Thursday, February 24, 2011

A Good Month if I Squint

February is almost over. By tomorrow afternoon I will have flown 14 hours. If I don't fly a single flight for the rest of the month I will be paid for 90 hours. This is due to my reserve guarantee + overtime. I have picked up 3 overtime trips, but two cancelled. Thankfully my contract has cancellation pay (full value of the trip). Not all airlines have this. So I was paid for 2 trips I never had to do. Unfortunately for both I did drive up to the airport. Eh.

Tuesday I was sitting airport standby. I saw another First Officer I know in the crew room and remarked, "you look tired." I said this because I knew he was a on a 5 1/2 hr sit and if he completed his assignment he would have a 14 hour duty day and just a 9 hour overnight. I wanted his overnight.

If he called in fatigued I would get the trip. This was I could fly and get out of airport standby Wednesday. He wasn't sure, but said he would let me know well in advance.

Fast forward to an hour to departure. My phone rang. I was indeed assigned his flight....but as a deadhead.

There was a plane in the out station that needed to be ferried to another domicile. The original First Officer assigned the flight was removed. My turn.

The trip would be long. It was a 6:30PM departure for the deadhead and a 8:00PM departure for the ferry. The ferry flight was 3 hours long. I was looking forward to it as ferrying planes is a little more fun than revenue flights as the plane performs very differently.

Two minutes to departure, all passengers on board the agent began to pull the jet bridge. I saw the jet bridge move back, and then forward again. Hmmm.

I later learned that at 6:27PM at the outstation one of my airlines smaller planes went out of service for a mechanical. The plane was to fly to the same city my ferry flight was headed to. At 6:29PM the powers that be realized that they could use my ferry flight as a revenue flight, but they needed an additional flight attendant. My deadhead flight was being held from departing while a reserve flight attendant was located.

Finally at 6:50PM the reserve flight attendant was on board. Away we went.

Once at the out station I headed over to my plane which was now a revenue flight. If scheduling had not found another flight attendant then 40 passengers would not have been going home that night.

The reason for the extra flight attendant is that the plane I was to fly that night has more than 50 seats. The original plane/flight has less than 50 seats. For every 50 passengers, 1 flight attendant is required.

Sitting in the flight deck was the Captain I would be flying with. He was a very new Captain, just 28 hours of Captain time. He had previously flown as a First Officer on the smaller version (fewer seats) of the same plane so moving to the left seat had been pretty easy. Still he was a new Captain.

After a minor (but 10 minute long to clarify) paperwork issue we were on our way.

I had not flown in two weeks so I was more than willing to offer up the leg to him while I got reacquainted.

Smooth flight over all. We arrived 8 minutes past midnight. So much for same day service.

After 8 1/2 hours in a hotel, I headed back to the airport for a 4 hour deadhead home. Thankfully in First Class.

If I squint and ignore all of the time I sat standby this month, then it's been a good month pay wise. For March I was awarded afternoon airport standby. Eh.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Hanging around

Haven't flown in almost two weeks. The weather has stabilized. Just regular snow....none of that crazy 24 inches stuff. Airports and airlines can handle regular snow. Although I despise snow, I can live with it. Winter schedules are adjusted for deicing time and stronger west to east winds. No big deal.

Since it's been very regular....I haven't been needed. I've sat airport standby quite a few times.

I got an email from a former supervisor when I worked for NCR (National Cash Register) that he is going to apply to my airline.

Several years ago (2001-2005) I worked for NCR fixing computers, printers and kiosk at various retailers (I know where every Wal-Mart, Starbucks and Lowes are located in a 50 square mile area!). At the time my supervisor had his Single Engine Instrument rating. I had nothing. I was very envious. I recall him joking every now and then that he was quitting as he got a job at an airline.

Fast forward to now. I am at that airline. He quit NCR and has been flying traffic watch for a few months. Just recently he met the minimums to be hired by my airline.

The interview process has changed a bit since I interviewed. I reviewed the gouges at Will Fly 4 Food and they are VERY similar to what I went through.

I'm looking forward to him getting the job and seeing him around the crew room....oh and having yet another pilot BELOW me on the seniority list. Yep it's all about me.

