Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Congratulations to the junior pilots!

December is an anomaly for bidding when Christmas Day falls on a weekday. The reason? Senior pilots switch from bidding weekends off to working weekends to get Christmas off.

My original line for December had me working all weekends and having Christmas off. After last years Christmas fiasco I didn't want to work any part of Christmas.

After lines are assigned pilots are given a chance to move around their sequences. I was able to move mine around to get two full weekends off and one partial weekend off. I still have Christmas and New Years off.

This being Thanksgiving week I am working Thanksgiving day by choice.  In theory I should finish at 2PM. I'm always in fear of the junior man assignment. Sick calls go up every Thanksgiving and Christmas. I find it unfair as we work in the travel industry. Planes fly everyday of the year. We know this going into this job that we will work Holidays. The more senior a pilot gets the better chance of getting the schedule they want. I could have had Thanksgiving off, but I bid a schedule that finished in time to have half the day off. I don't complain when I work holidays. I don't like working holidays, but it is what it is. I do complain about being given extra flying because a pilot called in sick just to get the holiday off.

On day one of a 4 day. Much easier than my last 4 day as it's a 3-4-2-3 trip. Trips in and out of my base. Total value it a fairly low 19 hours.

The first day was just 3 hours. Three quick legs. Today is the "hard" day with 4 legs worth 7 hours and 50 minutes.

With the cold temps blanketing the country I've had to dust off my winter gear. Gloves, hat, thermal pants for under my uniform pants and the all important thermal liner for my jacket. I don't like cold.




Wednesday, November 20, 2013

A few photos from my warm flying



Just a few photos I snapped while flying over water. One interesting tidbit....we aren't approved for ditching in my plane. So if we had to ditch.....I'd be in trouble. We carry life vest, but no rafts or slides, thus we have to stay within 50 miles of "land" at all times. Understand we don't have to be able to land on said land...just be within 50 miles of land.


1118131145 IMG_20131119_170224 IMG_20131119_165935IMG_20131119_165619 1118131436a

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

We were all new once

Day 2 of an interesting 4 day trip. The trip is a rare 5-5-3-1. Most trips have odd legs on the ends and even in the middle. The reason is with even legs overnights are most likely at an out station. With odd legs overnights are likely in a base.

Day 1 started on Sunday...early with a 6:25AM report time. My Captain was new to the seat. He was previously a very senior First Officer. He's been at my airline for 17 years. He upgraded the first time on a prop after 5 years. Two years later he was displaced to the right seat of a jet in order to stay in base. He could have commuted to be Captain, but quality of life was more important. For the next 10 years he was a very senior First Officer holding the exact schedule he wanted and great vacation.

Then the airline closed his base entirely. He said he took the first 9 months of this year off.  I didn't ask why. When he came back he upgraded to Captain in the same jet he'd been flying as First Officer.

He's a very nice guy but told me to not be shy about pointing out things as he was getting used to being Captain again. It's been interesting. I don't mind helping but it's a little odd. I'm used to the Captain doing certain things while I do other things. This is mostly true at the gate. When a Captain duty came up I'd wait a few minutes then bring it up. Just a little odd.

Being out of flying for so long and then switching seats is a lot to overcome. Flying from the other side of the flight deck means a reversal of hands.

Right now during the approach my right hand is on the yoke and left hand on the thrust levers. I look to the right for my PFD and left for my MFD. For Captains it's left hand on the yoke and right hand on the thrust levers. The PFD is on the left and MFD on the right.

Day one was an eleven hour duty day with 7 hours 30 minutes of flying.

The last leg was mine. This was the same airport I had to declare an emergency back in June when we ran dangerously low on fuel...landing at an alternate airport with just 5 minutes fuel remaining.

About 15 minutes after departing our base the center controller came on and advised "all east bound regional jets check your fuel. There was a report of a regional jet leaking fuel on takeoff."

Not again I thought.

Shortly after every departure we get a print out of our planned fuel burn at points along the route. We checked and were about 100 pounds short but within normal variances. We kept checking and thankfully it wasn't us. If there was an issue on another flight we didn't hear it.

