Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Two weeks

Just two weeks left on FMLA. I should go back to active status on January 4th...I think.

Bidding recently closed and I wasn't awarded a line. Not sure why. I emailed my chief pilot, waiting on a response.

Fairly certain one reason could be due to me needing my yearly training which is normally done in November.

I plan on stopping by the crew room and picking up all the lovely updates for my manuals. I am sure it will take 4-5 hours to update all my charts and manuals....I can't wait until Electronic Flight Bag come out....though it is likely several years away.

Having not flown in a while I am going to start going over flows and profiles again. Might fire up Flight Sim 2004 and the Wilco regional jet model to remember what everything looks like.

Very much so looking forward to having a paycheck....two months without is very tough.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Check out Hangar Flying

I was a guest on the Hangar Flying podcast this week. It's hosted by an Airline Captain and a Flight Attendant who is also a private pilot. It was  a lot of fun and I hope to be a guet again in the future.

Here is a link to the podcast http://upgrd.com/hangarflying/hf-4-flying-express.html

Friday, November 19, 2010

Flying is easier

A few weeks into being a stay at home dad. Flying is much easier than caring for a baby. Planes have checklist and are predictable. I love my daughter, but her ability to go from straight and level flight to full on stall is....well shocking.

Some might have noticed this site was unstable the last few days. My host is a well known host and apparently some of the sites that share my server were blacklisted by AHBL.org. AHBL blacklist entire IP addresses...thus my site was on a blacklist...one used by my home ISP....which meant I was cut off from all of my blogs. Not good. Fixed now, but I will be moving my blogs to a new host sometime before the end of the year. So if a day comes where nothing comes up....relax and come back a day or two later.

November is normally when I take my yearly check ride. Looks like I will be taking it in January. Then a few weeks later I will likely begin training to fly a different plane. That should make for some good content. Not upgrading to Captain (though it's getting closer....maybe sometime in 2012). Just changing planes.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Feet on the ground

As of November 1st I am not going to be flying (for work anyway) for a good two months.

I flew my last flight October 30th. Overtime trip. Routine flight. Spent a lot of time watching the sunset. Gonna be a while before I see it from up there again.

Taking care of my almost 3 month old daughter is way more difficult than flying a plane. I thought I would have two months off to watch my video podcast and fix up my man cave. Not so much.

I will try to update this blog every now and then if I see a flying related topic that comes up. Beyond that.....it might be quiet here for a while. Feel free to shoot any questions my way via a comment on this (or most any recent post) or via the email listed by clicking the "about" link at the top of the page.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Odd noise

I have roughly 1400 hours at my airline. All in the same plane. I know it fairly well. Over time I know what noises are normal and which ones aren't.

Since I had a line this month, almost every flight was the same. Depart at 6:10AM and a scheduled return at 12:20PM.

Last Tuesday was a little different.

High winds, rain and light snow were over the outstation. Winds were blowing 250@17G28 while the autopilot lined up with runway 30. The winds aloft were much higher showing 60knots + at 3500 feet AGL.

Like normal I began slowing from 250 knots to prepare for landing. After calling for the third flap setting I called for gear down. The plane was at 160 knots. Maximum gear extension speed is over 200 knots.

I heard the gear extend, but then stop, a metallic scraping noise, extend, another odd clunk, and that was it.

I paused and looked over, three green lights, but then there was a proximity sensor status message. Something wasn't right.

Still in the clouds, in icing conditions, the Captain and I discussed the situation while I monitored the autopilot flying the approach. We agreed that we indeed had three green lights and that the proximity status message is a "no action required" item during flight. I decided I would make a soft as possible landing and be very gentle on the nose. The runway was 8500 feet long and our charts showed we needed 3900 feet to stop on a wet runway.

I eased the mains onto the runway. Slowly I let the nose down....normal. I used maximum reverse and minimal braking to keep weight off the nose.

Everything seemed fine until the Captain turned off the runway.....another horrible scraping sound.

My eyes were fixated on the ramp personnel guiding us into the gate. If there was an issue it would show in his face. Sure enough he tilted his head as we came to a stop.

After the passengers were off, I stepped off the plane to inspect the damage. Once on the jetbridge I looked down and saw the problem, a gear door was severely damaged. It had wrapped itself behind the nose gear.

Further inspection showed we were fairly lucky the nose gear came down and locked into place. The hydraulic system on the plane is very strong which likely what helped push the gear into place despite the door being bent/damaged.

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A mechanic came out. Not much he could do right away. The return flight was cancelled and we were all placed on the next flight (3 hours later!) back to our domicile as deadheads. As luck would have it we all got first class seats.

I still get paid for my cancelled flight plus I get paid for deadheading. I had a nice first class meal on the way back. It was a little annoying getting back 3 hours late.

I flew my last trip of the year last night.  I have a few more post lined up before this blog begins to get stale for a bit.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Eyes wide open

Choosing to fly for a living is a bigger decision than say....choosing to work in a call center for a living. A larger personal and financial investment is required to fly for a living.

Before jumping into becoming an airline pilot, a lot of prep work is needed....in my opinion.

My wife and I knew that the first year or two would be rough. We saved and prepared our budgets to live on mostly just her income. We then started (and continue to) live UNDER our means. Anything extra is just that...extra.

When I started at my airline we had money saved to supplement the first year pay.

It helped that I had been "in the real" world for a few years and thus had money saved away. I truly can't imagine going from high school....or even college straight to an airline.

I came across a website (http://doihaveafuturehere.org/?p=14) that does a pretty good job comparing just about every United States regional airline pay for the first 3 years.

I was surprised where my airline landed.

The graphs show minimum pay excluding per diem. Before jumping to a regional, pay should be examined and a reality check performed. Can you truly make it on first year pay ? Saving up a a few thousand dollars as a "just in case fund" would be a really smart idea in my opinion.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

A lot of time in jumpseats

Looking forward to November 1st and doing as little as possible.

I have about 20 hours left to fly between now and then. Fifteen from my line and 5 overtime. The good thing is the 5 hours is out of my domicile, not my TDY domicile.

Four of my friends planned a trip to Vegas over the weekend. My wife and I planned to go. It would be our first trip alone since having my daughter.

We wanted to leave Friday morning and return Sunday night. Well the National Rodeo Finals were in town over weekend. Flights out Sunday were overbooked in all directions.

Instead we planned to go out Thursday night and return Saturday night. My mother in law flew in to watch my daughter.

Thursday night flights began to fill out of nowhere. It wasn't looking good. My wife was really looking forward to going to Vegas as we used to go a lot....and were married there.

We gave ourselves two flights to get out. We both packed our clothes in my suitcase...this decision would later come to bite us.

Ten minutes to departure and the first flight was full, but a few passengers were not yet on board. The agent began calling names. They finally called my name. Just one seat open in the cabin....and the flight deck jumpseat. Done.

The flight crew was nice.  I wasn't looking forward to the jumpseat...especially on a narrow body.

I squeezed in and sat down. We arrived and were happy to have made it.

The flights back Saturday night were really open...about 60 seats between the last two flights.

Saturday afternoon around 2PM I checked the flights....something bad happened.

Turns out there were several cancellations. Suddenly everything was overbooked. We said goodbye to our friends and headed to the airport.

The standby list were incredibly long. Several revenue passengers in addition to non-revs. List was 50 deep and every flight was full. Time for a back up plan.

My wife and I have discussed this situation in the past. One where I could go (flight deck jumpseat) but she would have to stay behind. In 3 years on non-reving we have never had to execute such a plan.

She began looking at ways out of Vegas on Southwest. I looked at ways out via places Southwest flew. Finally found a way.

She called Southwest to list as a non-rev. I called my airline and arranged a ZED (Zonal Employee Discount) pass. Just about every airline participates in the ZED program. It's a set fee based on certain lengths. Staying in one zone and pay the one zone  fare. Going further, you pay the next zone length fare. Her flight for a one zone flight was a reasonable $40.

I heard my name called for the jumpseat. I saw a Southwest pilot trying to jumpseat as well. I knew the next flight 30 minutes later had no jumpseaters and gave the Southwest pilot the seat so I could sqaure away details for my wife.

She was a bit frazzled as this situation developed very quickly. We both knew if she didn't get out of Vegas Saturday night, there was no chance of getting out Sunday.

My name was called again and I had to leave. Problem....all her clothes were in my suitcase. I needed the suitcase so I could wash my clothes and commute to my TDY on Sunday. I quickly transferred clothes to my Ipad bag and gave her the bag sans my Ipad.

Even though it's my mainline carrier operating the flight, I still follow proper jumpseat procedure by asking the Captain for a ride. Done. I took my jumpseat (in a wide body....much more room!) and watched my wife through the window.

She had to quickly pay for her ZED pass and then make it over to the Southwest gates. She thankfully got a seat (Southwest is VERY nice to non-revs from other airlines).

Once I landed I got a text she sent previously asking if I could arrange for a hotel. I quickly made a reservation at a hotel using a discount code from a previous employer (La Quinta has great rates and nice rooms!).

I arrived at home at 10:30PM. My wife arrived at her hotel at 9:30PM. She would be leaving the next day at 6AM. I later told her that's how many of my overnights are. I arrive in the dark and leave in the dark, never seeing much beyond what's between the airport and the hotel.

This morning I woke up and began planning my commute. The morning flights were open, but I was beat, and wanted to spend time with my daughter. I realized I would likely end up in another jumpseat.

I picked my wife up from the airport at 10:15AM. She brought me back to the airport at 12:30PM.

Once again the flight was full. I was given the flight deck jumpseat again....on a narrow body.

Long flight. Great crew who even gave me one of their crew meals.

I work the next three days at my TDY domicile before finally heading home Wednesday evening or Thursday morning....depending on how tired I am....and the flight loads. I don't care to sit on a jumpseat if I can avoid it.

Oh...I was up quite a bit on Thursday night in Vegas.....downhill from there...made a good size donation to the local economy.

The standby list for flights out of Vegas on my mainline carrier is over 100 deep. Majority are non-rev's who will NOT be getting out tonight.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Home for a bit

Finished my turn yesterday. We were 30 minutes early thanks to clear skies and a strong tailwind.

