Saturday, October 31, 2009

Airlines: Some Costs They Can't - And Shouldn't - Cut

Really great article on pilot pay. I've had it forced into my head that pilot pay is directly tied to a huge portion of operating cost. Turns out it's all smoke and mirrors.

Today, like most every day, just over 44,000 of the world's most experienced airline pilots employed by the 9 largest airlines in the United States will accept full responsibility for over 1.5 million lives sitting on the other side of their locked cockpit doors. Over the next 24 hours, these pilots will make over 13,500 take-offs literally around the world. Through every imaginable type of weather, they will be in command of over 36,000 hours of flight time. And, if today is like most days, you will never hear or read about even one of those flights.

Read the rest of the article

Thursday, October 29, 2009

After 29 hours....a happy ending.

Right now I am cruising at 31,000 feet. Worry not I am not using my laptop while in the cockpit. I am back in the passenger compartment.

I've been on vacation for a little over a week. The benefit of (nearly) unlimited travel is quite possibly the best perk in the world. My wife and I have visited over 20 cities and 4 countries in the last two years I have been at my airline. This has all been directly tied to my travel benefits. Without them we would likely have only flown on two to four flights during that time frame. on average we have taken at least one trip a month since I started. That's a lot of flying.

Our most recent trip started in Asia 27 hours ago. We left our hotel room and made our way to the airport. We've been moving ever since. Between the two of us we have had MAYBE 3 hours sleep.

The first flight was 14 hours long. Once we landed we went home, showered, washed clothes, then headed back to the airport for the current flight.

My latest niece was born three weeks ago. We are taking a quick trip to visit her. I am flying back on Saturday as I go back on reserve on Sunday. I have a little over 48 hours to get rid of the jet lag.

Once I get back I have quite a few manuals to update as well as study up for my recurrent ground school starting on the 4th.

Last year around this time I had my probationary check ride. This year my simulator event is only flight training. Next year it will be another check ride.

The ground school is setup to make sure my knowledge is current as well as introduce new procedures. After the three days of ground I have two weeks until my simulator training.

Today is my second anniversary at my airline. I almost forgot about it (tired doesn't even begin to describe how I feel) until my wife literally just reminded me. I get another pay raise and that's about it. I got a pin last year. I think my next pin is at 5 years.

This post is ending on my brother in laws couch next to my 4 year old niece and my 3 week old niece.

I love my job.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Why I'm not flying

Vacation! Loving the benefit of worldwide travel. Here are a few photos:

[nggallery id=30]

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Heated Discussion or deep sleep?

Seems that a Northwest crew overflew the airport by....150 miles. Investigation to follow:

National Transportation Safety Board
Washington, DC 20594

October 22, 2009

************************************************** **********

************************************************** **********

The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating an
incident where an Airbus A320 overflew the Minneapolis-St Paul
International/Wold-Chamberlain Airport (MSP).

On Wednesday, October 21, 2009, at 5:56 pm mountain daylight time,
an Airbus A320, N03274, operating as Northwest Airlines (NWA) flight
188, became a NORDO (no radio communications) flight at 37,000 feet.
The flight was operating as a Part 121 flight from San Diego
International Airport, San Diego, California (SAN) to MSP with 147
passengers and unknown number of crew.

At 7:58 pm central daylight time (CDT), the aircraft flew over the
destination airport and continued northeast for approximately 150
miles. The MSP center controller reestablished communications with
the crew at 8:14 pm and reportedly stated that the crew had become
distracted and had overflown MSP, and requested to return to MSP.

According to the Federal Administration (FAA) the crew was
interviewed by the FBI and airport police. The crew stated they
were in a heated discussion over airline policy and they lost
situational awareness.
The Safety Board is scheduling an interview
with the crew.

The cockpit voice recorder (CVR) and flight data recorder (FDR) have
been secured and are being sent to the NTSB laboratory in
Washington, DC.

David Lawrence, the Investigator-in-Charge, is leading the team of 3
in investigating the incident.

Parties to the investigation are the FAA and Northwest Airlines.

Schedule from H - E - Hockey Stick - Hockey Stick

Below was my schedule from last week. Rough.

Thursday October 15

14:00-  Sign in for airport standby

17:30 - Assigned ferry flight to another airport

22:32 - Ferry flight finally leaves my base

23:15 - Arrive at maintenance airport

00:10 - Arrive at the hotel - set alarm for 8AM for breakfast before scheduled 10AM deadhead to base


07:10 - Wake up without alarm. Tired. Head down for breakfast

8:05 - Phone rings. "Unknown". I don't answer

8:06 - Phone rings again. "Unknown". I still don't answer

8:10 - Hotel phone rings. I answer. It's the Captain I'm flying with. Tells me deadhead cancelled. Now we are doing a test flight at  13:00

8:11 - I pound sand. Long day ahead.

12:00 - Walk across the street to convenience store for water and snacks. No food at the airport.

12:15 - We ride to the airport in a brand new Lincoln Town Car. Nice ride.

12:45 - The plane is ready for the test flight. I go out for the preflight

13:30 - We taxi out for the test flight. The test fails. Random vibrations at random speeds. Hard to reproduce

14:29 - We park back at the hangar. We then spend 2 hours waiting on what we need to do next. Last flight to base laves at 17:50.

16:00 - I get upset with scheduling making a decision on what our assignment is. Finally assign us the 17:50 deadhead

17:49 - The deadhead flight leaves.

18:41 - Arrive in base. Tired. Call to get released. Scheduling gives me the run around. I ask for a Chief Pilot to be conference in. Placed on hold. They give me an assignment. A deadhead BACK to the airport I just left leaving in 30 minutes. I refuse stating I need dinner. Assigned a later deadhead.

20:55 - Deadhead leaves. A new Captain and a company maintenance pilot also deadheading.

21:43 - Arrive at the outstation. I'm very tired.

22:54 - We taxi out for ANOTHER test flight. It again fails. Random vibrations.

00:04 - Park back at the hangar

01:05  - Arrive at the hotel. The primary and secondary hotels are full. Convention in town. Sent to the backup, backup hotel. So tired I never turned on the lights.


08:00 - Alarm goes off for 8:30 van. Tired.

09:05  - Arrive at airport for 9:35  deadhead.