Monday, February 14, 2011

SLI....Seniority List Integration

It's all about seniority. The more senior a pilot is at an airline, the better the quality of life...for the most part.

Seniority starts the day a pilot is hired and is tied to the theory. More on that in a second.

I currently have a whole 3 1/2 years seniority at my airline. As long as I stay at my airline my seniority will increase. If I go to a new airline I start all over again. I can think of no other profession where one can have 20 years of experience, change employers and start back at the bottom in terms of pay and quality of life.

When airlines merge integrating the pilot groups is as simple as cut and paste. If Pepsi Express bought Coke Airways, Pepsi would staple all of the Coke pilots to the bottom of their list. Coke pilots would be junior to all the Pepsi pilots even if Coke had been around 30 years and Pepsi just 3 years. Well that's how it used to be.

There have been countless examples of seniority list stapling and the horrible effects of it. Because of all the bad blood stapling is no longer allowed. Now when two airlines merge they are supposed to merge the list.

US Airways merged/bought America West in 2005. Three years later the two pilot groups finally voted on a single bargaining agent (union). There are still issues between the two groups formally known as East and West.

Continental and United are just getting started with SLI. It's going to be tricky as Continental has a much tighter scope clause than United.

Republic Airways is a mess. Republic Airways Holdings has the following airlines: Republic, Shuttle America, Chautauqua, Frontier and Midwest. The last two are new. Republic is still working on integrating Frontier with the rest of the pilots. All Midwest pilots were furloughed. Frontier has only been around since 1994. Republic has been around since 1973. Frontier is a "Major" airline while all Republic operations are "Regional". Should a Frontier Airbus First Officer hired in 2004 be senior or junior to a Republic E170 Captain hired in 2000?

Pinnacle, Mesaba and Colgan are all working on SLI as well.

The number of regional carriers is shrinking dramatically through consolidation. This should reduce the amount of whipsawing (pitting airlines against each other for cheaper feed/cost) as there are fewer players.

Seniority isn't just about pay. Seniority affects pay, vacation, scheduling, equipment, and retirement money (via pay). One seniority number can amount to thousands of dollars over the course of a career. I've heard several stories of pilots who were First Officers for months or years while a pilot ONE senior to him was Captain for all that time.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Picking a "good" airline

I have friends that work for some good airlines, some really bad airlines and some average airlines. I work for a good airline.

We all communicate on Facebook. Through various post and conversations I can get a good vibe on things.

For example at my airline once I get done with a reserve assignment, scheduling has to keep using me for flights or let me go home. At a friends airline scheduling can have them sit airport reserve after finishing a flight. Additionally I can sign up to be "turned back" if I want more flying. This helps out commuters as there is a better chance of getting an overnight.

My airline allows me to request 8 hours of rest behind a hotel door. "Rest" officially starts 20 minutes after blocking in and ends 40 minutes before the morning flight. So as far as the FAA is concerned, flight crews are "resting" while walking through the airport, riding hotel vans, checking in, etc. Scheduling never questions flight crew request for more rest or persuades them to take less. Additionally I can call in fatigued with almost zero repercussions. I say almost zero as a note is made on my record that I called in fatigued. At a different friends airline, if he calls in fatigued he has to go explain why to a Chief Pilot. Seems small, but I see it as a form of harassment. Another friend at a different airline isn't allowed to ask for more time. If he/the crew is late in the morning they are penalized for the late departure.

Aircraft mantanence. It's rare that I fly a plane with multiple MEL'd (Minimum Equipment List) items. When MEL's are issued they are normally fixed quickly. I know of one airline that routinely has multiple MEL's and mechanics are known to "fix" things just to clear the MEL. The next crew finds the same issue and a new MEL is issued. I don't see such occurences happening here.

In any given month I'm able to move around my reserve days. I've done this in the past to go on vacation without using vacation days. Also there are lots of options in how my vacation days are used. It's pretty easy to "burn" two vacation days and get 9+ days off. My friends at most other airlines get flat vacation and aren't able to move it around as easy. I get two weeks vacation a year, but thanks to being able to move my schedule around I am traveling with my wife much more than that.