Normal approach for a night landing with a runway lit with those LEDs. I'll get used to them eventually.

Shortish 11 hour overnight.

Early morning 6 AM van. Day 2 was all flying out of another base. We 'd be doing island flying.

The first Caribbean airport was very small. Just one 6000 foot runway with no control tower. They are adding a new runway, terminal and a control tower though.

My Captain had been here two weeks ago. He briefed me on the airport.

"If we don't see the airport by 7000 feet it gets messy as that's the base altitude for center....there's no RADAR below that. Also the locals don't tend to use the radio much and land with tailwinds. Last time I was here we had to shoot an approach and relay radio transmissions through other aircraft."

Thankfully it was VFR. The airport was busy and thankfully the other aircraft were making position reports.

Uneventful. Quick turn. My leg out. With no RADAR or radio contact it was a VFR departure. It was kinda relaxing to just takeoff and depart VFR. I made a nice turn out over the resort area. Looked nice.

Many foreign airports have US Customs facilities so passengers can clear before they leave. Those airports also allow the crew to avoid going through customs once back in the states. This was not a pre-clearance airport.

Once back it was a long walk to customs. I used the Global Entry kiosk while the rest of my crew got in line for regular processing. I zipped out quickly. Not being my base I was a bit confused on how to get back through security since customs exits the secured area. An airport employee stopped me and advised to turn around and head toward the Known Crew Member entry for faster service. I was thankful.

I pulled out my KCM barcoded ID and passport and handed it to the TSA representative. I breezed through...and then had an incredibly long walk back to the gates. Quick salad and back on the flight deck.

The next island was a pre-clearance airport. I flew planned speeds but managed to arrive 25 minutes early. By this point I was getting  worn. Captians leg back. Arrived 15 minutes early.

We had a 22 hour overnight. The hotel is in a very upscale area....which means expensive food options. Thankfully there is a fridge and microwave in the room. I walked about a mile to a grocery store and found very healthy options...and my favorite beer.

Day 3 is just 3 legs worth 5 hours followed by an 18 hour overnight. On day 4 it's one leg with a 6PM departure arriving home at 9PM.

Thursday I have off while Friday I head to the first auto show of the 2014 season....the LA Autoshow. It will be a day trip. Saturday my family is flying to visiting family and friends coming back Sunday. Then Monday I start another 4 day trip. Over the course of 12 days I will only sleep in my bed 3 nights.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

28 Center? I hardly know you

Cold....and high pressure.

This trip has been easy but a little different.

A weather system has blown through the country leaving cold weather and oddly high pressure. My highest altimeter reading so far this trip was 30.74. Normal is 29.92 of course.

I don't care much for Chicago O'hare. This might be changing.

Last month the new runway 10 Center and 28 Center opened up. It's really changed up the routine.

I used to land on what is now 28 Right and then feel a bit rushed as the Captain had to monitor ground while I had to clean up the plane and call operations to check if the gate was open. I'd then relay this to the Captain either to go in or request to go sit somewhere.

With 28 Center it's much more relaxed.

Last night we arrived on the Benky1 arrival. While on downwind at 10,000 feet I had a beautiful view of downtown Chicago.



Not the best image....it's from my phone....but trust me it was beautiful. To my right I saw Midway and a Southwest 737 climbing up straight toward us and level off around 4000 feet according to the TCAS.

The controllers in Chicago are pretty good. They all seem to be leaning back in lazy boy relaxing as they give out instructions. No sense of stress at all. This is different from say, Houston, where they seem to in a constant state of WTF!??!?!?

Not a busy night, the controller stated "Speed your discretion, you'll go right in".

I got the hint. I slowed to 200 knots and called for the first setting of flaps.

"Turn left heading 360, descend to 4000  and report the airport in sight" stated the approach controller.

I clicked off the autopilot and made a smooth left diving turn. I had the ILS tuned in and the approach path set up on my MFD as a backup.

It's funny how airports appear as mostly black holes at night. City lights drown out the airport lights.

I saw the hole that was the airport and the lights. The localizer and MFD confirmed that was indeed the airport. Cleared for a visual.