09:49 - Deadhead flight leaves. Another pilot is also deadheading. We went to ATP together. I discuss how crappy my trip has gone.

10:37 - Deadhead flight arrives in base after a go around on short final. Captain reported plane on the runway. I had a 3 hour break between flights.

11:00 - In my car driving home to relax a bit. Very tired. Clearly fatigued.

11:15 - Arrive at home. Call Chief Pilot to discuss what happens if I call in fatigued. Result would be I would lose a days pay (roughly $140). I make coffee.

12:50 - Wife arrives home

13:00 - Leave back for the airport

13:45 - In the back of another plane. Another deadhead for an overnight. Very tired. If I was flying the flight I would have called in fatigued.

14:54 - Arrived at the outstation. Called hotel van while still on the plane. Because the rest of the crew arrived hours ago, the hotel would not be expecting me

15:20 - Hotel van arrives

20:30 - After dinner and a cocktail I go to bed. 8AM flight scheduled.


06:15 - Alarm goes off for 7:00 van. Well rested.

06:30 - Check schedule. Another deadhead. Flight downgraded to a smaller plane

07:00 - In hotel van. Wondering if I will ever actually fly a plane.

07:56 - Deadhead flight leaves outstation

09:08  - Flight arrives in base. Another 3 hour break

09:20 - Wife picks me up to relax at home

11:00 - Checked my  schedule. My next flight downgraded. Another deadhead

11:30 - Wife drops me off at the airport for the next deadhead. Due to it being flown by a smaller plane, 20+ passengers are denied boarding. Gate agent asked if I would mind taking the jump seat. I checked to see if any other pilots were listed. There were none. I agree. One extra passenger is boarded.

12:25 - Deadhead flight leaves the gate. I have second thoughts about taking the jump seat. Too late.

13:34 - Flight arrives in next out station. I unfolded myself from the jump seat.

13:55 - Hotel van arrives. Off we go.

17:00 - Nice dinner at an Irish Pub. Interesting fish and chips.

19:00 - Hit the treadmill for exercise. Two miles later I'm done.

21:30 - Shower, pack and go to bed. Early morning van.


04:15 - Alarm goes off. Get dressed and head down stairs

04:30 - Pile into hotel van. We were all still asleep

04:50- Arrive at the gate. Find Starbucks.

05:40 - Amazed I'm in the cockpit behind the controls. My leg. Normal flight

06:38 - Pull into the gate. Tired.

07:19 - Push out of the gate for the next turn. Captain gives me the leg.

08:27 - After making an amazing landing we pull into the gate 7 minutes late

09:02 - We turn out of the gate. Headed back to base.

10:07 - Captain lands and pulls into the gate. Scheduled for a 3 hour break before last turn

10:40 - I get lunch and head to the crew room. A senior pilot FO who also went to ATP sees me and joins me at a table. I discuss my crappy trip. He is amazed. He was hired years ago. Only was on reserve for 1 month. Nice. Also in the crew room were representatives from crew scheduling. I bite my tongue from lashing out.

11:40 - I notice that my last turn downgraded. I bolt. Done.


This was my first 5 day trip in months. It was rough. I was ridiculously tired. Weeks ago during the hearings at Congress concerning regional pilot training, schedules and such the topic of fatigue was brought up. Many airline reps stated there is no punishment if a pilot calls in fatigued. Not true. Calling in fatigued at my airline results in pay loss (if I flew more than my daily guarantee I lose no money) At other regional’s (thru direct discussion with a friend) the pilot loses pay and faces a meeting to explain why they called in fatigued with a Chief Pilot. The extra scrutiny pressures many not to call in.

Tomorrow starts my vacation. Wife and I are headed out of the country for a while. Not sure how updates will go.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

I couldn't have made it through the day

I went to bed at 9:30PM Sunday night. Way earlier than normal...didn't work. My body clock is used to going to bed around 10:30PM and waking up at 6AM. Hard to change it.

At 4:15AM Monday my alarm went off. I learned long ago to maximize sleep when I have an early show. To do this I shower the night before, pack up everything but my laptop, and go to bed. My eye's were blurry. At first I thought I slept in my contacts again. My reminders that I took them out were on my laptop. I started putting my old contacts on my palm rest before I go to bed.

At 4:25AM I left the hotel room. When I have loud neighbors I make sure my door slams. They were quiet last night. I slowly let the door close and made my way to the elevator.

Rounding the corner I must have looked tired. The front desk clerk pointed and said "Coffee is over there, if you want there is a breakfast box for you here." Nice.

This hotel is not very crew friendly. Most hotels allow crews to schedule the van time for whenever. Not this hotel. The hotel van runs at the top of the hour and every 30 minutes. If we had a choice we would have picked a 4:45 AM van time. Fifteen minutes means a lot when you're tired.

By 4:30AM we were all in the hotel van. Tired. No one talked much. I was half asleep. We were all waiting at the gate by 4:50 AM. Departure was at 5:40AM. I was off in search of coffee. I prefer Dunkin Donuts, McDonalds then Starbucks. This airport only has Starbucks and some unknown crap.

I was excited to actually be flying a plane. Again I had 6 deadheads prior to this. Enough was enough.

All 58 passengers were seated 10 minutes prior to departure. The front flight attendant asked if I needed anything. I have flown with her a few times, she has a great sense of humor. I asked if I could have the "salmon" breakfast with eggs. She laughed. Five minutes early we pushed out.

This airport has been under construction lately. One of the two main runways has been closed for a while. The good thing is the runway closest to the gate is still open. My leg.

At VR I smoothly rotated the nose into the air. The adrenaline that I build up during takeoff quickly faded during the climb out. I called for the autopilot and reached for my coffee. The ETA on my MFD looked good...a few minutes early. With that I used standard climb and cruise speeds.

The coffee was helping me stay alert. I looked down at the stream of white lights along a major highway. I'm glad I don't have to commute in a car. I hate sitting in traffic.

Descending into the terminal area we were assigned the runway closest to the gate. Nice. On final tower advised to use caution due to a departing 747 from a parallel runway.

The winds were right down the runway at 19 knots. Just 2000 AGL the winds were still 40 knots. Really strong for that low. With that strong of wind I wasn't too concerned with the wake of the 747.

I made a decent landing. Especially for having not landed in a while.

