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 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 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'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 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 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

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 is afterall my job. Hopefully I will fly when I am back in base.

I've kinda grown attached to my hotel'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 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 Times 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 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 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 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.