During the approach the controller told everyone "180 knot to till 5 mile final". No big deal, just a little more work on the descent.

Well, unbeknownst to me, the plane ahead was a turboprop. Once on with tower we were advised to slow to final approach speed as we were overtaking the aircraft ahead by 70 knots. Nice.

The turboprop cleared the runway while we descended through 1000 feet. Non issue.

Parked the plane at 12:15PM. At 1:10PM I was sitting in the back of a mainline flight for my commute home. Very tired.

Next month my day trip line is gone. The turn is now part of a multiday trip. Once back from the turn the line has the crew flying 2 hours to an overnight. Seven and a half hours of flying that starts with a 5:30AM report time. Seeing as my Captain was getting up at 3:30AM to leave the house by 4AM to make the 90 minute journey to work....that's a long day! I get up at 4:30AM and am dead tired by the time we are back. That's with me going to bed at 9PM the night prior. Early starts are rough.

My wife and daughter picked me up. I had been away for 6 days. A few hours later my mother in law flew in as she is going to watch my daughter while my wife and I escape down to Vegas for a few days. I commute back on Sunday, home for good on Wednesday evening or Thursday morning. My last flight of the year will be on Friday evening.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Couldn't ask for better timing

Finished my overtime trip yesterday. Scheduled to land at 11:40 AM. My wife and daughter were scheduled to land at 11:30AM.

Overnight was at an airport I've been to just a handful of times. Large airport and a bit confusing.

I remembered there was something I was supposed to do prior to push back....but couldn't remember what it was. All checklist were done correctly. Hmmm....

We pushed back and I called to taxi. Ramp gave a spot number and away we went. When I called ground I was told ramp "pushed us the wrong way" and that we need to exit at the other end of the ramp. Ding! I was supposed to call metering who gives the runway. I then am supposed to tell ramp which runway. This isn't documented anywhere I know of....just one of those things you have to know.

No big deal.

Once at cruise ATC asked again for max forward as my flight was leading the pack. Smooth air... Mach .83 it was.

Nearing the airport I heard the call sign and flight number carrying my wife and daughter. The flight sounded like it was right behind me.

Beautiful day. Cleared for a visual while on the downwind. As I turned final I again heard the flight number my wife was on.

Touched down at 11:20AM. As the Captain taxi'd the plane to the gate, the plane carrying my wife and daughter touched down.

I walked out of the gate to see them both waiting for me. I couldn't have asked for better timing.

Today I flew my regular day trip. The winter winds are here a little early. Above FL300 headed west, winds were 80-100 knots on the nose.

Normally when my morning flight leaves on time we arrive 20-40 minutes early. Today we were right on time due the high head winds. Of course on the return flight we were 35 minutes early thanks to the tailwind.

Today is day 4 of 6. Wednesday I head home. My mother in law is flying in Wednesday night to watch my daughter while my wife and I head to Vegas for the weekend.

Even though I have 17 days off this month and could spent a lot of time at home, my wife is enjoying her last month off before returning to work by traveling. A lot. I think I have slept in my own bed 2 nights this month. The rest have been in hotels.

November 1st though....I become Mr. Mom.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Lost the overnight

I should be in Canada right now.

Last night my 3 day overtime trip started. Was supposed to be a simple turn then a Canada overnight.

Due to the Nor'easter the winds were gusting to 40 MPH+ which shutdown 1/2 the runways. On a good day there is normally only a 10-20 minute delay. Take away 1/2 the runways...well.

My 3:40PM departure was pushed to 5PM. We pushed out at 5:15PM. The Captain was new to the plane and decided to take the outbound flight to "let" me handle the gusty wind approach back. I didn't mind, and it made sense since I have 1300 hours + in the plane.

Inching down the taxiway we were number 15 for departure. With staggered arrivals and departures it would be at least 30 minutes.

Once we rotated I heard a howling sound. A sound I haven't heard in over a year.

One the front on most commercial jets there are various hatches and panels. They allow ground power to be connected as well as an interphone to be connected so the ground crew can communicate with the flight deck.

One of those hatches was left open.

For whatever reason the aircraft designers didn't design the panel to allow it to close if left open and the aircraft is in flight.

Even my noise cancelling headset was no match for the howling noise. I stuffed ear plugs under my headset. Better.

By the time we arrived at the outstation we were 2 hours late. I gave a call to maintenance to inspect the hatch. Turns out it wasn't the communication hatch, which is most common,....it was the ground power hatch.

While on the ground I checked my schedule. Due to our being so delayed, the Canada overnight was given to a ready reserve crew.

The mechanic inspected the hatch. No contact was made with the skin of the aircraft. He signed it off as fine.

Pushed out in 40 minutes, not bad considering the slight mechanical delay.

After pushing back, more bad news came....30 minute wait for our wheels off time.

My leg. On climb out we were restricted to 250 knots till advised. Then came word for maximum forward airspeed as we were leading the pack.....330 knots it is.

Descending back into the NY area was really bumpy. Very high winds and light rain. While being vectored for the approach we were at 4000 feet...the bases of the clouds. Very rough ride.

Assigned a localizer approach. First one in a while. Due to the winds the plane was lined up with the localizer, but the nose was pointed 20 degrees to the left.

An unfamiliar airport for me....especially at night.

I picked up the runway 4 miles out. Slow descent. Tower advised +/- 10 knots all the way to the runway. I added 10 knots to my airspeed and advised the Captain that I would keep that until short final.

Autopilot clicked off at 1200 feel AGL. It was rough. The airspeed did indeed fluctuate all the way down to the runway.

The sink rate increased sharply at 200 feet. A little more thrust and pushing the nose down slightly corrected it.

I idled the thrust levers at 20 feet and began the flare. The sink rate quickly increased. I thought for sure I was going to have a firm landing. The gusty wind and a little luck allowed for a surprisingly smooth landing.

I had not worked so hard to land a plane in a while. Night + gusty winds + unfamiliar airport = break time.

My crew is all based here and commutes. The flight attendant is a line holder, no crash pad. He began calling family looking for a place to stay. My Captain has a crash pad but hates it. He called another Captain here on TDY (who was assigned our Canada overnight) while we were at the outstation. My Captain took the other Captains hotel room.

For my line holder flight attendant, if he didn't have family to stay with he would have to spend at least $200 for a hotel room. Quite the hit in the pocket book.

I lost out on my Canada overnight, but I still get paid for it. I have the entire day off until 4:50PM when I head to another overnight. It's 12 hours long. Get back tomorrow morning. Tomorrow afternoon my wife and daughter are non-reving up for a few days.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Made the right choice

I had to be back in my temporary base by 2:55PM today.

I began looking at my options yesterday. Flights yesterday were all very full. Flights today were even worse.

Due to weather in the north east yesterday,  flights were delayed. Which tends to help non-revs.

The 5:20PM flight was delayed until 6:15PM. The 6:25PM flight was delayed until 7:20PM. The 7:20PM flight was on time. There were a handful of open seats on the 7:20PM flight....the last flight of the night. Before I left home I was number 28 on the standby list....but the only pilot which meant I could get the jump seat.

My wife dropped me off at 6:20PM. I breezed through security and was at the gate at 6:40PM. I took out my IPad to see where I was on the standby list. Things got a little worse, I was number 30. Only 15 open seats, but again I was the only pilot.

Within a minute I heard my name called. Surely I was getting the jump seat. To my surprise the agent said she had a window seat and that I was the first person to come up as she had been calling standby names for a while. I was shocked.

The seat was in the last row, but it was a seat. Sure enough there were a lot of no shows. I think this was due to many passengers were at the delayed 6:25PM flight.

I was on the hotel shuttle at 11:45PM. There was a flight attendant who got on with me. No bags...no other crew. She said her crew left without her because there wasn't enough room. Ouch.

This morning I took a look at the direct flights here. First flight went out full with a mainline jump seater meaning I would likely have not had a seat. The second flight cancelled. My back up option of making a 2 hop connection wouldn't have worked as the second leg cancelled. I would have been in a serious jam.

By coming up last night I am more rested anyway. Today I do a turn and then a Canada overnight. I'm going to have to read up on Canada operations as I know they do things a little differently up there.

Thursday, October 14, 2010


Sitting on MY own couch right now. Finished my trip at 12:20PM yesterday, had lunch and hopped on a 2PM flight home.

Including the commute flight home I was in the air almost 9 hours yesterday. Takes a toll on you.

I have to be back in my temporary domicile by 2:55PM tomorrow. Flights are full today and tomorrow mid-morning. I am going to have to take the 6AM flight out tomorrow. I will get in just after 10AM. Should have time to go back to my hotel for lunch and a nap before starting my trip.

Tomorrow is all overtime. I do 3 legs tomorrow, 2 Saturday and 1 Sunday.

Sunday afternoon my wife and daughter are going to non-rev up to my temporary domicile. Her brother just bought a house up there. Should be fun.

Finally took some photos during my early morning turn. I will say it's nice to watch the sunrise while sipping coffee at 40,000 feet. Never gets old.

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Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Squawk 7700

I'm 70% done with my current book, Squak 7700, and I am not sure if I will finish it.

The book describes the journey from guy on the street to a commercial pilot. The author details his journey of getting his private license, flying night frieght, being hired by a regional airline, quitting the day he finishes IOE and going back to frieght.

The author implies it's foolish for anyone to work for a Regional Airline. That really struck a nerve with me.

I was able to relate to many of his experiences as I went through some of  them on my journey from my cubicle to the cockpit.

It should be known that regional airlines don't attempt to hold your hand on the journey to the flight deck. It's a business with thousands of employees.

There is a stressful side of flying for a regional airline. Long days, very short overnights, mechanical delays, weather delays, long stints away from homes, low pay, and more. Not to leave out the variety of backgrounds and personalities that make up the flight crews.

It took me a while to get used to having 9 hours between blocking in and reporting for duty the next day...lucky to get 5 hours of sleep.

Being away from home also took getting used to. The lowish pay (First year pay is horrible at even Major airlines) was a little hard, but now I am on 3rd year pay it's very liveable. It's all about preparation.

My wife and I saved and prepped our budgets well ahead of me applying to a regional. It helps that we had both lived in "the real world" for a few years.

