Saturday, March 26, 2011

It was a dark and stormy night in the crew room

It was a dark and stormy night. I was huddled in a corner of the crew room hiding from crew scheduling. Ok not really. It was sunny, clear skies and I was hanging on in the terminal playing Tower Madness on my Ipad.....waiting on scheduling.

Flights looked to be covered. There was no Captain sitting airport standby with me. I figured I would be going home like I did the day prior.

My shift had started at 2PM. At 2:45PM I was called with an assignment to deadhead to another base to cover a Canada overnight. The deadhead flight was scheduled to leave at another terminal. I had just purchased a Starbucks Frappuccino.....a Venti no less.I didn't see this working.

I told the scheduler I would do my best, but I needed time to finish my lunch (as I called it), grab my bags from the crew room, print out my schedule, then make my way to the other terminal.

At 2:55PM I arrived in the crew room. My schedule only had the Canada flight. Yadda, yadda, yadda I missed the 3:05PM flight. I was now on a 4:20PM flight. I would have 30 minutes to connect to the Canada flight once I arrived. Fine.

After arriving I made my way to the gate. Delayed. The ILS at the Canadian airport was down...and would be for at least another hour. Due to weather we needed two alternate airports.

The Captain happened to be the same Captain who I am scheduled to fly with next month. He was on the phone with the dispatcher. Initially the dispatcher said we could go since we had two alternates. Problem....the fuel plan had 700 more pounds of fuel than the tanks can hold. Pass out gas cans to the passengers perhaps?

Delayed. Gate change. Delayed. Gate Change. Delayed. Gate Change. The passengers....mostly Canadians...were at least joking about the gate changes instead of complaining. One lady asked, "Is this the new airline weight loss program? Shuffling us between gates. At least there is no fee!" I replied, "Don't give them any ideas."

Another passenger, a teenage girl, asked about her dog. She was shipping her dog and was concerned about about it's health. I wasn't sure if she started at this airport or was connecting through. If she started here the dog had been checked in at least 4 hours prior...add in the delays and would be a good 8 hours. Wow.  I told her I would look for her dog when I inspected the plane and would let her know it was safe.

Due to the cold weather the dog wasn't loaded when I did my walk around. Thankfully a ramper advised the dog was on board during loading. The flight attendant let her know the dog was safe and on board. We finally blocked out 2 hours 20 minutes late. Overnight was originally 8 and a half hours....we would get 8 at best now.

His leg. Long flight. About 90 minutes from our destination our dispatcher sent us a message. Our second alternate went below legal mins. On top of that our destination would be closing the only ILS in two hours. The dispatcher recommended we make a fuel stop as we were flying over an airport served by my airline. The extra fuel was needed for the new second alternate. If we stopped for fuel we would not make it to our destination as we would arrive after the ILS closed.  The weather was AT ILS mins consisting over 1/2 mile visibility, freezing fog, and a vertical visibility of 200 feet. We started looking up for another second alternate.

Done. First alternate was just 100 miles away, we found another that was 250 miles out....but we could make it.

One ILS....we were number 6 in the conga line. Icing conditions began 4000 feet AFL. The approach lights came in sight at 300 feet AFL. Runway came into view at 150 feet AFL. We landed in freezing fog. Very low visibility. As briefed we exited on the first high speed exit. Slow taxi as the tower could not see us and we couldn't see much beyond the taxi lights.

Due to the ILS previously being down and the weather, the ramp was backed up. We waited for 30 minutes for a gate. Original arrival time was 9:40PM local. We blocked in at 12:10AM.

During the walk around I saw the dog in the cargo compartment walking around his crate. Glad he made it.

While in the crew line for Customs I saw the dog owner again. I let her know her dog made the trip just fine.

We cleared customs and were in the hotel van at 12:40AM. Hotel at 1:00AM.

Scheduled departure was 7:45AM. The hotel runs vans every hour. Scheduling wanted a 8:40 AM departure (they figured block in+30 minutes for unloading and clearing customs + 8 hours min rest). The Captain advised the hotel runs vans every hour. We would be on the 9AM van.

Hard beds. Dated, older room. I slept decently.

The next morning I was texting my wife in the lobby via Google Voice (free wifi only in the lobby...Google Voice means no roaming charges!). A passengers who was on my van that morning TO the hotel approached me, "They don't give you much down time eh?" I replied, "Just 8 hours." His mouth was open in awe. He then turned around and told his party about my little rest and how rough it must be.

I checked my schedule. I am on a 5 day reserve block. They built in flights to cover all 4 remaining days getting my back to my base at 11PM on the last day.

They scheduled me to fly back to the hub, deadhead to my base then ferry a plane to a maintenance base. A 11 hour duty day followed by a 22 hour overnight and more flying. I didn't see it happening. I got tired just looking at it.

On the van. We arrived at the gate to glares from the passengers. We blocked out 2 hours 10 minutes late. Still freezing fog and snow. Deiced. My leg. Away we went.

It's still winter in Canada.

Interesting thing about Canadian airspace. The 250 knots below 10,000 feet rule doesn't apply if you are cleared to a flight level above it. So at 7000 feet I nosed the plane over and began climbing to FL250 at 290 knots. Felt a bit odd...but fun.

Long flight. Tired. I made a decent landing.

I learned over the trip that I would not be flying with this Captain next month. He is retiring from my airline. Eh...could have been fun.

My next assignment was another deadhead. Full flights. Scheduling pulled me from all of the other flying. I was just deadheading home.

I missed two flights before I finally got a seat. This is what commuting would be like. Twelve hour duty day on 8 hours rest. Tired and beat.

All that went away when I got home though and saw my daughter. She always lights up when she sees me walk down the hall. The long duty day and short night didn't matter. I was home with my family.

I have three more reserve days this month. Then I am a line holder. I should hold a line (albeit commuting) for the foreseeable future.



  1. What were you playing on your iPad? I looked for Tower Madness but no luck.

    Did you mean Airport Madness or Airport Madness Challenge? I've played those on my iPhone and iPad, but the game is much better on the iPad's big screen.

  2. Search Towermadness HD.....It's free every now and then....$7.99 now. Worth it....hours of my time have been wasted playing it.

  3. I thought it was a Control Tower game... seeing as how you are a pilot. I use to play the Flight Control game but lately I've been enjoying the Airport Madness game more.

    Nice blog - please keep writing.

  4. I do play a few ATC type games....ATCProHD, Airport Mania, ATC and Airport One. ATC and ATCProHD are pretty good.


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