The Captain decided to not start the APU in order to save fuel and wear on the APU. We are one part of the team. The other members are gate agents and rampers.

We pulled into the gate 7 minutes early...right at 6:38AM. There was no gate agent. The rampers normally wait for the jet bridge to be attached to the plane, then attach external power. With no gate agent, they left to get bags off the plane. A minute later the gate agent arrived.

There we sat for 10 minutes with the right engine running. Finally we gave in and started the APU and shut the plane down. So much for teamwork.

We were lucky to keep the same plane for the next turn. The Captain offered me the leg. With a sip of my coffee I agreed.

A full 70 passengers were on board as we pushed out at 7:20AM. Due to morning congestion in the ramp area we didn't reach the runway until 7:45AM.

Normal takeoff. On climb out, I was feeling especially lazy and called for the autopilot before 1000 feet AGL.

Since we were running late I setup the plane to climb at 300 knots once above 10,000 feet. Instead of cruising at .78 as planned I cruised at .81. The MFD showed an ETA just one minute late. Not bad.

Winds were blowing 220 @ 10 knots. We were coming in from the east. The tower assigned us straight in runway 26. Nice.

A few miles directly east of runway 26 were two crop dusters. The tower advised us of him. They tried calling them...they never responded. Sure enough the popped up on TCAS. One with a mode C. One was only a target.

I stayed a little high until the Captain could find both of them. He did. I then started getting the plane dirty. Just 2000 AGL I realized I needed more than flaps 20 and gear to slow down. Out went the flight spoilers. Finally by 1000 AGL the spoilers were stowed and flaps at 45. Looking good.

The ILS was loaded up as a backup, but I was looking outside for guidance. The runway is just over 8000 feet long. Plenty as the performance charts stated that we only needed 3500 feet. Of course that number assumes landing on the 1000 foot markings and literally slamming on the brakes and maximum thrust reverse.

Just short of the runway I dipped slightly below the glideslope. While correcting for the crosswind I eased the plane down to the runway. I idled the thrust levers at ten feet and kissed the runway. Nice.

I deployed the maximum reverse thrust and slowly began braking. Done.

After parking at the gate the front flight attendant told me we had a few celebrities on board. A few members of a famous musical were coming along although most of them were on the next flight.

The station has no GPU or belt loader. We left the APU burning during the turn. Because they had no belt loader it took much longer than normal for the bags to be taken off and reloaded.

We pushed out 15 minutes late. Captains leg.

On the way back I discussed how nice it would be for the next turn to downgrade to a smaller plane. He stated that last week (this is his line, he does the same sequence of flying each week) that the last turn was two hours late, he didn't finish the day until 7PM. VERY long day.

After parking at the gate (5 minutes late) I stored my bags in the crew room and went out to find lunch. I had 3 hours till the next turn.

Stomach full of Mexican food (guilty pleasure) I waited in the crew room. A friend of mine (who helped me get a job at ATP teaching the RJ course) walked in. He just commuted in from seeing his girlfriend (one of my former students...small world eh?). He sat down and we discussed the latest rumors and theories.

While waiting I kept an eye on my schedule. At 11:40AM I noticed the last turn dropped off my schedule. I instantly called scheduling. Released. Awesome.

In hindsight I'm glad this happened. At 4PM I was so tired I couldn't think straight. I don't think I would have been safe completing that flight.

Still working on a write up on the 4 days prior to this.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Serenity Now!

This is my first 5 day trip all year. Tired. Of my last 8 flights, 5 have been dead heads including one on the jump seat of an ERJ. I haven't actually flown a plane, the other three flights I was the non flying pilot.

First overnight was long, second was  8 hours long with only 7 hours in a hotel and I got maybe 5 hours sleep. Third night was long. Tonight is long but with a crazy early start tomorrow.

Tonight is my last night away from home. I did get too see my wife for 10 minutes yesterday and about an hour today.

Tomorrow is a 5 leg day. Van time is 4:30AM for a 5:40AM flight to base. Once there I do a quick two hour turn before sitting for 3 hours for a 4 hour turn finishing my day (I hope) at 5:25PM. Long day to say the least.

I will have a longer post about this trip sometime Tuesday. Mentally tired right now.

Friday, October 16, 2009

8000 feet and 250 knots

Remember a few days back I had to fly a plane to a maintenance base? While walking thru the hangar I snapped a photo of an exposed engine. Well that plane was in a heavy check. It finished yesterday. A crew was deadheaded in to do a test flight and then, if it passed, to fly it back to base.

The crew signed it off and flew it back to base. On the way there they noticed a "harmonic vibration" about 290 knots. The plane was put out of service. The plane was then scheduled to fly back to the maintenance base to be inspected. Due to the harmonic vibration a special ferry permit was issued to fly at max altitude of 8000 feet and speed of 250 knots.

I was sitting ready yesterday. When I was assigned the flight (scheduled to depart at 8:15PM) I headed over to the crew room. The captain arrived, a guy I saw ready with a few months ago, and told me the max altitude and speed restrictions. I laughed and told him "nice joke." He said he wasn't joking. I looked at the flight release. WTF?

The plane was sitting on a pad away from the terminal. A ramp supervisor picked us up at 9PM and gave us a ride to the plane. Crew scheduling initially asked why we couldn't just "walk to the plane". I wouldn't walk across an airport ramp at night even if I was dressed in flashing red lights. Ramps are very busy with all kinds of motorized vehicles buzzing about. Ever notice how many dents airport vehicles have in them? Especially of note are the vehicles with tubular bars all around that STILL have dents. No thanks.

Once we arrived I reached up to open the main door. Thankfully it opened easily. A while ago I used my full body weight on the door and it still wouldn't open. I had to rock it back and forth quite a bit.

We BOTH did a preflight. The Captain used to teach ground school on the plane, he knows it very well. We wanted to make sure there was nothing on the outside of the plane that could be causing the vibration. Once done we headed to the cockpit.

After starting the APU and going through our checks we noticed the hydraulic fluid level at just 40% on systems 1 and 3. The normal level is at least 45%. When it's at least 45% it turns green. At 40% it was white. The Captain and I discussed the issue. We agreed it was a "no go". Back to the terminal we went.

The Captain had been on reserve at home since 10AM. The latest he could work was 2AM. Flight time was estimated at 1 hour 5 minutes. Add in 15 minutes post flight duty and the latest we could take off was 12:40AM. Long day.