Is it all worth it? Apparently it wasn't for the author.

To be fair, his airline based him in Puerto Rico, far from home.....in another country. When I was hired my wife and I both planned for the worst, that I too would be based far from home. Lucky for us it didn't happen.

I love my job. I love being able to fly my family around the country for practically free. I love seeing my extended family several times a year even though they are scattered around the United States. I love transporting military off on leave home to their families. I love flying.

Do I wish I were paid more? Sometimes. The pay disparity between Captain and First Officer is a bit larger than I think it should be. Do I wish overnights were longer? Yeah, but that's coming with the new Flight Time/Duty Time regulations. Beyond that...I'm happy.

My airline keeps the aircraft very well maintained. The training department is top notch. Ninety-nine percent of the flight crews I work with love their jobs. How many other jobs allow an employee to move work days around at whim to get time off for Doctor visits, vacations or a family function. Most "real" jobs have 8 days off a month...just the weekends. I've never had less than 10 days off....many months I have 12-14 days off.

There are certainly worse places to be.

Regionals aren't for everyone.

Just had to vent.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Criss Crossing the Country

Busy last couple of days.

Wednesday I blocked in from my turn at 12:10PM. I listed to fly home on a 1:35PM flight.

My plan was to rush back to my hotel room, drop off my kit bag and pick up a few things and dash back to the airport.

I called the hotel at 12:17PM. The shuttles TO the airport run every 15 minutes on top of the hour. I figured the shuttle would just be leaving the hotel. I was told the van was on the way.

I waited. And waited. My "bingo" time was 12:35PM. After that I would not have time to head back to the airport and catch my flight.

That time came and went. Ugh.

I headed to the crew room to drop off my kit bag, grabbed lunch and headed to the gate. Boarding had started before I arrived. I got a decent bulkhead seat. Because I was in a bulkhead I had to stash all of my bags....my lunch was in my bag.

After cruise I ate my cold lunch. Eh.

Landed at 4:05PM. Gate at 4:15PM. My wife picked me up at 4:20PM. Off to my allergy doctor.

I get allergy shots once a week. Hard to do as I am based away from home.

Thankfully I had just enough time to take off my uniform pieces (wearing my uniform out and about is against policy) and get my shot.

That night I spent time with my daughter and packed for Disneyland.

Thursday morning we headed to Los Angeles. Open flight, row to ourselves. My daughter even had her own seat.

Disneyland was great. Met up with my sister in laws and my niece. Even though my daughter is just two months, she was able to go on a few rides. I enjoyed spending time with her and see her develop. She spent a lot of time looking around and taking everything in.

After two long days at Disneyland it was time to go home. Flights back were fullish.

We listed on the first flight out. There were no two seats together. My wife got an aisle and I got a middle. Hmm.

I politely asked the man in the asile next to my middle if he would swap with my wife's aisle seat. He begrudeonly agreed. I wasn't in uniform, I was just a guy with a baby.

I "had" to hold my daughter for the flight. No biggie. I enjoyed it. Last week I bought a Kindle....came in handy as I could hold her and the Kindle.

Landed at 1:15PM. Home at 1:55PM. I had enough time to repack my suitcase, eat lunch and reload my Zune before having my wife drive me back to the airport to catch a 3:30PM flight back to my temporary base.

I walked into my hotel room at 8:50PM. Long...but great weekend.

This week I work Monday-Wednesday. I picked up a 3 day trip on overtime on Friday with a report time of 2:30PM. I plan on heading home again at 1:30PM Wednesday and commuting back on an early flight Friday morning. My wife and daughter might come up on Sunday afternoon which works out nicely as I finish my 3 day Sunday morning.

Monday, October 4, 2010

I just walked out of the airport....

First day of me flying an actual hard line in almost 3 years. I held a line one month right after I was hired...then never again.

Everyday I sign in at 5:30AM. The hotel vans run every 15 minutes on the hour. I could take a 5:15AM van...but that's cutting it too close. Instead I took a 5 AM van which worked out perfectly.

Since I am living in a hotel, most of my clothes are unpacked. I packed just a nights worth of clothes in my suitcase (loving my Strongbag!) and headed out.

Cleared security at 5:20AM and was at my gate minutes later.

Met the Captain I would be flying with for the month at the plane around 5:50AM. He is new to the plane. I have more than 10X the time in the plane than he does. Of course he has 10X my total time. Together we are good. Things were looking good...until we looked back in the cabin...we needed a flight attendant.

Time 6:05AM. Another Captain came down to our flight deck. He was to have left at 6AM. He also needed a flight attendant. Yadda, yadda, yadda, we pushed out at 6:40AM.

The Captain said yesterday they pushed on time and took off right away. With our late push we were number 9 for departure. High winds and rain. Not a great way to start a day.

I'd only flown out of this airport once before. I was a little slower than normal as I had to look up frequencies for Ramp, Ground, Tower and then interpret the instructions from each.

Thirty minutes after we pushed I lifted the nose into the air. The New York area airspace is tight. The departure procedure is a little more complicated than I am used to. Worked out fine.

The flight time was padded quite a bit. Even with a 20 minute late departure we blocked in to the out station 4 minutes late...which is "on time" according to the DOT.

The weather at the out station was VFR. Weather back at base was getting worse. Due to the weather we had 40 minutes added to our departure time in the form of an EDCT.

Captains leg back. The closer we get, the more we are slowed. Slowest was 180 knots while still 50 miles away. Lots of RADAR vectors. In the clouds the entire time.

As we started the ILS approach I realized it was my first "real" ILS in several months. I had briefed and flown ILS approaches weekly, but all were done in VFR conditions.

Once with tower we were advised of a gain/loss of 10 knots at 300 feet. Sure enough the speed was up and down between 500 feet and 300 feet.

We blocked in 15 minutes late. That's even with the 40 minute delay. Again padded times.

It was an odd feeling once I was done today. I just walked out of the airport. No need to call scheduling. Odd feeling indeed.

Tomorrow...the same...but hopefully with a flight attendant.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Last month of the year

Today is the start of my last month of flying for the year. Also the first day of a full month of TDY.

My line started today with a 6:15 AM departure. Since my contract states my company can only deadhead me to my TDY on a working day, I couldn't do my first turn.

Scheduling pulled me off of my turn this morning and deadheaded me to my TDY base (I even scored First Class). The contract states that any flying that I am pulled from for a contractual or legality basis, I be paid for. This is going to be a great month for me pay wise.

My line value is 76 hours. I picked up an additional 17 hours of overtime flying. So, as long as I show up I get paid for 95 hours minimum.

I'll start with the overtime.

I picked up a 6 hour trip last week on the 30th that finished on the 1st. The pay would be split between the two months. It was one leg to the overnight (1 hour). one leg to an outstation (3 hours) and a deadhead back to base (3 hours but paid at 75%). One hour for September, five for October.

On the 28th scheduling decided to use a different aircraft type for the first leg and put me on the flight as a deadhead. Then on the 29th they downgraded the second leg...and put me on as a deadhead. Suddenly the entire trip was a deadhead. Hmmm. The night of the 29th I got a voicemail stating they pulled me from the flight. I just got paid for 6 hours of flight that I didn't have too do.

My next 12 hours of OT comes up on the 15th. It's an easy 3 day trip including an international overnight.

I have 17 days off this month per my line. After all of my OT I still have 14 days off.

For the majority of my line I do the same trip. My flight departs at 6:10AM and returns at 12:25PM. Only on October 31st is there something different.

On the 31st I have a late evening turn that doesn't get back until 9PM. My TDY is thru Oct 31st meaning my airline has to give a good effort to get me home in October. This is especially true as I start FMLA on November 1st.

Becuase that last turn gets back AFTER the last flight back to my domicile, I was pulled from that turn....but will still be paid for it.

After all the math is done I am scheduled to fly 78 hours but will be paid for 95 hours. Not too shabby.

I did better in September kinda. I only fly 7 hours (second lowest of all time!) but was paid for 75 hours.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Back in the saddle

I got to fly again. Sat airport reserve Friday. I was the only First Officer good for an overnight. I saw a trip open (6:00PM departure) due to the original First Officer not being able to commute in. The trip was one leg to an overnight, two legs the next day and a dead head home.

Crew scheduling has two different teams. One works on the current day while the other works on the future.

The future desk had already assigned me a 4 day trip leaving Saturday night. It was a sweet trip, very easy. Around 5:20PM I noticed the 4 day trip was gone and the overnight was assigned to me. Fine.

I walked out to the plane and dropped my bags off. During my walk around my phone rang...time 5:40PM. Scheduling. Glad they waited 20 minutes to call me.

I'd flown with the Captain a few times. Great sense of humor. I told him I hadn't flown since August 14th. He responded with, "Oh good that means you're eager, you can drive!" Hmmm k.

Normal flight. Thankfully I didn't forget how to takeoff. All was normal until landing.

We were assigned 20R. Everything was set up for it. Visual approach clear night sky.

Turning base the ERJ ahead asked for, and was given 20L....closer to the terminal. Tower then asked if we saw the ERJ. We did. We were then told to follow him and cleared to land 20L. Hmmm k.

I turned off my flight director and did it the old fashioned way. First landing since August 14th. First night landing....in a long while. Under 121 night landings aren't needed, just 3 landings in 90 days.

The ERJ slowed a little more aggresively than I was expecting. My MFD showed they were a little less than 2 miles ahead. I called for full flaps and slowed.

Around 30 feet things looked good. At 20 feet I began the flare and pulled the thrust out a little too aggresively. By 10 feet I worked it all out to a top 5 landing.

Great hotel...a Marriott.

I haven't had many full nights sleep lately due to being a new dad. Thus I woke up 2 hours before the van time. Done sleeping...I walked over to Denny's for breakfast.

The next leg was somewhat ironic. It was to the New York area airport where I was previously on TDY...and never flew.

Due to runway inspection/repair the New York area airport didn't have all runways in use. We were following a Airtran 717. The 717 was turning short final when a Delta 757 was given takeoff clearance. Things were very tight.