With a continued left turn I lined up on final. A little high. I called for the gear and final flaps.

Runway 28 Center is new and thus has LED runway lights. They are much sharper and smaller than the older runway lights. The LEDs throw me off a bit.

About 7 miles out and approaching the glideslope the tower took the opportunity to launch two flights off 22L. Another thing about Chicago, they can stack them deep and launch them quick. More than once I've heard ,"Be ready to go I'm going to launch you in the same gap as the aircraft in front of you".

They will clear one flight for takeoff and then as soon as the nose is off the ground clear the next one.

Once they were clear I still had another 4 miles to go. Easy landing. As briefed I made the Papa 2 exit.

"Two right turns and join PAPA. Contact ground on 134.15" tower stated.

With the new runways they have minimized crossing aircraft in front of departing aircraft. This meant we had to taxi all the way down to GG to cross. Safety has it's penalty.

Here's a photo from the City of Chicago website


Quick turn. For the outbound it was a little busier. Chicago uses a "metering" guy and a "ground" guy.

After push back I called metering with our location. All he says is monitor ground. I imagine the metering guy slides a tile over to the ground guy so he can work us in.

Most of the time I can never talk to the ground guy. He is like an auctioneer as he almost never stops talking. If you miss an instruction you just have to wait till he notices you haven't moved and he gets back to you.

Last night it was;

"3291 Three two left Tango 10, turn right on Alpha, Alpha 7, Tango behind the 76 on your left," then he went on to the next flight. No chance to confirm.

Easy flight. Cold.

I'm moving up in my relative seniority. I'm currently in top 31% of First Officers in base. A few months ago I in the 33rd percentile. This time last year I was in the 44th percentile.


Friday, November 8, 2013


I had almost a week off between trips. Most of that time was spent traveling with my family. My daughter is quite the experienced flyer.

I need to update her logbook, she really has one, I think my daughter has been on over 60 flights now.

It's natural to assume a family with a toddler in an airport is frazzled or confused. Most families travel once or twice a year.

A few months ago my wife, daughter and I enrolled in Global Entry. Along with Global Entry approval we were given TSA Precheck. There are likely very few 3 years olds in either program.

Almost every time my daughter goes through security the "agents" comment on how well behaved she is. My daughter just walks through and waits by the end of the belt. I guess that's good behavior?

Once on the airplane she sits down and waits as we put on the CARES harness. We then read a few Curious George stories until we can whip out the Ipads. She's only been loud maybe twice on a plane. We are always tweaking our system. Everything is checked except a backpack for my wife and I. We have snacks, books, crayons and toys inside.

Beyond the flight we drove over 500 miles visiting family. The benefit of unlimited travel is definitely a perk to the job since our family is so spread out.

Right now I'm on day 4 of a 4 day trip. I have 4 day trips all month. It's not the ideal schedule but it works.

My airline is getting ready for the new rest rules for pilots. Our flight attendants don't get the new rest rules. As a result we are playing musical flight attendants.

In the past I had the same flight attendant for the entire trip unless they called in sick or had vacation. It was nice getting to know the people I work with. That's history.

I've had 5 different flight attendants on this trip. Each night we bring one in to the overnight and take another one out.

The Captain I'm flying with is a guy I haven't flown with in 4 years. He traded into the trip when he saw my name as we enjoyed flying together. It's just like old times. Truly a great trip.

As winter is approaching I'm thinking I need to bid more southerly. Currently in Fargo, North Dakota. It's cold. Supposed to come back next week. Two weeks from now I have a 20 hour overnight in Florida. Looking forward to that one.

Back in 2007 when I left ALLATPs my fellow CFIs chastised me for not going to an airline with a quick upgrade. Back then there were a lot of regionals with 2 year upgrades.

Well things of course slowed down. After 5 years not a single friend had upgraded. A few were really upset as they planned on upgrading in 2 years and moving on. They didn't like the airline the chose as it had a low quality of life contract.

Just this year the upgrades have started. One friend at Expressjet upgraded after 6 years 11 months. Another was just awarded after 6 and a 1/2 years at Air Wisconsin and Republic. I'm hoping mine is coming in the next year.