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'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.

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