The 717 was almost over the numbers when we turned base. "Citrus go around, 757 still on the runway". "Was that go around for Citrus?"  "Affirmative, turn left heading 270 climb maintain 2000".

Our landing clearance came and it was uneventful....thankfully.

My leg out. Number 6 for takeoff. A crazy orchestrated show of closely timed takeoff and landings going on. When we were number 2 a United 757 was in position for takeoff. A Continental 757 was turning final. United was on the roll. Continental asked if they were cleared to land. Tower told them to continue, "landing clearance on short final." United lifted off as Continental was cleared to land....at 400 feet AGL.

My takeoff was fine, stiff crosswind. The flight was overblocked as many New York area flights are. By padding the times the flights will be on time or more likely early most of the time.

I landed long....which was okay given the 10,000 foot runway. I had a planned 2 hour sit for a 3 hour deadhead back to base to sit for 1 hour to fly one hour to an overnight for a 12 1/2 hour duty day.

To say I wasn't enthusiastic about sitting around for 6 hours to fly 1 hour is a no brainer.

Thankfully weather was on my side. My deadhead was 40 minutes late giving me a 20 minute connect time.

Scheduling likely wouldn't keep too close an eye me...since the same day team lives in the next 20 minutes...not the next 3 hours. I decided to "warn" them that an on time departure to my overnight was unlikely.

The scheduler I spoke with seemed somewhat new. He said he would take a "look at it" and likely take me off and that I should call him when I arrive in base. Hmmm k.

Long flight. Arrived only 20 minutes late. I was in the back of the plane. By the time I got off the plane I had 25 minutes to make it to my overnight flight. I checked my schedule. It was gone. One quick phone call and I was released. The flight had been given to another reserve.

Today I am on reserve at home. With zero Captains available, I doubt I will be called unless another First Officer calls in sick.

It felt great to fly again. I look forward to my line next month.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Papa’s Got a Brand new bag

Last month while on TDY my suitcase  self destructed. I had a Luggage Works Regal 1 bag . I bought it January 2008. Over the last 2 1/2 years it served me well. It had one busted telescoping handle, one busted leather handle and finally a busted frame.

I dropped it off two weeks ago to get inspected. The cracked frame wasn't under warranty but the repair guy fixed it for $15. In the meantime I used my backup bag.

My Luggage Works bag was looking pretty worn. The busted frame was my last draw. It will now be my back up bag as my current back up bag was gifted to my wife when I bought the Luggage Works bag.

I thought long and hard about buying a heavy duty luggage works bag. Before I buy anything over $10 I research the hell out of it. The Stealth series from Luggage Works is heavy duty, but also really heavy. I asked around and those that have it love it, except for the weight. This lead me to a company called Strong Bags.

Strong Bags has a 22 inch (max size to fit wheels first in an overhead bin!) bag with a full metal box frame. I only found one other pilot that had a Strong Bag, but he loves it. He did not  complain about the weight. He  liked how all repairs are done at home with the company shipping out parts. This is better than dropping my bag off at a repair shop and waiting. Monday night I whipped out the Amex and purchased a Strong bag Vortex II and a Strong Duffle Bag . After a 10% airline discount and shipping the total was just over $250. That's $15 less than the base price of the Luggage Works Stealth series.

The bag arrived today. I am very impressed. The bag isn't noticeably heavier than my Luggage Works bag. It feels much more substantial. The zippers are much higher quality. There is one less exterior pocket and there are no interior tie downs which is a little annoying.

The interior is a little larger than my luggage works bag. The outside dimensions are exactly the same.

Luggage Works uses a single piece of steel for the handle on the Stealth series. This makes it very durable compared to most telescoping handles. The Strong Bag uses a telescoping handle, but it's much higher quality and thicker than the aluminum handle on the Luggage Works Regal bag.

Beyond the new suitcase I also bought a new kit bag. Kinda.

When I was hired, I bought the middle of the road Luggage Works kit bag. It cost $179. It's a Split Grain Leather bag. It was great at first. But a few years of rain, snow, curbs and elevators wore it down. The bottom started to sag. A little investigation revealed why....it's cardboard!!! I assumed it was wooden or metal...nope simple cardboard. Cardboard, especially thin non-reinforced cardboard, isn't designed to hold the weight of 20+ pounds of books and crap.

I whipped out gorilla tape a few months ago to reinforce the bag. Looked tacky. I did some research and found an all alluminum bag that is slightly smaller (about a 1/2 inch for each dimension) but much more durable than the Luggage Works bags. Where did I get it? Harbor Frieght Tools. It's actually a tool bag, but will do very nicely as a kit bag. Tacky? A little. But I don't want to spend $400+ on a Scott's Leather bag right now. Scott's makes the best kit bags. I know several Captains that have had their Scott bag for 15+ years.

This new combo should last me a few years. I have much more faith in my Strong Bag than I ever had in my Luggage Works bag. It's a good 2-3 pounds lighter than the Luggage Works Stealth bag.

The Strong duffle bag will easily hold my small laptop bag, lunch and a ton of other crap. The Strong Vortex II has a clip to hold the duffle bag making it very mobile.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Questions Answered: FMLA and being a pilot

With the airlines, how do you go about requesting 2 months off? Thanks.

I am taking November and December off to spend time with my daughter. I am taking time off under FMLA. FMLA allows up to 12 weeks of unpaid time off for a birth or other medical circumstances.

As of now I am taking less than 12 weeks. Once I start taking time off the clock starts. I have to be back at the end of 12 weeks. If I take just 8 weeks off then the other 4 weeks fade away. Kinda crappy. Would be nice if I would use the other 4 weeks later.

Beyond FMLA there are other ways of getting extended time off. My airline offers Leaves of Absences (LOAs). It's all staffing based. If they are overstaffed LOAs are offered to prevent furloughs. If staffing is tight LOAs are unlikely.

I know one pilot who took a 3 year LOA to go teach at a simulator facility. While he is gone his seniority keeps advancing. If he changes his mind and wants to come back earlier he only has to give a month notice. It can be a really good thing if there is another job you can do while waiting for things to improve.

There was a guy in my initial training class who is in the Air National Guard. He was hired back in 2004. Things weren't moving very fast here so went back into duty with the ANG for 3 years. When he came back he was near the top of his status bidding wise. Not too shabby.

While I am out on FMLA I hope to travel a bit with my daughter. Sure she is too young to remember anything...but I have a camera!

Bids are in....got my first choice!

Bids are in...won't be final until tomorrow at noon, but as of now I got my first choice.

Because I needed specific days off I bid around those days. My first choice was a "day trip" line.

A day trip is as it sounds. I start and finish a trip the same day. This is great for those living in base as you stay in home each night. Bad for commuters. Since I am TDY, I get a hotel room, so it's not a big deal.

Next month I start each day with a 5:30AM departure. That's a bit rough, but I finish at 12:40PM each day. Just one turn. My schedule is 4 on - 4 off - 3 on- 4 off - 3 on - 4 off- 3 on- 3 off - 1 on. Total of 17 days off. Truly the best schedule I have ever had.

The line is "worth" 77 hours. I can pick up extra flying if I want....which I will likely do.

It's good and bad. Good to have extra days off....and a line. Bad that I will be away from home. Still good overall.


For the first time in almost 3 years at my airline, I can bid a real line and have a choice!

I held a line once, but it was a fluke. The base was overstaffed so several senior First Officers bid reserve and took a chance at not flying.

Next month, due to the TDY, I am bidding number 6. Not too shabby. I actually get to go through the lines and put them in an order of preference.

If I had no plans I would simply bid the highest value line (currently 90 hours) and be done. I however have plans.

My family (no longer my wife and I!) are going to Disneyland with my sister in law and her family. I have to try and bid around those days. Since I will be in the New York area for my domicile...and Disneyland is on the other side of the country...I need a schedule that allows me time to get from the east coast...to the west coast..and then back again. Hoping for the best. I am also penciling in a trip to Vegas at the end of the month.

Beyond that I am hoping for maximum days off. I should have at least 14 days off. There is one 90 hour line with 18 days off which I would love to bid if I had no plans.

Bids close in 2 hours. I should have the results later this afternoon. As of now I still haven't flown this month. It's been since August 14th. Wow.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Another month of "fun" on the way

As soon as I arrived in my base today I checked my company email. Sure enough I am being forced back to New York next month.

Because I am being forced I get to bid for a line. By my count I will be bidding #9 out of 45. This is quite the opposite of my current situation where I am the bottom guy. The good news is I WILL be a line holder. The bad news is....well I will be away from home again.

By contract I can only be FORCED to TDY once per year unless every other pilot in my status has been forced to TDY. Doesn't really matter...taking off November and December anyway.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Well that was...fun?

Heading home tomorrow at 11AM. I flew exactly zero hours while on my TDY in the New York area. The rest of the month I will be back in my domicile.

It's been a paid vacation of sorts. I spent about $200 on food and subway/train/bus tickets while here.  My per diem will be around $620 so I will "profit" around $420 all said and done. This is on top of course of my monthly guarantee. Not bad I guess.

Tomorrow morning I should find out if I will be forced to come back next month. If I am forced back I will be able to bid a true line. Total per diem will be closer to $1200, again a nice chunk of change.

I am kinda bummed I didn't get to fly....it is afterall my job. Hopefully I will fly when I am back in base.

I've kinda grown attached to my hotel room...it's been my second home. Gotta pack up in the morning and check all the drawers, cabinets and such.

It was fun visiting New York city.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Why check the weather, you're going anyway?

One "joke" I hear from some of my 135 cargo buddies is, "When flying single pilot cargo, why check the weather? You're going anyway!" Single pilot cargo will wither make you a damn good pilot or a smoking hole. There have been countless (unfortunately) accidents involving single pilot cargo operations. They don't make the news often. I remember one a few years ago where the pilot lost his attitude indicator in the clouds, low overcast day. He declared an emergency and ATC was giving him all the help he could ask for. He lost control and crashed straight down into the ground.

Last week a buddy of mine from ATP sent me his resume and asked if I could walk it in. He has had enough of single pilot cargo. Too many shoddy planes and he has had enough of flying through thunderstorms. I'm more than happy to help him out.