At 10:10PM I was back in the cockpit. When I called to get the clearance the controller paused before stating, "climb and maintain 4,000.....expect 8,000 10 minutes after departure. Is 8,000 the highest you can go?" I replied it was.

Takeoff was normal. Once at 8,000 feet we sat back and watched the world below. It was a clear night. Good thing as we go a few advisories of planes flying around us. Not jets. Cessnas, Pipers and such. One was a VFR target only out in class E. Good times.

Once parked at the Mantanence hangar I called the hotel. They weren't expecting us. Crew scheduling never called. I then spent 20 minutes calling crew scheduling, the hotel and a taxi service (the hotel van stopped running). This all should have been done by scheduling. I wasn't happy.

I walked into the hotel room just past midnight. Initially I was supposed to deadhead home at 11AM. My phone just rang. It was from "unknown" which is crew scheduling. I was screwed over a few times by answering my phone while away from base. I am not required to do so, so I don't. The Captain apparently answered his phone then called me on the hotel phone. They changed our assignment. We were now going to do a test flight on the same plane at 1PM and then, if it passes, fly it back. Here's the problem.

If the plane isn't ready at 1PM we have a chance at the 2:10PM flight to base to deadhead on (the same one I barely missed a few days ago). If we miss that flight the next flight isn't till 5:50PM. Yeah. This could get ugly.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Perfect Storm ahead for a Pilot Shortage ? HR 3371


Maybe this "pilot shortage" will actually happen....and it could get VERY ugly.

HR 3371 (AKA Airline Safety and Pilot Training Improvement Act of 2009) passed today. This bill is incredibly long (I've tried reading through it....haven't finished yet). One of the key provisions is this:


(a) Requirements-

(1) RULEMAKING PROCEEDING- The Administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration shall conduct a rulemaking proceeding to require part 121 air carriers to develop and implement means and methods for ensuring that flight crewmembers have proper qualifications and experience.


(A) PROSPECTIVE FLIGHT CREWMEMBERS- Rules issued under paragraph (1) shall ensure that prospective flight crewmembers undergo comprehensive pre-employment screening, including an assessment of the skills, aptitudes, airmanship, and suitability of each applicant for a position as a flight crewmember in terms of functioning effectively in the air carrier’s operational environment.

(B) ALL FLIGHT CREWMEMBERS- Rules issued under paragraph (1) shall ensure that, after the date that is 3 years after the date of enactment of this Act, all flight crewmembers--

(i) have obtained an airline transport pilot certificate under part 61 of title 14, Code of Federal Regulations; and

(ii) have appropriate multi-engine aircraft flight experience, as determined by the Administrator.

(a) Requirements-

(1) RULEMAKING PROCEEDING- The Administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration shall conduct a rulemaking proceeding to require part 121 air carriers to develop and implement means and methods for ensuring that flight crewmembers have proper qualifications and experience.


(A) PROSPECTIVE FLIGHT CREWMEMBERS- Rules issued under paragraph (1) shall ensure that prospective flight crewmembers undergo comprehensive pre-employment screening, including an assessment of the skills, aptitudes, airmanship, and suitability of each applicant for a position as a flight crewmember in terms of functioning effectively in the air carrier’s operational environment.

(B) ALL FLIGHT CREWMEMBERS- Rules issued under paragraph (1) shall ensure that, after the date that is 3 years after the date of enactment of this Act, all flight crewmembers--

(i) have obtained an airline transport pilot certificate under part 61 of title 14, Code of Federal Regulations; and

(ii) have appropriate multi-engine aircraft flight experience, as determined by the Administrator.

The days of having just a commercial multi-engine rating will soon be gone....3 years if the bill goes into full effect.

Those who have been following my blog for some time (this blog started October 2007 before being relaunched February 2009) know I was hired with 560 hours total time including 420 hours multi-engine and nearly 300 hours of dual given. Not a lot. As of now I have almost 3 times that flight time.

The requirement of ALL pilots flying in 121 Air Carrier (scheduled airline service) to have an ATP is going to have a devastating effect on finding qualified pilots.

Flight time cost money. If a pilot were to pay his own way it would cost over $100,000 for that much flight time. It could be done for less if the pilot split the time with another pilot, still a lot of money.

Most pilots get paid while building flight time. A pilot is eligible to get paid to fly after earning a commercial rating. After getting a commercial rating a pilot can earn a CFI rating and use it to build flight time. Building time as a CFI is cheap (ATP actually pays CFI's more than most regional airlines do during their first year!) and if you have the right attitude, fun. I love it.

It took me 4 month's to amass 300 hours of flight time while instructing as a CFI. That was with me working nearly everyday. The time from guy on the street to regional airline pilot will soon be at least 18 months...most likely 24 months.

The perfect storm is on the horizon. The bar to enter an airline cockpit has been raised very high, the training to get over that bar is still very expensive and the pay after entering the cockpit is terrbily low. If I were just now thinking about going from the cubicle to the cockpit....I just might have to pass.

Below you will see a new comment system. PLEASE try it out and let me know of any issues. I spent several hours trying to get a decent system working with Facebook connect and more. I'm a hardware and software troubleshooting a software coder/designer. Getting this far required more software coding than I liked.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Living conservatively

My wife and I are fairly conservative with our finances. We only buy things we can surely afford. This year we have been on a bit of a buying spree. I think it's in preparation for a few years of living on less.

Next year we are planning to have our first child. This will mean less money for "fun stuff". Two thousand nine brought new floors for 70% of our house, a new dishwasher, new couch, 2 new flat screen TVs, and a new Xbox 360 elite. Quite a bit. Doubt we will be buying much next year.

Our finances really depend on my wife's salary. I pay for my car payment, gas, student loan and whatever I spend while on a trip (I normally make twice on per diem than I spend). Not a whole lot left.

Below is an excerpt to a very detailed and eye opening article about a pilot at ExpressJet Airlines who went from First Officer to Captain to First Officer. His family used his pay to plan life events. Made since as he earned the most. When the economy began tanking and he was demoted back to First Officer, major life changes happened.