Is my airline perfect? No. Is it horrible? No, if it were I wouldn't work here. I did a lot of research before picking my airline. I wanted quality of life above all else. I'm in this for the long haul. The fast upgrade and big equipment just aren't on my RADAR. I'm perfectly content flying around my little regional jet for a decent wage for a respectable carrier.

No disrespect to my friends at other airlines. They all have different priorities. The point of this post? Research an airline before you apply. Ask around on forums. Next time you are in an airport and you see a pilot approach and ask if he has a few minutes. Some do, some don't. I love talking about my job (hence the blog) and have taken time on more than a few occasions to answer questions. Being a pilot isn't a job, it' a career.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Using Peter to Fly Paul

I was only on reserve for 3 days during this stint. It gets much worse next time as I will be on 5 off two on 5 off three.

Another domicile has been running out of First Officers on a daily basis. Scheduling has been borrowing First Officers (and Captains) in my domicile to cover flights in another. Thus using Peter to Fly Paul. I think it's clever.

Sunday I signed in for afternoon airport reserve at 2PM. It was a pretty quiet day for the most part.

Around 4PM I noticed a 3:30PM departure had returned to the gate. A little odd as it wasn't showing a mechanical delay. I walked by the gate and spoke with the First Officer. During taxi out they hit the brakes to slow down, hit a patch of ice and slid. They then went back to pavement as which time the tires grabbed hard. The Flight Attendant went flying forward and hit a seat on her way down to the floor. No serious injuries, but everything had to be checked out. The flight then left about 40 minutes later (after finding a flight attendant who was good for the entire trip).

At 4:45PM I was called for an assignment. Deadhead to an outstation on mainline (arrive 9:15PM). Overnight at a hotel, then in the morning fly to a different hub (depart at 6:45AM) and deadhead back home on mainline. Fine.

This particular out station was just 15 miles from my parents house. Originally I had 9 hours 15 minutes for the overnight, too short to call my dad for dinner. Before I left I confirmed which hotel to call when I arrived. There are a list of hotels on a website, but just wanted to confirm. Sure enough I was not staying at the main hotel listed.  I wasn't staying at any of the listed hotels. I was staying at a Hilton Garden Inn. The crew scheduler gave ME the phone number to call. I asked if I needed a voucher (to allow the hotel to bill my airline). He stated no. Hmmm fine.

The deadhead went fine. I arrived and called the hotel. Missed the first van. Made the second van. I walked into the hotel 25 minutes after landing. No reservation. They had no crews from my airline staying there and had no contract with my airline. Back on the phone. Scheduling screwed up big time. I was to stay at a regular Hilton. My request to stay where I was failed. Back to the airport then off to the correct hotel. This was eating into my rest time. Safety first.

I arrived at the correct hotel at 10:20PM. When I walked into my room I called scheduling and simply stated, "The current time on my watch is 10:29PM. My rest starts now. Vans from the hotel run every 30 minutes. I will be on the 6:30AM van and will likely walk into the airport at 6:45AM. Good bye."

I did not want to give them a chance to question my choice for 8 hours of rest behind the hotel door. The flight would indeed be late as I would be walking into the airport at departure time.

The next morning my phone rang at 6:00AM. I have my Google Voice account setup to block all phone calls except from my wife between 11PM and 6AM. Scheduling left a voice mail stating I was not to arrive at the airport until 6:45AM. I knew this. They knew I knew this as I told them. If I had answered the phone it would have interrupted my rest and I could have asked for additional sleeping time.

I caught the 6:30AM van. Full of passengers. I cleared security at 6:50AM. Walked down the jetbridge to an already boarded up airplane at 6:55AM.

Light load, 20 passengers. Captain did the preflight. I simply stashed my overnight bag and took my seat.

As previously stated I had never flown out of this airport as a pilot, many times as a passenger though.

I went through my flows and morning test. We then discussed the taxi expectation. I had never flown with this Captain before. He warned me that there would be 4 frequency changes between the ramp and the runway....which was just 150 yards away. I laughed as I thought he was kidding.