As far as my gig goes, "Why bother bidding?" comes to mind. I am the bottom guy. My airline announced the need for another 8 First Officers to come to New York next month. Full month.

The bidding closes for the TDY tomorrow night. I thought about bidding for it as I could use the money. I will be taking November and December off for FMLA to take care of my daughter. I talked it over with my wife when it came to me, why bother bidding?

If I bid for it I am the last to be counted since bidding is done IN seniority order. Thus as long as 8 First Officers above me bid for the TDY my vote isn't counted. If only 7 bid it, then mine is counted.

If 8 First Officers don't bid for it, then the airline goes in REVERSE seniority order to get 8 First Officers. I am the bottom guy and the first to be forced to go.

There is an advantage of being forced to go, I get first pick of the hard lines. If I go voluntarily then I get the last pick of the lines. I will know sometime tomorrow night or at the latest Wednesday morning.

It will be sweet sorrow coming back to New York. I do miss my family , but the extra $1200 will come in handy as I get no paycheck for November or December.

It's Monday night now. I commuted back from a nice 3 day weekend with my wife and daughter. I have airport reserve tomorrow afternoon (which bums me out as I wanted to go to the Engadget show!) and scheduled to fly home Wednesday night.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Delta Airlines ad


Great ad!

Questions Answered: Luggage

Luggage. For most people luggage is used 3-4 times a year. For flight crews, it's daily.

Being a regularly used item, most flight crew members don't take luggage choice lightly. Depending on if they are a pilot or cabin crew, the bags might differ.

Pilots, for the most part, need to carry along a huge bag called a flight kit. It weighs a good 20 pounds and is filled with maps, charts and reference books required for flight. The easiest way to carry it along is on a hook attached to the main luggage. Flight attendants don't "need" a hook, but many buy bags with them to carry a smaller bag with their manuals and other small items.

The most common size of the main piece of luggage is 22 inches. Why? Because that's the biggest size that will fit wheels first in most mainline aircraft. If you NEVER commute and rarely deadhead, then a 26 inch bag can be used. I use a 22 inch bag.

My first bag I bought was a 22 inch Delsey bag from JcPenny for like $90. It was great...except no hook. It had a strap. After my first flight I bought a hook and rigged it up with the existing latch. It worked decently.

After about a month I wanted something more substantial.

I stopped by the crew luggage store and bought a $149 Luggage Works 22 inch bag. It came with a hook. Very durable and a 3 year warranty. Lucky for me any repairs needed could be done on site.

The bag worked great for about a year. Then the telescoping handle broke off while out on a trip. I was pissed. Pain to carry it around the bag, flight kit and laptop bag...by hand.

The repair shop fixed it and a worn out leather handle. About six months later the telescoping handle broke again. Fast forward to last week when the entire back frame that supports the telescoping handle started to separate from the bag....while out on TDY! The root cause was the inner frame (plastic!) cracked...bad.

I dropped it off at the repair shop and picked up my back up Delsey bag from home. I'm not sure if the repair will be under warranty. Either way I'm likely going to invest in a heavy duty bag, a Luggage Works/ Purdy Neat Stealth ( click here for a description and photo).

The Stealth bag has an all metal frame and a non telescoping handle. The handle is a solid piece of metal. The bag looks like it can be a weapon. I've asked around and those that have the bag swear by them and that they last 5+ years. It's pricey.....almost $300, but if it last 5 years then it's only $60 or so a year...little more than a buck a week. Plus it's tax deductible!

Beyond the luggage and flight kit, I carry a laptop bag or Ipad bag depending on how long I will be gone. For 2-4 day trips my Ipad works fine. For longer (such as this TDY) I carry my laptop. To keep the bags light I pack the chargers in my suitcase. I also have a set of chargers that live at home and a set that travel. After forgetting my laptop charger for the second time, it was worth the $70 for a spare. Since they all "live" in my luggage, it's never forgotten. Even then I pack a spare cell phone charger...cause ya never know.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Making the best of it

Haven't flown yet. Sat airport reserve yesterday. Nothing. At the end of the shift the Captain (also TDY from my base) and I headed up to the city...after studying train routes.

We did alright. Saw quite a bit.

First stop was the American Museum of Natural History. Spent a good two hours there before heading to Ground Zero then Staten Island and finally Times Square. I ate Ray's Pizza for dinner...which annoyed my wife. Years ago we were here with her entire family. She wanted Ray's Pizza. It was her birthday. The rest of the family voted for Olive Garden thus we all ate at Olive Garden.....in Times Square...in New York. I did get her a souvenir menu though.

Today I was on a 2 hour call out. Nothing. Tomorrow will likely be the same. The next time I know I will fly? Friday night....when I commute home. Making the best of it. I will likely head back into the city again tomorrow.

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Saturday, September 4, 2010

For Those About To Commute, I Salute You!

My first three days on TDY in the north east...no flying.

On Thursday I was on a call out till 7PM. With a 2 hour call out my "back of the napkin" math showed me being useless after 2PM. I played it safe and listed on a 5PM flight home. I was off Friday and Saturday.

The first flight was weight restricted by 10 seats. Sure enough I didn't get on.

The next flight was also weight restricted. Initially they pulled 18 seats! Ugh. Not good. Already a fairly full flight. I saw an offline flight attendant also trying to get on. I told her about the weight restrictions. She was over course not happy. Thankfully as departure time approached they lifted some of the weight restriction and I got a seat. The Captain came up and told the gate agent that every standby is getting on and that the fuel on board was less than planned, but fine for the trip. Glad he did that as the flight attendant got on as well.

My wife picked me up at 9PM. Home by 10PM.

I spent Friday with my wife and newborn daughter. We ran errands and ate dinner with friends. When I got home I began planning my commute back.

I figured no one would be going to the New York area on Saturday morning. I was wrong. All flights full. Not good. I began looking at connecting in small cities. Most routings were full, but I could connect to a regional flight flown by my airline and get a jump seat. Sunday is a reserve day. No idea what time I would be needed.

Around 10 PM Friday night I gave up. I would just head to the airport and try to catch the 7AM direct flight hoping to get the jump seat. There are three airports I can fly into, EWR, JFK or LGA. All were full!

Since my wife picked me up on Thursday night, she would have to drop me off Saturday morning (my car was still in the employee lot). She wasn't really happy having to get up so early especially with my daughter waking up every 2-3 hours anyway.

She dropped me off and I headed to the gate. I was number 40 on the standby list. Another mainline pilot was already listed. Being a mainline flight he has priority over the jump seat.

At 6:55AM all seats assigned. A few standbys got on. Not me. The mainline pilot was assigned the jump seat. The agent closed the boarding door and headed to the plane. I headed to the next gate. Once I got there I looked back at the list for the 7AM flight.

Apparently there was an unassigned seat in the cabin as the mainline pilot was assigned a real seat. Ugh. I could have had the jump! Too late.

I am not a commuter. I'm not used to the stress.

My next plan was to connect in a smaller city. I listed and was number 11. Ten seats open. I then looked at the next direct to flight to the New York area. No pilots listed. Still oversold. I flipped a coin....ready to try another direct.

Five minutes prior to push I was given the cockpit jump seat. Worst seat in the house, but I was going.

Being full I had to check my carry on. No big deal as it's easier than hunting for overhead bin space.

The mainline crew was nice. I took my seat...took me a second to remember how the jump seat worked.

Once in base I headed back to the hotel. It was only noon. Waste of a day. I was happy to be home with my wife and kid. Commuting sucks. Especially on reserve. I have 11 days off a month. If I were based here I could easily see having to commute on at least 3 days off a month, likely 4 bringing my true days "off" down to 7. Ouch.

Commuters....once again you have my respect.

Tomorrow morning I have airport reserve starting at 5:30AM. First departure isn't until 8AM. Nice!

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

The Northeast!

For the first time ever...I will say where I am....kinda. I'm based in the New York area for part of this month. Vague..yes...but less vague than normal. Three airports to pick from EWR, JFK, and LGA.

My airline has a temporary increase in flying in this base and needs a little extra help.

Today is day 2 of my TDY (Temporary Displacement or Temporary Duty...eh). I was on a 2 hour call out. Never was called.

Due to the US Open being in town, hotels around the entire area are full. My airline kinda dropped the ball on booking the rooms forcing me to stay in a backup...backup hotel last night. Truly the worst hotel I have ever stayed in. I mentioned the hotel to a friend of mine at another airline and he agreed...as it's his airlines' NORMAL hotel. Ouch.

This morning I checked out of the old hotel, took a van to the airport, had lunch, watched the Apple press event on my Ipad, then took a van to the new....much nicer hotel.

That's it. Well I did walk a good distance to a store to buy food. The hotel food, even with the employee discount, is crazy expensive.  I did eat lunch...a $20 cheese burger and coke.

Tomorrow I am on a 2 hour call out from 4AM to 7PM. In reality if I am not called by 3PM...I'm good to go...and go I will...home.

I am going to non-rev home tomorrow night as I am off Friday and Saturday. I plan on coming back Saturday night. That all depends on the hurricane though. If I think it's going to affect the NY area I will come home Friday.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Vacation is over....no doubt about it

My vacation was great. My daughter completed her first 3000 mile non-rev experience perfectly. Didn't cry for more than 7 seconds TOTAL. Just sat back and took it all in. She was born to fly!

I am currently sitting in a room...a hotel room...although that's giving it a lot of credit. Hands down the worst hotel I've ever stayed in.

I arrived from my vacation last night at 9PM. Getting from the airport to my house is normally a 30 minute affair for my wife and I. Now that we are 3...took longer.....twice as long.

After getting my daughter squared away I had to repack my suitcase. Yadda, yadda, yadda I was in bed at 11PM. Fell asleep around 11:30PM.

My sleep was stopped at 4:15AM. For reasons that made no sense, scheduling put me on the first flight out this morning knowing full well I would not be used for any additional flying. I left home at 4:30AM, parked my car at 4:55AM, and boarded my deadhead at 5:30AM.

Once I arrived at my temporary base the crap started. I had been previously sent an email stating I would be staying 1 night at the on airport hotel and the remaining nights at a much nicer hotel. Fine.

I called scheduling before I left this morning and was told something different, I would be staying at the nicer hotel the entire time.