(taken from This New York Times Article)

They closed on the house in August 2008, on the eve of the downgrade, and soon there were regrets. “We would not have bought the house on a first officer’s salary,” Tracy Lawlor said. She had considered giving up teaching to be a stay-at-home mom. “We felt we had some breathing room for the first time in our 11 years of marriage,” she said, “and that went out the window with the downgrade.”

She was sitting at her kitchen table, and her husband, across from her, winced, but did not disagree. Even if his captain’s rank and pay are restored she will continue to teach, she said. His pay could be cut again. They are convinced of that and, in preparation, they made certain there would be no more children. Their fourth, Jackson, was just 4 months old when the downgrade came, and soon after, Mr. Lawlor underwent a vasectomy.

“We could not take the risk of having another child,” he said.

Silver, and Dark, Linings

The West Coast assignment, while representing a promotion, meant long, often overnight commutes, with Mr. Lawlor sleeping fitfully in the jump seat of a FedExcargo jet or in a sleeping bag rolled out in the cargo area. His first day home, he often spent dozing on the living room couch. His wife hated the time taken from the family, and her husband’s exhaustion.

“He was totally worn out the first day back, and tired the whole time he was home,” she said.

One year later, even after such a big pay cut, Mrs. Lawlor sees her husband’s shorter commute to his new base at Newark as a blessing she is reluctant to give up. Her husband says that moving back up to captain, with a captain’s pay, might mean commuting again to California. “If that is what it takes, I’ll do it,” he said, and this time his wife winced.

“I would probably not be happy,” she said. But she “wouldn’t trade him for another husband,” as she put it, and while she had never wanted her husband to be a pilot, at this point she would be alarmed if he left aviation in an attempt to please her.

“He likes what he does,” she said, “whereas before he did not like what he did. That has made him easier to be around, whereas before he became a pilot, he wasn’t happy at all.”

Before I made the jump to being a pilot, my wife and I discussed finances. We agreed that we would always "live" off her salary and use mine for savings/extra. This might change years from now if I have more than 50% of the pilot group under me. Right now I have less than 10% of the pilot group under me.

Anyone looking to get into this field should take a few minutes and read the article.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Not fast enough

This was originally started Saturday October 10th...finished on the 12h...might be my longest post ever

Right now I am sitting in the waiting area of a very small airport. I will sit here for 3 hours.

This trip started with a phone call at 5:20PM yesterday for a 5:50PM departure to the overnight. Over the past 3 months I have only stayed overnight in 2 different cities. This one is my favorite...awesome rooms and breakfast.

Prior to departure I made a PA and announced that we are about to depart to the other city I have stayed in.....I quickly corrected myself.....I'm sure a few passengers had a momentary feeling of "WTF?!?!?"

The flight left a few minutes late. Captains leg. We were running late. We were scheduled for 9 hours rest. According to the FAA 9 hours rest is "normal". Again rest begins 15 minutes after landing until 45 minutes prior to departure. At least 30 minutes of that time is eaten up in the airport/hotel van.

The plane has one MEL. One of the TRU (Transformer Rectifier Unit) fans weren't working. No performance degradation. No crew action required. The only notification we had that a TRU fan was out was an EICAS message.

On the way I did update a few charts. The most recent update was huge!

[singlepic id=360 w=640 h=480 float=center]

We arrived 3 minutes late....we were now on reduced rest. Somehow I slept decently. Rare for short overnights.

This morning I ate a big breakfast. I saw that my schedule had been changed. Instead of just flying to base they added on a turn. It was a quick turn, 1 hour each way. I was to be done at 12:20PM. Foolishly I planned on being home at 1PM to meet a guy about a TV I am selling via craigslist.

At 6:30 AM we all piled into the hotel van. By 6:40 AM we all cleared security. The Captain was printing the paperwork so  I went down to power up the plane. When the CRJ is powered up all kinds of lights flash along with a ton of Warning, Caution and Status messages appear on the screens. It's normal. As systems complete self test and buttons are pressed, the messages go away. With power on I went out for my preflight. Boarding started.

I sat in my seat and called to get the clearance. Afterwards I went thru my flows....then I saw it.....a status message that didn't belong...."ADG FAIL".

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The ADG is an Air Driven Generator. It is housed in the nose of the plane and is designed to pop out in case of engine generator failure (click here for a Wikipedia about ADG's). This is a "no go" item if posted while on the ground. If it is posted in the air, no action is required. Not good.

Boarding had finished. Once the Captain arrived I told him of the message. He looked at me and said, "that's it, we aren't going anywhere anytime soon."

He had this same problem in the same plane a few days ago. The fix took 8 1/2 hours. I advised the front flight attendant that we would likely be deplaning and he passed it on to the rear flight attendant. I was frustrated. We tried powering the plane off and on (the cabin had lights and power the entire time). No change. We tried starting the APU thinking maybe the gate power was causing an issue. Nope.

I know the ADG door was closed on the walk around. There wasn't a whole lot I could do. I grabbed a flashlight and headed out to see if there was anything out of the ordinary. As I stood and faced the cabin, 50 faces all seemed to be staring at me.

While outside I gave the heads up to the ground crew that we had a problem that was a no go item and it would likely be a while to fix. This allows them to preplan to handle 50 upset passengers.

Once back inside the Captain was on the radio with the airline maintenance line. A contract mechanic was on the way. Departure time was upon us. THe Captain made a PA to inform the passengers that we had a problem and that we would keep them advised. Meantime the station manager arrived in the cockpit. He asked if we could hold off deplaning until 8AM as he doesn't have the staff to handle deplaning along with handling 2 other outbound flights. The time was 7:20AM. The Captain and I didn't feel comfortable with keeping the passengers on for 40 minutes. Then an airline operations voice came over the cockpit speaker stating the flight was cancelled and too deplane. The decision was made. The passengers were all rebooked on other airlines. We waited for a mechanic and instructions.

We were informed we would be ferrying the plane to base. This would have been great as I would get out of the next turn AND would be home early. Nice. Then they came back that we would be ferrying the plane to another airport as our base mechanics are already overloaded. So much for plans.

Due to weather en-route we were scheduled to fly 3 hours for a normal 2 hour 20 minute flight. The Captain and I needed food. The plane needed much more fuel. Time was 9:40AM by this point. The Burger King started lunch at 10AM. We decided to wait. I headed back over to the gate.