Checklist done I called for push back. I was told they had my request and to contact clearance delivery. Hmm reroute? Okay I called clearance delivery. Clearance delivery said they understood we were ready to leave and to contact ground for push. I called ground. Finally cleared to push. Blocked out 22 minutes late.

Taxi instructions were somewhat overly complicated. More turns than we felt were needed. Sunday mornings are not very busy.

His leg. Away we went. Smooth ride.

Being winter, there was heavy snow at the hub. Vector here, vector there, we joined the conga line for the runway.

Tower advised, "fair braking for the first 2/3rd's of the runway. Braking deteriorated rapidly after that." Nice.

Broke out of the clouds at 500 feet to see a snow covered runway. Indeed the last 1/3rd was almost entirely white. Proper firm landing and we stopped in the first 2/3rds. No gate. Off to a holding area.

Got to the gate and found out my deadhead home cancelled. There are 12+ flights a day between the two hubs...only mine had cancelled. Nice.

After 3 1/2 hours the next flight (which was delayed by 90 minutes) took off. Seat in the back. Almost got First Class.

Arrived home and was done.

Monday I was the only First Officer available. I was given afternoon airport standby. This makes little sense as I was not good for an overnight as I was off the next day.

After dropping my daughter off at day care I headed to the airport. As soon as I signed in my phone rang.

The scheduler stated I was being junior manned. I was to deadhead to a different hub, fly to a reduced rest overnight, fly back to that same hub and deadhead home. Expected time back at home was 1:35PM. Problem.

My wife and I only pay for day care 3 days a week. Part time. This week they were expecting us Monday, Wednesday (my day off but I picked up a 6 hour overtime turn), and Friday.

I accepted the assignment and called my wife to see if she could work from home. Sometimes she can. Not this week. Spoke with my Chief Pilot. He told me to advise them I have a child to care for and could not accept the assignment. I also called my union rep to see if there were any repercussions. He stated I could be given a "failed to report for an assignment." This would stay on my record forever. Ugh.

I called scheduling back and told them the situation. They pulled me off the trip and put me back on standby. No marks on my record. Nice.

I was never called again last night. This morning I look at the flight they wanted me to do. The flight left 3 hours late due to the reserve Captain arriving 2 hours late. They arrived 3 1/2 hours late. The morning flight has been pushed back 4 hours (as they appear to have smartly requested 8 hours behind the hotel door).  If I had done that flight I would not be home in base until at least 5PM today.

This was the first time I had to refuse an assignment due to needing to care for my daughter. I am sure it won't be the last. Family comes first.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Know the rules, don't let scheduling push your limits

This post starts where the previous post ended.

I blocked in from a reserve assignment on Tuesday. I had Wednesday thru Friday OFF.

During the taxi in a message printed out on the flight deck printer telling me I had been assigned additional flying. This print out is NOT official communication. Official communication requires two way communication. This print out is one way. The printer could also be broken, out of paper or ignored.

After blocking in the whole crew was tired. I needed food.

I did my post flight and checked my schedule (as required to by contract after completing a reserve assignment).  I was assigned to fly back to the same city I just left for an overnight. Junior man assignment. Checking my schedule is considered official communication as they can tell when I checked it. It was an official assignment.

My contract states scheduling will give crew members time to eat and "use the facilities". Additionally I only planned to be away from home for 3 days. I didn't pack enough clothes, medication or contact lenses for another overnight. I'm required to wear corrective lenses to fly.

I called scheduling with the intent of letting them know I would need time to eat lunch, go home and then drive back. Back of the napkin estimate on my part was 3 hours 30 minutes. This would have given me an estimated duty day of 15 hours (not including the 1 hour spent getting ready that morning and riding the hotel van to the airport). With weather delays I can be on duty 16 hours. I would potentially be awake for 17 hours. Legal yes. Safe????

I told the Captain (who was also junior manned) that I would be away for 3 1/2 hours. He understood.

There was no way I could eat while on hold. So I just made my way to my car.  After one hour ten minutes on hold I gave up. While on hold I did get two phone calls. For some reason I didn't hear the beep. They were from an "unknown" caller. Guess I will never know.