After arriving in the new base at 10AM local , I called the nicer hotel and was told they couldn't accommodate me until tomorrow. Ugh. Over the next HOUR I called the airport hotel and scheduling trying to figure out where I was staying. Once I arrived at the airport hotel they had no reservation for me. Turns out the scheduler put all the rooms in HIS name ?!??!?!!? It was now 11:45AM. Another First Officer from my base walked in. He was on a later flight and arrived as I had figured everything out. Off to lunch.

The other First Officer I only knew by his last name and his face every now and then. We ate lunch (after walking for a mile as there is no reasonably priced food any closer) then headed back.

As luck would have it I am more senior here overall, but at the bottom of the list due to the TDY rules. Since it was my choice to bid a TDY I am the bottom guy after everyone else. Oh well. I work the next two days then am off for two days. Should be able to go home for at least one night, maybe two.

Vacation is over. It was great spending time with my wife, daughter and in laws.

Sunday, August 22, 2010


Next month I will be based elsewhere.....for just part of the month.

Due to staffing issues I will be temporarily based in another domicile.

The assignment is known as a TDY (Temporary Duty). The airline pays for a hotel room for me for the full time I am there as well as per diem 24 hours a day while I am there. In addition I will get a "positive" spaced ticket each way . I will get about $650 extra from the per diem.....tax free. Not too shabby.

Of course with a new born at home it will be a little rough, but the money will help.

While in the other base I will likely be on reserve. I still get my minimum days off. My TDY starts August 31st. I am on vacation until August 30th. The schedule should be 4 on 3 off.

I'm looking forward to it. I've never flown out of the other domicile. Should be interesting.

For now....vacation. My daughter took her first flight yesterday and it was perfect. Flying is in her genes.

My wife had a "real" ticket. The plan was for my daughter and I to non-rev and hopefully sit with my wife. Worst case my wife would hold my daughter and I would be in the jump seat. Thankfully the gate agent linked up all three of us and gave us our own row.

My daughter didn't cry until 2 minutes prior to landing and even then it was only a 12 second pathetic cry. As passengers got off many mentioned how quiet my daughter is and that they didn't even know there was a baby onboard!

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Airway less traveled

I never had shiny jet syndrome....SJS. I had "I want to fly a lot" syndrome. Some people buy an airplane to give themselves small doses to tide them over. Others simply park out at the end of an airport to gaze at airplanes and inhale 100LL/Jet A to soothe them. Then there are those that can only be satisfied by jumping into a cockpit and flying as much as possible. I am one of those.

The military is a great (and inexpensive!) option. But I was far too old by the time I decided to fly. I didn't start training until I was 29. I wasn't in the best shape and too lazy to run. Buying a plane wasn't really financially feasible. I decided to head for an airline.

While I was a CFI I had the opportunity to train some truly great people. I still keep in touch with all but one of my students.

One of my students was a really outgoing guy who loved Denver. Really loved Denver. So much that he wanted nothing more than to be based in Denver. After ATP he was a CFI for ATP for a while before being hired on by Great Lakes.

He was single. No kids (that used to be inferred by saying he was single....not anymore). And most importantly he was young. The very low pay of Great Lakes had to be very trying. He started Great Lakes just a few month after I started at my airline. Within 18 months he earned the rating of Captain.

As a Captain, his pay was still much lower than mine as a regional FO. He was however happy.

Fast forward to today. He has quite a bit of turbine PIC and is applying to Delta, Southwest and Virgin America. All require turbine PIC.

Meanwhile I am sitting on about 1300 hours of turbine SIC with no end in sight. If/When he gets hired by a major it will take him a few years to make up for the years of really low pay, but after that it's all gravy. But is it worth it?

I've been able to support myself financially for the last 2 1/2 years. I could not say the same if I worked for the wages he earned. Maybe I could have lived a simpler life. Eh.

It's worth it to him and I am happy for him. I am content in where I am. If I had to do this all over again would I? I've tossed that around a few times. I've had a lot of fun, learned a lot, non-rev'd my family all around the United States, Mexico, Japan, Canada and more. I know I don't want my daughter to grow up to be an airline pilot. I am happier now than I was pouring over software error logs in a basement cubicle. I think I would do it all over again. I've got 32 years of airline flying left in me.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

As a pilot....and a parent

Yesterday I became a parent. My daughter Natali was born weighing 7 pounds 8 ounces and a short 19 inches long.

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I have today and tomorrow off, go in for an overtime turn on Saturday and off on Sunday before hitting airport reserve again.

The lack of sleep from reduced rest overnight has prepared me for parenthood...I think.

Might be a little busy in the next week or so. I do hit vacation after that so the blog should pick up then. I will also know by next week if I will be temporarily based in another domicile next month. Great timing eh?

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

The actions of others

Personality and habits. Everyone has them. Some are good. Some are bad. All in perspective.

I've learned a lot in just my almost 3 years at my airline. I've flown with many Captains that are a joy to fly with and truly care about the profession. These Captains have enlightened me on countless topics about flying, the airline and just life in general. I'm truly grateful for being able to glean information from them. There are however, a handful of Captains that make the job harder than it should be.

Being in a small base there are a fairly small number of Captains and First Officers here. I've flown with most, but not all of the Captains. A few of the Captains have bad habits and personality traits that I don't care for. They make the job harder than it should be. I used to let it get to me and their actions would directly affect my mood and my duties. That stopped about a year ago.

Since then I just do my job and perform the required duties. No small talk or chit chat. Just doing my job. Makes for a long day sometimes. There is only so much sky and ground to look at before it all blends together.

I feel bad for the few that have had such a horrible life that they feel the need to spread such doom on others.

From these few I take notes. Things I will not do when I become Captain. The list is somewhat long. Not as long as my list from the great Captains though.

Steven Slater, (former?) flight attendant for Jet Blue, is being heralded as a hero by flight crews everywhere. Passengers have become more and more unruly lately. They feel that they can do whatever they like nowadays. Some passengers take circumstances personally and flight crews and airport employees are ripe for the picking.

Flying is fairly easy. You take your seat, turn off your electronics, fasten your seatbelt and relax. That's it. Not hard. Passengers make it hard.

"Airplane Mode" is not off. Flight attendants advise of FAA regulations that state devices must be off. "Airplane Mode" is not mentioned by the FAA. Off. Off. Off. Simple. I turn my stuff off. How long does it really take to turn it back on after takeoff or landing?

Seatbelt sign. It's on for a reason. Passengers are injured more and more by standing up before the sign is turned off. They think because the plane has stopped and they can see a terminal that it must be safe. It's not. There have been occasions where the Captain has had to slam on the brakes, even at a low speed, while taxiing into the gate. If a passenger was standing up they would be thrown forward. Taking off your seatbelt takes what.... 1/2 a second? Once it's off passengers just stand in the aisle anyway. Really?

From what I've read Slater has been a Flight Attendant for more than 20 years (he worked elsewhere prior to Jet Blue). I guess yesterday he just had enough. He let the actions of others directly affect his mood and duties. Flight attendants have a rough job. I couldn't do it. I truly appreciate the reenforced door between the flight deck and cabin.

Tomorrow is the big day. I get to use a new saying, "As both a pilot and parent,"

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Flying tired

Summer heat + long work days = tired.

Each day this week I've worked 10-12 hour work days. I get up at 4:40AM, leave the house at 5:15AM to sign in at 6AM. I sit airport reserve from 6AM until 2PM. It's been the norm to get off around 5PM (today was "Early" at 3PM) as I have been assigned flights each day that finish well after 2PM. Getting home at 6PM. Spending a few hours with my wife, and in bed by 10PM...to do the same thing the next day.

Slept really well last night. Still tired. So tired I tried to sleep in the ready reserve room at the airport. Didn't work. Restless.

Back to the crew room. Called at 7:10AM for a 9:05AM departure. So much for making the final Dr appointment prior to my wife heading to the hospital.

I checked my schedule. Inbound plane was set to arrive at 9AM. Nice. Back to the ready room to rest. There were zero First Officers available for the morning. Staffing is such an issue a First Officer was deadheaded 3 hours from another base to cover a simple turn. Another flight cancelled due to having no First Officers.

Unable to sleep again. Walked out of the ready reserve room at 8:30 AM. The plane we were to take was swapped. New plane already at the gate. Made it to the plane at 8:40AM. The Flight Attendant commented how she thought the plane wasn't coming in till 9AM. I wasn't the only one surprised. The Captain came up from the ramp, he had done the preflight. Less work for me.

The plane had a few MEL's. The left pack was inop...so warmish cockpit till air from the right pack (which cools the cabin primarily) makes it's way to the cockpit. One pack also meant max altitude of FL310.

Weather en route. Couldn't top it at FL310...went thru. Bumpy. Still tired...not fatigued...just tired. Thumped it on runway 25L.

The Captain brought up just how much money he was making on this 4 day trip. He picked it up on overtime. Due to staffing issues my airline is paying 150% for any open trips flown on days off. The Captain is currently out on vacation. He will make more on this 4 day than I make in a month. Nice eh?

Bumpy flight back at FL280. Pulled in a few minutes early. Done for the day at 3PM. Back tomorrow at 6AM. Tomorrow is my day 6. Off Saturday then back on for 5 more days. Of course I will be off for one or two of those days as I get the new title of "dad'.

Sure I will be prepared for being a new father as I am used to functioning on little sleep ;-)

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Six minutes

I love what I do, I sometimes despise the circumstances in which I do it.

This trip started yesterday morning with one leg to an overnight. The hotel we have for an overnight is decent. My main issue is the morning van times. They are set at 4:40AM, 5:10AM and 5:40AM. It's a 10 minute ride to the airport. We are required to "show" at the airport 45 minutes prior to departure. The departure was set for 6:25AM. Thus a 5:30AM van would have been perfect. 5:40AM is too late. So we had a 5:10AM van. My day really started with a 4:40AM alarm clock going off.

Since we were at the airport almost an hour early I had plenty of time. I checked my schedule before hopping on the plane. Once I arrived in base at 7:35AM I expected to be released.

Normal flight. Thirty minutes out I got a printout...I had been extended.