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I helped a family of 4 who had questions about their flight and connections. I recently taught myself a few commands used by gate agents. This was mostly self serving for when my wife I and non-rev. After helping them I turned around to look back at the plane. Then it happened.

The fueler was adding needed fuel for the ferry flight. The CRJ has 3 fuel tanks. One in each wing and a center tank. All fuel is normally dispensed thru a single point on the right side of the plane under high pressure. The computer directs fuel from there to the appropriate tank.

While watching a normally boring process fuel began gushing out from the right wing. The fueler stopped fueling, but it was too late. Something bad had happened. There wasn't a lot I could do but inform the Captain who had just purchased his lunch. He headed to the plane. I ordered my food.

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I met him in the plane. For some reason the computer didn't open the transfer valve to allow fuel to the left wing. We were being fueled up to 15100 pounds of Jet A. Each wing holds at most about 7400 pounds. The right wing was showing 7530 pounds, the left wing 7000 pounds and the center 200 pounds.

We shut the APU down. We were on gate power at that point. The area got busy fast. Several fire trucks rolled up followed by airport operations.

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A large gentleman ran over in front of the plane and turned off two breaker boxes. There went the gate power. We then turned off the battery master and headed up to the gate.

A good crowd of passengers was standing at the window looking at all the excitement. I found a power outlet and spent 30 minutes or so on line. Two hours later the fuel had been cleaned up.

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One of the flight attendants was reassigned to deadhead to base on the next flight. The other flight attendant was flying with us to the maintenance base.

We were to still fly to another airport and have 30 minutes to make a deadhead flight. Too bad for us the ground crew was busy with other flights. We pushed out at 12:19PM.

This airport is decently busy. Class C. The ground/tower controller (same person) seemed a bit overwhelmed. They were crossing flight numbers and call signs. It's not worth assuming they were talking to me when they used my call sign but the wrong flight number. Had to correct them twice.

Eventually we lined up on runway 28 and I advanced the thrust levers to the takeoff detent. In a little more than 3000 feet, the 58000 pound plane took flight.

According to our FMS we were to land at 1:55PM. The deadhead left at 2:10PM. There was a chance!

I climbed at 310 knots. Being so light the plane easily maintained 1000-1600 feet per minute all the way to FL400.

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I then cruised at .83 Mach.

ATC gave us a few short cuts, but 80 knot headwinds were too much to battle.

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The winds were gusty out of the south. The ceiling was 900 overcast. This airport has one ILS on runway 35. On runway 17 there is only a localizer back course.

In my nearly 1000 hours in the CRJ I have yet to shoot a back course approach in the real plane. I think I did a back course in the sim.

I briefed the approach, set up the approach in the FMS and tuned in the localizer. With a click of the b/c button the plane intercepted the localizer. I spun the V/S  wheel down to 800 feet per minute to reach MDA.

We broke out of the clouds at 900 feet. I had the runway AND the plane that was to be our deadhead in sight. I chopped the power to idle at 40 feet. The very light plane then floated a good 1000 feet. I finally flew it onto the runway.....not smooth at all....but we were once again in contact with the earth.

As we taxied to the hangar our deadhead flight began taxiing  out...11 minutes early!! Apparently my flying at 83% of the speed of sound was futile. We missed our connection anyway.

We parked the plane and headed over to the terminal to wait 3 hours for the next flight. On the way we passed thru the hangar where a CRJ was getting a heavy check. Most of the interior and many exterior panels/parts were removed. I snapped a shot of an exposed engine. I actually remember a few parts. The big rectangle toward the front (left) is the FADEC.

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For some reason the flight attendant that came along with us was sent to a hotel to deadhead out in the morning. The Captain and I were the ONLY non-airport personell in the airport. We sat in the lobby as TSA closed down between flights.

After about 90 minutes into waiting for the deadhead I happened to notice a ferry flight leaving at 5PM back to base. We had 10 minutes before they were scheduled to leave.

The Captain and I high tailed it across the airport, thru the hangar to the flight. Thankfully they were running late.

The ferry flight Captain had no problem with us tagging along. There was one problem....stairs...or lack there of.

The ferry plane didn't have air stairs attached. We had to use a ladder to climb aboard. No biggie. I was happy to be going home.

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I snapped a few photos from my "1st class" seat on the ferry flight.

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We lifted off the ground at 5:25PM and touched down in base at 5:55PM. I was home by 6:40PM. The second deadhead we were waiting on didn't pull into base until 7PM.

This was a rough day especially for just one leg!

Sunday, October 11, 2009

More fuel issues

While sitting standby I grabbed dinner at 5:10PM. At 5:19PM I was called for a 5:40PM departure. Not gonna happen.

I finished eating my dinner and then headed over to the plane. I had all my bags with me.

I stopped by the gate and told the gate agent who I was and where I was going. She told me I was the last to arrive. Eh.

This flight was originally to be flown by a 50 seater, for some reason it was upgraded to a 70 seater. Hmmm.

The Captain was also sitting airport standby. Really nice guy, a little quiet but a great Captain.

After the preflight I began setting up the plane. The first issue that came up was there was no PDC (Pre Departure Clearance) set up for the flight. Odd. I called clearance "the old fashioned way". Done. Next issue was our release. It had the right tail number, but the wrong crew. Captain left to take care of it. Next issue was fuel. We had 8100 on board. That was min takeoff. I called for fuel. It took three calls.

We pushed out at 6:10PM with 44 passengers. Thirty minutes late. His leg.

Climbing thru FL230 a FUEL CH 1 FAIL status message popped up. I dug through my flight manual to see what action needed to be taken. In the action required. Good. Leveling off at FL320 another message popped up AUTO XFLOW INHIBIT. This was really odd. This message is normally only displayed while we are getting fuel. I opened the flight manual again. This time there was nothing listed. That status message isn't listed in my manual. Hmmm. Checked another manual...nothing. Hmmm. The Captain and I discussed the issue. All indications were normal. The fuel levels were almost perfectly level. Being just 25 minutes out we would just monitor the situation.

Weather at the out station was reported as 8SM, overcast 400, winds 150/10 landing runway 17. Not bad.

There was a general aviation plane shooting practice approaches to runway 35. For whatever reason the approach controller vectored us way our and slowed us way down. While crawling toward the airport at 170 knots new special weather came out. Now 1 1/2 SM vis and overcast 400. Temperature 07 dew point 06. Hmmm.

