was 4 calendar days. I get 20 hours pay (really 21 but again...round numbers). I am not required to go to the hotel since the last leg is a dead head. Each trip I would head to the next flight to Dallas, sleep, and drive home and relax....all while getting an extra 6 hours of pay. 

When weather hits, planes run late or stuff just happens, the airline will substitute crews and aircraft if they are able. Normally this is for reserves. At my airline line holders can list themselves to be called for open flights as they are created. It's called a "make up" list. Depending on how long before the flight leaves scheduling will call the most senior pilot on the list and offer them the flight. They keep going until they get a yes OR it gets too close to departure and they call a reserve. 

These make up flights can be a turn, overnight or full multi-day trip. My favorite are the 1 hour to the hotel and dead head home the next day. Nothing like 1 hour of work for 10 hours of pay. My next favorite are a turn with the last leg being a dead head. I get full pay for fly as a passenger. 

Through June, July and August I played the game of maximizing credit and minimizing flight time. I credited right at 100 hours for June and July and 94 hours in August. I had a week off with family in August...otherwise I could have exceeded 100 easily.

This month something interesting happened. I was supposed to return to Bogota, Colombia for the first time since February. I had two 3 day trips. One leg down and one leg back. Twelve hours of flight for 15 hours pay. 

Covid-19 is still a big issue down there and the aviation authorities cancelled inbound flights. Once they were cancelled the credit was removed from my tally. I still get paid for those flights as long as I don't touch the days they were supposed to operate AND I accept any reassignment they give me. 

This is where the monthly max credit from the company comes in. This month it's 88 hours. I was at 84 hours before the flights cancelled. Take the 30 hours (2 trips) from 88 and it drops to 58. I can now pick up makeup flying or any trips I want and get more than 88 hours. So far I added a LAX turn (one leg there and dead head back same day) and two MIA turns (dead head there and fly back). That's a total of 18 hours. So I'm sitting at least 102 hours of pay and will fly at most 50 hours. 

This is also my training month. Lot's of moving parts. 

I am thankful for my job and my ability to be working right now. I realize I have a rare career which allows me to earn a lot of money quickly. My current pay rate is right above $161 an hour. Even my basic math at play shows me making over $16,000 this month alone. Most of it will be thrown onto the rainy day pile. Hoping I never need it....but this is one case where it's okay to be a hoarder. 


A few photos from recent trips....had a nice 22 hour layover in Cancun and of course my Anchorage flights. 





Thursday, August 27, 2020

Twenty-Five

 If you follow aviation...or just watch the news then you know it has been a bad week for United States legacy airlines this week.

Delta announced 1,941 furloughs...then American announced 1605 furlough....and United came in with 2850 furloughs. 

Each number is a pilot...and person...with a family. Massive numbers. 

I am safe at American by 25. That's it. Those that have been reading my blogs for a while might remember I was hired by AA outside of flow. If I had not been fortunate to earn an interview (through heavy networking, volunteering and determination) I would have flowed a year later....and be subject to being furloughed. Twenty-Five.

Currently on my last Anchorage, Alaska trip. Tired. Long 7 hour flight up. Time to rest. Quite the emotional roller coaster lately with all the news. 

Monday, August 17, 2020

Doing it because I love it...and I might need the money

 Back in October 2007 I was hired by American Eagle. About a year later they started furloughing. I survived. Barely.

In November 2017 I was hired by American Airlines. Last month I was the recipient of a WARN letter. I have 2251 pilots below me. They bottom 2500 were given a WARN letter. Yep.

Since I knew this was coming I started fortifying my furlough fund. 

Every airline pilot SHOULD have a furlough fund. Airline employees live with feast of famine. I have feast when I was hired....since March 2020......it's been famine. 

In May I started cutting back unnecessary expenses. In June I began picking up at much extra CREDIT as possible. 

At my airline there's pay hours...and credit hours. Each day I go to work I am guranteed at least 5 hours and 15 minutes pay regardless of how little I fly. For example I can fly a 1 hour flight from Dallas to Tulsa stay the night and fly back to Dallas the next day. I would work 2 hours but be paid 10 1/2 hours. The extra 8 1/2 hours is credit. Work smart not hard. The idea is for the airline to build efficient schedules. 

At American Eagle there was no daily guarantee. The same Tulsa flight would have paid 2 hours. At my current pay rate a simple overnight nearly covers my mortgage. It's a good deal.

My union and airline together decide the max credit I can get per month. The FARs limit how much flying I can do per month. In July I was limited to 100 hours credit. I was able to work the system to get 99 hours and 46 minutes of credit. I actually flew less than 60 hours. 

I'm going all this to help fortify my furlough fund. Right now I have about 5 months of pay in cash saved up. That's normal spending. I can easily stretch that to 8 months as I will have lower expenses sitting at home....plus there's unemployment.

Do I think I will get furloughed? I doubt it. I assume there will be another bailout sent to the airlines to cover them thru March 2021. Hopefully by then the vaccine will be out to high risk people and the virus will be on the mend. If not....then a furlough is very likely.

Domestic US flying is still pretty busy. International is light because most of the world doesn't want Americans.

I am an "international" pilot. Mexico is currently accepting Americans. I have been to Cancun more times in the last month than the last year. 

My trips to Cancun were from Phoenix and Dallas. All were full in and out. Americans want to travel. 

Still love flying...still looooooooove the Airbus. 


Photo of the baby bus in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. All that open land and a really short runway!


I'm a little tired....last night I picked up a 1-1 that was supposed to go to Saint Louis and deadhead home later this morning.

Before I left home scheduling reassigned me to fly to Kansas City then deadhead home today. A very strong storm came through last night. It could have been worse as they could have given me much longer flights.

I pulled out of my garage at 7:05 PM.

Delayed a bit but it was a short flight up. My cabin crew were doing a "On Duty All Night" or Continuous Duty Overnight meaning they worked the first flight out in the morning and required NO rest. 

We were supposed to be full. With all the weather only 37 people on board the baby 319. The plane holds 128 passengers. Nice 28 knot crosswind takeoff. Limit on dry is 35 knots. Light plane plus winds meant for a very short takeoff roll. 

I made a decent landing and I was in my hotel room at 12:20 AM. I was scheduled to leave at 11:35 AM to deadhead back to Dallas.

At 4:45 AM my wrist was vibrating. Time to get up. I was on the 5 AM van with the cabin crew. There was no need for me to waste half a day in Kansas City.

Short flight and I pulled into my garage at 7:55 AM just in time to take my daughter to daycare. It was like I was never even gone.

I am at 86 hours credit this month. Actual flying it closer 62 hours. I hope to pick up at last one more overnight. 

I have two Anchorage, Alaska trips left for the month each with 8 hours of extra credit. 

Doing it because I love flying....and might need the money.


For those on social media I am on Instagram and TikTok as Geekinthecockpit. Feel free to request a follow. 

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 yeah...red-eye 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 that...no 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? Yeah...me 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 starts....it 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 chair....well...you 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.