Once in base I checked my schedule. Assigned 4 more flights (2 turns) expected finish....3:05PM. Nice.

Four legs had been added on. All due to lack of staffing on the smaller jet. Fine. On leg 4 I was fairly tired. I could tell I wasn't 100%. My leg. On approach everything was kosher until about 100 feet. The wind kicked up and I was a little slower to react than normal. I worked it down but landed long...3,ooo feet down a 7,000 foot runway. With about 500 feet left in the touchdown zone the mains touched down. Full reverse and moderate braking and we pulled off with 1500 feet left.

Once at the gate I checked my schedule....just for grins. Unbelievable I had ANOTHER 2 legs added on. I was not amused. I grabbed a snack and soft drink. Felt better.

Captains leg back. On time arrival at 3:05 PM.  Once at the gate the Captain, also reserve, called to get released. Done. I was scheduled to fly the same plane at 4:20PM.

I grabbed my bags and headed to the crew room. Prepared to call in fatigued I checked my schedule one more time. Looking at it something didn't add up. Actually it added up to be too much....by six minutes.

At that point I had flown 5 hours 51 minutes. The two turns I was expected to do totaled 2 hours 15 minutes. Total.....8 hours and six minutes of expected flying. Six minutes too much. Illegal.

If this schedule had been built to 7 hours 55 minutes and I went 10 minutes long on leg 5, I would have still be fine under the , "legal to start, legal to finish." BS. This schedule had been pieced together.

When I called scheduling I politely asked to be released. The scheduler stated I had another turn. I then stated I would be flying more than 8 hours at which point she released me. That's where this post should end.

Thirty minutes later I was at the grocery store picking up dinner. My phone rang. Unknown caller. Time....4:10PM. I didn't answer. I love Google voice...the service transcribed the voicemail. It was scheduling asking where I was as the flight left in 10 minutes. I finished my shopping. In the car I called back and stated I had been released for the day. That agent stated okay and sorry for calling. That's where this post should end.

Ten minutes later I got another call. Unknown. I answered, "Hello,". "First Officer, where are you? The flight is scheduled to leave right now," the voice said. "I now consider this harassment. I have called scheduling twice. I was released from duty. Goodbye." and I ended the phone call.

This is where this post ends.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Well that was different

At an overnight. I have morning airport reserve all month. Last night I saw a trip open. Nine twenty-five departure, 18 hour overnight, done at 7:25AM. I was the only First Officer available for it.

Sure enough I was called at 7AM while sitting in the bowels of the airport and assigned the trip. Short leg, just over an hour.

The rest of the crew is very senior. Flown with them all before. I took the leg out. Really congested airspace today. Given step climbs instead of the normal 10,000, FL230, FL310.

Coming into the outstation the airspace was very congested as well. The airspace is normally fairly empty.

It's normal to cross 35 miles out at 10,000 feet when flying to this airport. The FMS was set up for that. The controller gave us a very late descent resulting in a 3800 foot per minute requirement. Steep, 4.0 degrees, but doable.

Down went the thrust levers and over went the nose. From FL310 all the way till about 15,000 feet the airplane was clean. I had to deploy the flight spoilers at that point as the plane was approaching MMO, 335 knots.

We were handed off to approach who cleared us to 5,000 feet. Even the approach area was congested. The busy controller called us by the wrong flight number, and we corrected him. A few minutes later something happened that would cause an "issue".

Descending through 8,000 we heard the controller issue someone a descent to 3,000. The flight number was similar to ours, but the call sign was not. We both disregarded it.

The plane leveled at 5,000 and we called the airport in sight. We then overheard a Citation being cleared to 3,000. The Citation was above us and to the right at 6,000.

"Traffic" came from the TCAS and I looked down to see a yellow icon descending onto us. I clicked off the autopilot and began a descent.

Approach called out the traffic. My Captain craned his neck but was able to see the Citation turning away from us. I continued the approach.

We then heard a bit of confusion from the controller. He stated he thought we were going to continue our descent, but never mentioned to what altitude. The Citation requested a 90 degree turn as he was too close to a plane on HIS TCAS (he stated he never saw our plane).

He turned, I landed and then he landed. Off to the overnight. It wasn't an "incident" as much as it was different. If we had not seen the Citation visually it could have been an "incident".

Besides that, I am traveling lighter these days. Just using my Ipad and a Apple Bluetooth Keyboard for connectivity. Being a long overnight and my acute taste in television, I hooked up my Zune to the hotel TV to watch video podcast from the TWIT network. I love my Zune....way better for media than Ipods....just not as well known.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

August is going to be rough

My daughter should arrive August 11th. Due to complications during the first two attempts at being parents my wife is high risk. She's had a rough 9 months and is ready to be done. Her Doctor is going to induce her two weeks early. Since I know the date, I attempted to get the day off by moving my reserve days around. Crew scheduling used their rubber stamp, "Denied Due to Staffing Levels." Nice.

I stopped by the Chief Pilot's office today. After explaining I tried to swap days around to get the days off but was denied, he assured me I would have the days off I need. Paid or unpaid. I can either borrow from my two weeks vacation for next year OR get the day off unpaid. I think I'm going to go for the latter. Got vacation plans next year.

Beyond that I am going on vacation next month. My wife and I are joining her family at a resort in the northwest. My vacation starts August 21st. I only get 7 days off. I need more. Thus I had to swap my reserve days around. So instead of a slightly hectic August...I have a REALLY hectic August.

Starting August 1st I work 6 on, 1 off, 5 on, 3 off, 4 on, then vacation. The first 12 days are going to be rough. Especially with the baby on the way.

Traveling with a newborn will be interesting as well. No longer do I have to make sure my wife and I can get on...now I have to worry about the baby. Thus we bought a real ticket for our first trip. Just for her of course. For the first time in years we will be...checking bags. Since she is on a "real" ticket she will have to pay to check bags. Since I'm jump seating I can check two bags free.

Beyond that...flew 58 hours this month. Crazy. Felt like a real pilot...almost. That is the most number of hours I have flown in the last 12 months.

I worked the last 6 days. Off the next two. Going to enjoy them.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

One Small Victory

Been an interesting month. I am set to fly more in July 2010 than in any of the past 11 months. Right now I am projected to fly 50 hours this month. Of that 50, 9 or so are overtime. Still more than my average for the year which stands at 29 hours a month.

Monday I had afternoon airport standby. Due to lack of staffing lately a lot of flights that were originally on smaller regional jets were being flown by larger regional jets. At my airline pilots are assigned to a specific plane.  I fly a 70 seat plane which other's fly a 50 seat while others still fly other planes. The 50 seat jet is the most common and has the largest number of crews. Lately the number of 50 seats crews available each day has been at 0....or even negative. To remedy this my airline has been using 70 seat crews and airplanes. Both reserves and line holders being reassigned.

Sunday I was assigned a turn normally done by a 50 seater. The flight was booked to 45 out and 50 back. The Captain was a junior Captain I've flown with several times. He's a down to earth guy who takes everything one thing at a time and makes the entire crew feel at ease. One unique thing about him...he used to (and still does to a point) carry SEVERAL books in his overnight bag making it deceptively heavy. I've slowly turned him on to e-readers. He is about ready to pull the trigger on a Kindle or Nook.

I finished up at 7PM and sat out the rest of my standby shift until 10PM.

Tuesday I was given reserve at home starting at 10AM with a 2 hour call out. I was called at 10AM on the dot to sit airport standby starting at noon. Four and a half hours in to my shift I was assigned another turn that was normally done by a 50 seater. Why? They were out of crews again. They were down to the LAST 70 seat Captain. Same Captain as the day prior. Great for me.

The flight was a little unusual due to weather. Thunderstorms at both ends and in the middle. We sat on a taxiway for 30 minutes with the engines shut down (APU running of course) before finally being released. It was a nice change of pace to fly through and around weather again. A few jolts here, a few turns there and I landed just fine at the out station. It could have been a little hairy as the right half of the airport was covered by a huge thundercloud and rain. The left side was clear. I was landing to the south. All along the southern edge of the airport....a thick and tall wall of dark clouds. I briefed that if I went around it would be a left climbing 180 degree turn. Wasn't needed.

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One of my flight attendants needed food. She had been going all day long without a break. She was going to run in and grab a bagel. I did my post flight and decided to do the same. Problem. Bagel placed closed. Only a handful of places were open. I saw her in line for a Quiznos. She was number 5 in line. I approached and saw the look of doubt in her eyes. The line wasn't moving and we were supposed to be out in 20 minutes. I offered to take her money and get her food for her.

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This was the slowest Quiznos I have ever seen. The employees (to be fair not Quiznos employees but some random company that operated a Quiznos, Pizza Hut, Ice Cream place and Burger King all from the same counter) just didn't care. Fifteen minutes later (I was number 5 in line!) I had her salad.

By the time I reached the plane all the passengers were boarded up and the bags were loaded. Glad they can't leave without me. I gave her the salad and she tossed up a snack bag from the galley for me.

The weather was closing in. We could see a gap to the north east....and that was it. If we took off to the north we would have a 7 knot quartering tailwind. The true tailwind component was 3 knots. When we ran the performance numbers we took the full 7 knot decrement. Our takeoff weight was 68,000 pounds. With the 7 knot tailwind on that runway we could safely takeoff weighing as much as 79,000 pounds. Good to go.

Tower granted our request and we taxied out. During the taxi out the tower came back letting us know if we took off to the south we would go through less weather even though with our eyes the north looked better. We discussed it and decided to line up on the south runway and "take a look" using the RADAR. It looked doable.

Non-eventful. Just turbulence and icing up high.

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Arrived at the gate at 8:54PM. I called scheduling to be released. They TRIED to assign me 6 AM airport standby. No thanks. I wanted 10 hours before my next assignment. They asked if I would take a 6AM reserve at home assignment. I stuck to 10 hours. Finally came back with a 7AM reserve at home assignment. Fine.

Tuesday morning at 7:30AM I was called to sit airport standby starting at 9:30AM. Reason? The morning standby crew had been assigned another 50 seat turn. I sat all day long (walking around the airport, resting in the quiet room and  rumor mongering in the crewroom) until around 3:30PM.