The Captain briefed the approach. I made the required calls and began looking for the runway or runway lights. At 800 feet...nothing. 600 feet nothing. I sit up straighter. Eyes hoping to see the approach lights. 400 feet NOTHING. Not good. I sit up further. "Approaching Minimums" is announced by the GPWS. Nothing. Finally just under 300 feet I call "Approach lights in sight, 12 o'clock, continue". The next moment I called the runway in sight.

After landing I noticed both previous status messages were gone. Problem solved.

We did a quick 20 minute turn. With 54 passengers (upgraded for 4 passengers?!?!?!). Winds were still 150/10. The tower offered up runway 8 which meant a shorter taxi. While the taxi was shorter the time was not. The flight attendant briefing took the same amount of time as it would have taken to taxi to runway 17.

The takeoff and flight were normal. Assigned runway 10 ILS. Low clouds and heavy rain. I briefed the approach. The Captain called the runway in site at 900 feet. I clicked the autopilot off at 300 feet. At 100 feet it was all looking perfect. Slight crosswind. I began pulling power at 50 feet. A sudden gust ballooned the plane at 30 feet. I quickly idled both engines as I was quickly eating up the runway. Just about 500 feet short of the end of the touchdown zone the plane kissed the runway. I got lucky.

I have reserve at home tomorrow morning at 6AM. If I stay home I will finish up a write up about the crappy day I had Saturday. Saturday involved an ADG failure, Fuel Issue, Fire trucks, Hazmat and more. Lots of photos. Hopefully will finish it up tomorrow.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

The last two years have flown by....pun intended

Two years ago (today I think) I interviewed at my airline.

Prior to the interview I studied gouges on line (I used the Will Fly For Food gouges), bought a suit (haven't owned one since I was a kid), a red tie (not solid red...but red was the main color) and a soft briefcase. I also made a ton of copies of my licenses (pilot, radio, etc), passport you name it. The day of the interview I ate the same breakfast I had prior to every check ride...a McDonalds Sausage, Egg and Cheese McGriddle. Healthy? No. Good luck? Yes! I passed every check ride the first time after eating this. I attribute this feat not only too my skill but also to the heart attack wrapped in syurp that is the McGriddle.

There were 25 pilots initially in the waiting room. The age range was wide. Some looked barely old enough to drive. Others could have been my father. We were all placed in a room and then called out one at a time for various interviews. There was a simple "get to know you" interview along with a situational interview, technical interview (reading Jeppesen charts and questions about an aircraft listed in your logbook) interview and a documentation interview. Long day. I arrived at 7:30AM. We broke for lunch at 11:30AM and finished THIS SET of interviews around 3PM. Throughout the day the numbers of waiting pilots dwindled.

I remember one pilot who didn't make it. He went to ATP like I did, but had a very negative attitude. He never got his CFI ratings as he "didn't need then".  While sitting in the waiting room he openly talked about how horrible ATP was for him and how ATP did him wrong. He then discussed how he knew the airline would hire him because he is such a great pilot. He was gone before lunch. I later saw he was hired by another airline, a quick check of his FAA records showed he never passed training (those who pass training on a jet at any airline have a SIC type rating on their FAA record).

There was another pilot who was in a bad spot. He was young (23 if I remember). He got hired on by one regional. Hated it. Went to (the now defunct) Champion Airlines and was hired as a Flight Engineer. When he was hired upgrades to First Officer were quick. Then the economy started tanking. He had not flown at the controls in 6 months. He failed the technical portion.

After all of those interviews it was off for a simulator test. I was nervous as it was in a plane I have never flown before. This wasn't important. They just wanted to see if I could read an approach chart and fly the approach. I could and did. After a few days I was hired.

Saying I was on cloud nine would be putting it lightly.

This month will start my third year. The pay increase is just over 10%. Very nice. Not as nice as Captains pay....and no where near as nice as my salary at my IT cubicle job....but still nice.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

A few good pilots

Saw this on this message board. Worth reposting.

Remember the movie "A Few Good Men"??
Remember Jack Nicholson's famous soliloquy when on thewitness stand, being questioned by Tom Cruise...

Here is the civilian Airline version....

Captain: "You want answers?"

Chief Pilot: "I think we are entitled"

Captain: "You want answers?!"

Chief Pilot: "I want the truth!"

Captain: "You can't handle the truth!!!"

Captain (continuing): "We live in a world that requires revenue. That revenue must be flown by people with elite skills. Who's going to do it? You, Mr. CEO? You Mr.. Finance? You, Ms. Human Resources? We have a greater responsibility than you can possibly fathom. You scoff at the Line Pilots and you curse our mediocre incentives. You have that luxury.You have the luxury of not knowing what we know. And my very existence, while grotesque and incomprehensible to you, drives REVENUE! You don't want to know the truth because deep down in places you don't talk about at staff meetings, you want me in that airplane. You NEED me in that airplane!! We use words like working radar, good weather, on time departures, airworthiness, upgrades, commuting, another round, medium-rare,on-the-rocks, Cohiba. We use these words as the backbone of all Professional Aviation. You use them as a punch line! I have neither the time nor the inclination to explain myself to people who rise and sleep under the very blanket of service I provide and then question the manner in which I provide it. I would rather you just said "thank you" and went on your way. Otherwise, I suggest you pick up a flight bag. Either way, I don't give a damn what you think you're entitled to!"

Chief Pilot: "Did you expense the lap dancers?"

Captain: "I did the job I was hired to do."

Chief Pilot: "Did you expense the lap dancers?!"

Captain: "You're goddamn right I did !!!!

Paid to spend time with the family

Sunday was airport standby. Never got called. Monday I had reserve at home from 10AM till 11:59PM (I'm off today). My in-laws are in town. They were headed to the city for the day. I wanted to join them. Had to take two cars.

With reserve at home I have a 2 hour call out. In order to have fun with the family and make a 2 hour call out I had to bring along my suitcase and uniform.

We had a great day until 1:05PM.....when my phone rang. I was assigned a turn with a 3:05PM sign in and a 3:50PM departure. The fun day at the park with my 2 year old niece would end.

The park was about 20 miles from the airport. With the walk back to the car, traffic and what not I gave myself an hour to get there.

