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.