At 2PM the afternoon standby First Officer was there. There was a 4:20PM turn (another 50 seater turned 70 seater) open. I could have legally been assigned the turn. Beyond that nothing else was open.

I sat two gates down and just waited to be called...or see the standby First Officer head that way. Time ticked by. I saw the Captain walk up to the gate and start typing away at a computer. Finally at 3:58 PM he walked away. At 3:59 PM my phone rang. I was assigned the turn.

Scheduling dropped the ball. They didn't notice the flight wasn't covered. Not until the Captain held boarding until a First Officer was assigned did someone realize another pilot was needed. I walked down to the gate and to the plane.

Weather was still an issue. After my preflight I noticed a man in a suit with a SIDA (Security Identification Display Area) badge loading luggage onto a cart (luggage that was too big to fit onboard). Didn't think much of it, but it was out of the norm.

I hopped in the cockpit and tried to pull up a PDC. Not available. I called clearance. I copied down the clearance and expected to hear "read back correct." Instead I heard, "Flight 903 your wheels up time is 22:49 ZULU time now 21:15 ZULU." Nice. Weather at the destination.

The passengers were all boarded by the time the Captain arrived. I gave him the news. He was upset as the gate was giving him grief on holding boarding until a First Officer was assigned. Now boarding was done and we had at least an hour fifteen minute delay. The main in the suit was a Passenger Service Manager who was rushing boarding and thus loading up bags on the cart. After discussing the situation with operations, dispatch and the crew, it was decided to have the passengers return to the terminal.

I began some back of the napkin math. I started at 7AM. My "duty" started at 9:30AM. Per contract I could fly until 9:45PM. The flight was delayed until 5:39PM at that point. The weather didn't look like it would clear up. My best guess would be departing at 7PM arriving at 8:20PM, 30 minute turn and arriving back in base at 10:15PM. Too long.

The Captain didn't think it would work, but I called scheduling. I gave the agent (who sounded a little new) my story and that it might be best to pull me off the flight. To my surprise she agreed and released me from duty. I grabbed my stuff and checked my schedule to make sure, indeed  I was pulled off and the standby First Officer was assigned the flight.

A few minutes later I had a phone call...didn't answer. The voicemail stated that, after further review, I would have been legal for the flight even delayed and to call back. Nope. I was released. I have been yanked around by scheduling for 2 1/2 years. For once I was able to turn the tables. One small victory.

In the end the flight cancelled. Why? Weather at the destination. More likely reason? Too big of a risk of getting fined with all the delays. Passenger Bill of Rights Advocates.....you're welcome!

Today is Wednesday. My day off. With a kid on the way I would like a few extra bucks set aside. My wife has been saving a sizeable sum of money for 3 years in anticipation of having a kid. Me....not so much. I picked up a 5 hour turn today on overtime. Leaves at 12:30PM and returns at 6PM. I am back on reserve tomorrow and off the following two days.

Monday, July 26, 2010

How to mail your friends.....non-reving

One of the main draws to working or an airline is unlimited travel. Unlimited. All you can fly...as long as you show up to work on time.

Since I started working for my airline, my wife and I have REALLY used my flight benefits. We have flown to:

Washington, D.C - our favorite!

Portland, Oregon

Chicago, Illinois

Cabo San Lucas, Mexico

Toronto, Canada

Atlanta, Georgia

St. Louis, Missouri

Houston, Texas

Las Vegas, Nevada

Los Angeles, California

San Francisco, California

Phoenix, Arizona

Denver, Colorado

Dallas, Texas

Santa Ana, California

Sacramento, California

New York, New York

Boston, Massachusetts

Orlando, Florida

New Orleans, Louisiana

Tokyo, Japan

I am sure there is more....too bad we couldn't get airline miles!

Besides my family, I get a few "buddy passes" to share with friends and extended family.

At my airline there is an order to who gets on a plane:

1 - Deadheading crewmembers needed for a flight at the next destination

2 - Paying passengers

3 - Deadheading crewmembers non needed for a flight (deadheading home)

4 - Revenue Passengers standing by

5 - Employee standby passengers

6 - "Buddy Pass" guest

7 - ZED fare guest

8 - Offline (other airline) jumpseaters

It's actually more complicated than that, but that's the gist of it.

A friend of mine wanted to visit a friend in Phoenix for the weekend. She wanted to leave Saturday and return Monday. The morning flights to PHX looked great all last week. Even the night before the first two flights of the day were less than 1/2 full. She was going on the second flight leaving at 8:30AM.

Saturday morning I had airport standby. I checked up on the flights and noticed something bad happened to the first flight. None of the 30+ non-rev's got on! Further investigation showed the flight cancelled due to a mechanical problem. Rut row!

I met my friend at the gate. She was standing in line thinking she would get a seat. This wasn't her first time to use a buddy pass and in her mind the plane was nearly empty. I approached and asked if she brought a book. She had two...which was a good thing because it was going to be a long day.

There was a flight to PHX almost every hour. Things were looking 1/2 way good at first, but more and more revenue standby passengers and employee non-revs were being added to the standby list. Each standby pushed my friend down. At one point she was number 60 for standby!

I finished my standby shift at 2PM and went home. She stuck it out but finally tossed in the towel at 4PM. Turns out if she had waited she would have gotten a seat on the last flight of the night at 9:30PM. Not really worth it.

Her husband picked her up and my wife and I met them for dinner. I let her know that the first flight out Sunday morning had over 100 empty seats and that, as long as the plane fired up, she should be good to go.

Sunday morning I was happy to see that, not only did she get a seat, but she gas a seat in First Class.

She is coming back today on the last flight out of PHX. As of now the plane is 1/2 full.

Buddy passes can be very useful for friends with flexible travel plans and patience. I am held responsible for the actions of all who use my buddy passes. Employees have lost their personal travel benefits (for a short time or permanently!) for the actions of guest on buddy passes. I only offered them to a small group of family and friends. Only a handful have taken me up on them. Planes are fairly full these days and most people can't wait till the last minute to plan a trip. For those that can, buddy passes are a very economical way to travel.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Dropping the F bomb

It was supposed to be an easy day. Nine AM sign in. 9:30 deadhead. One flight back to base and done.

The dead head went fine. Once I walked off the jet bridge the craziness started.

The station manager stopped me and said, "Crew scheduling said everyone HAS to check their schedules BEFORE they get on the next flight." I said, "ok," and walked straight to my plane. We flew in on one plane and were flying out on another.

Clearly recorded on paper are the rules/procedures concerning crew contact and assignments. Once I have been given an assignment it can not change unless there is two way communication between myself and scheduling or my chief pilot. That's it. The station manager is not a crew scheduler. He is not a chief pilot. As soon as I walked away I became focused on safely operating my flight.

The plane had been in for scheduled maintenance. Sure enough things weren't perfect. The ACARS was inop....circuit breakers had been pulled but not reset. Taken care of. We loaded up the passengers and started the engines. New problems. "AFT CARGO SOV" status message and a "R PACK FAULT" status message. We called a mechanic. Yadda, yadda, yadda 30 minutes later we were out. The right pack cools the cabin, the left pack cools the cockpit. Interestingly enough the left pack wasn't really cooling the cockpit. Stayed around 80 degrees the entire flight. That temp plus the sun shining in....no bueno.

After we pulled into the gate my Captain called to get released. He is also reserve. He was advised he had another turn leaving in 15 minutes. I would be his FO. He put them on hold and asked if I needed a lunch break. It was 12:05PM. I did. Done.

The flight was already delayed. I had not eaten since 7AM at breakfast. My plans were to do my simple deadhead and one leg in and  then go home and eat. No longer.

I grabbed lunch and headed back to the plane. The terminal was crowded. Didn't feel like finding a place to eat.

The ground air cart was connected but the cockpit was still hovering at 85 degrees. The cabin was 80 degrees...with no one on board. Cooling on the ground is normally done with cool air from a ground air cart. For whatever reason our carts....are horrible. When I fly on mainline the entire plane is very cool. Don't know why we can't use the same carts. Cooling can be helped by turning on a recirculation fan. Caution is needed as once people start boarding, if the fan is left on, the cabin temp will start to rise as their warm bodies and breath warm up the cabin. Circulating the air increases the air flow, but also the temp.

Not wanting to eat lunch in a hot cockpit, on went the APU.

Captain came down. I finished my lunch. People boarded. We pushed out at 12:40PM. Not bad at all. We could have both taken a solid 30 minutes eating out in the terminal. I did them a "favor" by eating in the cockpit while setting up the plane at the same time. I set the cockpit temp at 72 degrees fahrenheit . It never cooled below 80.

At 2:00 PM we pulled into the next out station. The ground crew connected external power....but NOT external air. It's summer time....it's all or nothing. The APU was left on. During the turn I checked my schedule. Nothing else had been added. Yadda, yadda, yadda we pushed out at  2:30PM.

On the way back a message came over the ACARS that I had been assigned another turn. Once again it's not an official form of communication as it's one way only.

Hot cockpit and the previous delays were wearing on me and the Captain. I was tired physically. But not yet fatigued. I could see being fatigued if I had to do another turn.

After pulling into the gate the Captain and I both called to get released. Of course we were advised we had another turn. The flight was originally to be flown by a smaller plane. But they were OUT of pilots to fly the smaller plane and needed our plane and crew. I have been in this situation before. I would likely have been fine to fly to the outstation, but once there I knew I would be unfit to fly. I was off the next day. Even though I would loose money, I called in fatigued....as did the Captain. The flight then cancelled.

Last year several airline CEO's testified before Congress about regional pilot duty times and training. One stated that pilots at his airline can call in fatigued with no repercussions from the company. This is true at my airline except the damage is in my pocketbook.

Each month I am gauranteed pay of 75 hours based on being available each reserve day. The airline divides that 75 by how many days there are in a month. Each reserve day is worth 4 hours.

I only flew 3 1/2 hours yesterday. Since I called in fatigued, and thus didn't complete my duty day, I lost .5 hours of pay and it goes down on my permanent record that I called in fatigued on July 21, 2010.

There have been pilot staffing issues for a while around here....time to increase the number of pilots they are hiring.