Sitting in a hotel room on an overnight. My wife is attending a baby shower for one of our friends and a seperate baptism party for another friend....all while I sit in a hotel room.
One of the consequences (and there are many) of flying for a living is missing important events. I have manged to be home for the really important ones (wedding anniversaries) while I have been gone for others (Christmas my first year....Thanksgiving my second). There are many other events I would like to have attended....like the ones today. My wife has gotten used to explaining why I am not with her.
I just read an article about regional airline flying (read it here http://www.nytimes.com/2009/05/17/nyregion/17pilot.html?_r=2&hp). I have gotten used to quite a bit of life as a pilot.
After arriving at the outstation I made my way to the hotel van with the crew and hopped on board. I then walked into my hotel room and changed clothes. After relaxing for abit I thought about food. The van leaves at 5AM tomorrow. I hadn't eaten lunch yet. I figured budget wise it was best to eat one big lunch/dinner combo. Around 3PM I headed down to the hotel restaurant and at a bigish meal. Afterwards I thought about a snack for later. Early on I learned to pack snacks. I only have two. I will eat one now and save the other for breakfast.
This hotel has no breakfast. With a 5AM van I will have to sustain myself on a fiber bar and coffee until we arrive in base. If everything is on time I have 45 minutes between arriving in base and leaving again. In reality that means I have about 20 minutes to sneak off the plane and grab food before the next turn.
There have been many times I have flown hungry. On days with delays I contemplate either running for food or trying for a closer to on time departure. I haven't forgotten that the passengers paid good money to be transported from point A to point B in a safe and timely manner. My manual states crews won't be penalized for taking a break in base for meals and such. Eh.
I have it better at my airline than many of my counterparts. I have friends at other airlines that have it much worse. Lower pay and worse working conditions. A friend of mine has a schedule this month that I would go crazy if it had been assigned to me.
All month he is assigned a CDO (Continuous Duty Overnight). He starts duty late at night and flies one leg to an overnight. The time between his arrival and next departure is less than 8 hours. The FAA requires at least 8 hours between duty periods, hence the CDO. I believe he is given a hotel room for the 6 hours between flights. This is good for maybe 4 hours sleep at MOST. He then has a very early departure back to base and is off until the next night....where he does it all over again.
I can't fathom how he can adjust to such a sleep schedule.
Have I flown fatigued? Well the term fatigue is defined by the individual. I have flown tired. I've never dozed off in the cockpit. There have been days where I have slept in the hotel van on the way to the hotel and then crashed once I got to the hotel room. The glamorous life of a pilot isn't what it used to be.
The crash of Colgan 3407 is turning on lights all around Washington D.C. Regional pilots have more take offs and landings per day than mainline pilots. The most critical phases of flight are taking off and landing. In one view regional pilots are likely more proficient at taking off and landing since they do it more. Another view is regional pilots are exposed to more incidents where things can go wrong (critical phases of flight) than mainline pilots. Hopefully things will change. There are many issues that regional pilots have to deal with that aren't seen as much at the mainline level. Regional airlines are pushed harder to do more than mainline pilots because they risk losing the contract with the mainline airline. My airline is better than most and I am thankful for that. Of course some day being the best regional is like being the least fat kid at a fat camp.