I checked my schedule again,  I was pulled off the trip. Fine with me, I headed home.

The flight did end up leaving the gate. An hour and ten minutes later it pulled back into the gate and cancelled. Weather happens.

Wednesday morning my phone rang. Another "unknown caller". I didn't answer. I don't answer "unknown calls" on bad weather days (still snowing), on my days off....or especially a combination of the two.

With all the bad weather, cancellations mounted. I decided to see if I could make some money and picked up a 5 hour overtime trip on Thursday. I am a betting man and I was betting it would cancel. If it did I would still be paid for it.

Wednesday afternoon my phone was from a local area code. I answered. The voice was from the training center, "Good afternoon I am calling to let you know I removed you from your trip tomorrow. The Captain is an IOE Captain and is behind on giving IOE. It's too late for you to be reassigned so enjoy your morning off." Nice. I now get 5 hours of extra pay and never have to leave the house.

When I was new at my airline scheduling pushed me around quite a bit. They took advantage of my lack of knowledge of the contract. I specifically remember throwing away a dinner I had just bought as they stated if the flight left late it would be my fault (they had given me 20 minutes notice). No longer. I know the contract and more importantly I know my limits.

For pilots going to an airline for the first time I recommended learning to fly the plane, finishing training and then spend time with your contract. Know it. Fly it. Nothing more.

Crazy weather

Crazy weather is covering most of the United States this week.

Sunday I was assigned afternoon airport standby. As soon as I signed in I was given a trip. Deadhead to an outstation, fly back then off to an overnight.

Very senior crew. Flew with the flight attendant and Captain before. The Captain was #6 in seniority....number six. Super nice guy, 32,000 flying hours.

Most flying is done leg by leg with each pilot taking every other leg. This can mean one pilot always lands in base and one pilot always lands at an outstation. Kinda boring.

This Captain changed it up. He would take the flying on day one. I would do flying on day two and he would take the final leg in on day 3.

The first overnight was cold. We got in late. Straight to bed.

I packed enough food for three days. Lucky charms (dry) and coffee for breakfast.

Day 2 was simply two legs. One into base and one to the overnight.

The overnight was in the midwest. A huge storm was going to arrive on Tuesday. Even on Monday during my approach it was snowy, windy and low visibility.

Only one runway was open, 7R. This was being used for arrivals and departures. Approach vectored us around to get us in line. We were following a 737. The 737 slowed to approach speed very early causing Approach to vector us off the localizer then back on to it.

Runway came into view about 3/4 mile out. This was my first landing on snow for the season. It was my best landing since I had been back.

Taxiing in was rough as snow covered most of the taxiway lines.

After getting to the hotel I joined my crew for dinner at a local resturant. I forgot how much fun it is to go out as a crew. Walking through 4 inches of snow wasn't fun though....I hate snow.

The next morning we were to depart at 6AM. After clearing security I looked at a departure board and saw we were delayed by an hour. Many other flights were cancelled all together.

We went down to the plane (which was powered with ground power and heated with ground air....I love this out station!) and went through our morning duties. Then another hour delay was slapped on us. Time for breakfast.

We were delayed mostly due to the Passenger Bill of Rights. My airline will NOT risk a flight being delayed after pushing back. If there is even the slightest chance of being delayed after push back....the delay the flight. Too mush risk ? It cancels. To the flying're welcome.

Every passenger watched as we left the jet bridge and walked together to a cafe and sat down. No hurry as we weren't going anywhere.

After a nice breakfast we went back to the plane. I put my phone into hotspot mode (I love my Android phone) and then plugged it in an outlet on the jetbridge to charge. I then sat in the plane and used my Ipad to connect to my phone's hotspot. I am a geek after all.

Finally 4 hours late we blocked out. After deicing we slowly made our way to the runway.

We were west bound. Headwinds were over 100 knots. We climbed high and then just cruised. The closer we got to the hub the more vectors and speed reductions were given. The snow and wind caused the airport to have just one open runway versus the normal 4+. The Captain landed and we slowly taxied in. We were both tired having been up since 4AM. We blocked in at 1:35PM.

This is where this post will end as the next part deserves a post all it's own.