Then it happened. At 1:09PM my phone rang again.....the flight was transferred to another regional carrier....I was back on a 2 hour call out. Nice. I got paid full pay to spend time with my in laws. Hmmm all men should be paid to spend time with their in laws...especially mother in'm lucky...mine's not bad at all.

I'm off for 3 days. My in laws head home tomorrow. I will be able to escort/assist them through security and then too the gate. Too bad I can't help them with the baggage fees. They are traveling on "real" tickets and not stand by.

JAN    43

FEB    30

MAR    22

APR    16

MAY    58

JUN    40

JUL    39

AUG    26

SEP    35

OCT     0

TTL   309

Those are the hours I've flown each month this year. Not a whole lot. April was incredibly boring. I predict I will fly more towards the end of the year with the senior pilots taking vacation, line holders who pick up a lot of extra flying timing out and winter operations causing extra delays. Time to break out the long underwear. I hate cold weather.
JAN    43.11

FEB    30.54

MAR    22.18

APR    16.01

MAY    58.35

JUN    40.48

JUL    39.26

AUG    26.24

SEP    35.46

OCT     0.00

TTL   313.23JAN    43.11

FEB    30.54

MAR    22.18

APR    16.01

MAY    58.35

JUN    40.48

JUL    39.26

AUG    26.24

SEP    35.46

OCT     0.00

TTL   313.23

Friday, October 2, 2009

New personal service from the airlines

Sat airport standby yesterday. Yay!

My mother in law flew in at 3:45.....and boy were her arms tired! My sister in law and niece arrived late at 7:30PM.

Since I was at the airport anyway I met my mother in law at her gate. Once she stepped off the jet bridge I walked up and then escorted her out of the airport to the curb where my wife pulled up right on time. I then loaded her bag into the car and wished them well. A lady sitting on a bench gave me the oddest look as though thinking, "Why is this pilot helping this old lady with her bags to her car? Must be some new personal service." I then went back for 3 more hours of standby.

The standby Captain called in sick. The only way I would be flying is if a First Officer called in sick OR they junior manned another Captain to fly with me.

My sister in law and niece were to arrive at 6:30PM. Due to weather en-route they had to hold.....twice. Her plane finally pulled up to the gate at 7:30PM. I was again waiting at the jet bridge. This time I grabbed the car seat from my sister in law and greeted my 2 1/2 year old niece. She is the smartest 2 1/2 year old in the world. When she was barely 2 she could carry on a conversation with me. Truly gifted! More odd looks, "Why is this pilot helping this single mother with her car seat and child? Must be some new personal service. I bet there is a fee for it though."

I then escorted them both out to my wife and mother in law. Then back to standby. I never got called.

Today I have reserve at home from 10AM till midnight. Once again 2 hour call out. Today is my day 6. The last time they can call me for a turn is 2:45PM for a 5:30PM quick turn. I hope it doesn't happen.

This morning my Home Server took a dump. Gotta fix it. Also getting a new dishwasher installed. Good times.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Another day

Last night was rough. We got to the airport just past 9PM. The last regularly scheduled flight left at 7:30PM. TSA had long gone home. The airline arranged for the Captain and I to be escorted through the check in area without needing the TSA.

When we arrived the check in area was vacant. The door behind the counter was locked. By chance I tried one of the keys I was issued when I was hired. It worked. Of course the next door was protected by a triple layer security system. Stuck. Thankfully I remembered the number to the operations area by the gate (I used to it to call the Captain earlier in the day). I called. They came. Out we went.

While walking across the ramp I saw the flight attendants who were deadheaded walking down the jet bridge stairs. They were confused about their assignment as far as they could tell the flight back was empty. I explained to them why they were needed even though there were no passengers.

Here's a great explanation about how regional airlines are paid taken from Wikipedia:

The notion that regional jet aircraft are less expensive (per seat mile) than traditional jets is a common misconception. On a seat-mile basis the RJ's cost is in fact higher.[7] Regional jets are operated in the USA under a fee-per-departure payment structure. In this payment structure, a traditional airline contracts with a regional airline company on a per departure or per flight basis regardless of the number of passengers or the length of the flight. The traditional airline gets to keep all the revenue from the ticket sale and only pays the regional partner the agreed to amount. These contracts tend to be long term agreements, typically 10 year terms. The regional airline partner can then be relatively sure of the revenue side and only has to control cost in order to earn a modest return. However, these "regional airlines," now really "small jet providers" of contracted aircraft, have been squeezed by U.S. airline bankruptcies, fleet reductions and increasing operating costs. U.S. Legacy carriers have no longer been willing to shoulder burdensome losses from guaranteed-profit contracts with their small jet providers, and accordingly have played carrier against carrier in a low-bid game that has left hundreds of RJs idle and others potentially on their way to being laid up.[citation needed]

The idea that regional jets would provide point-to-point service and bypass the hub-and-spoke system may not be materializing as it was expected. As of January 2003, 90% of all regional jet flights in the United States had a hub or major airport at one end of that flight, and this number has been gradually increasing since 1995.

The APU had been running for hours....but the packs weren't on...just the recirculation fan. The cabin was very warm.

I entered the cockpit, did my safety scan and turn on the packs. After a preflight, flows, and checklist, we blocked out at 9:45PM. Captain flew us back. Takeoff weight was a feather light 50,200 pounds. We did have to look up the minimum takeoff weight....42,000 we were concerned about being too light.

He flew fast, but a stiff headwind negated all the extra speed.

Landing weight was 48,000 pounds. Very light. He did his best but we still bounced a bit on landing at 10:41PM. By 10:46PM we were shutting down the plane. The mechanics offered everyone a ride to the employee lot. I however princess parked. Boo for me.

I stashed my bags in the crew room and headed up stairs to a totally vacant terminal. Many of the gates were closed off. I had to walk down 15 gates to find the only open exit...then back down 12 gates to my car. I walked in the door at 11:20PM. My wife woke up for a moment then went back to bed. I haven't really seen much of her since Monday night. If I don't get sent out tonight then I should see her for more than a few minutes tonight. Tomorrow is my day 6. Off Saturday.

While sitting airport standby today I was able to meet my mother in law at the gate when she arrived. My sister in law and niece fly in two hours from now. One perk of airport standby....I can meet relatives when they arrive!