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.


  1. That sounds like a busy cycle and not enough days at home - though some of that is voluntary. I am surprised that more pilots and FAs do not use Global Entry, associated programs as well as KCM at every opportunity. (And, I think your airline should be paying the fees.) If only some isolated rest, you folks have better things to do during your 'sit time' than stand in customs lines. Some day... At least most of your overnights were long enough to unwind a little before climbing between the sheets. That long walk to buy a little food was probably worth 2-3 hours of sleep, just to get the systems back in order.
    Despite your often negative notes, you keep telling us that this is what you want to do. I've never quite sure... If/when you upgrade and then eventually move up to your sponsoring major, you know that your schedules will not be a good, at least for a while; I hope you can cope with that. Perhaps the QOL requirements will dictate that you upgrade (of course) yet remain with your sub-major carrier for the longer term. Hey!! There are worse options. Once of your better operational posts. -C.
    P.S. Given the broad territory that you seem to cover, it is a stretch to call your airline a 'regional carrier.' I think that label, and the slightly smaller airplanes is given simply because the major partner cannot (or does not want) to operate jets of the size that you fly. A very fuzzy line. One of these days, when you figure out just how good you already have it, you'll settle down, stop complaining and -probably build a handsome career as a 'regional' captain.' You're not all that old, but as a second career flyer, you'll probably time-out before you see the big airplanes - and the same QOL that you currently enjoy. Time with your young daughter and any that may follow, has got to be more important than giving it all away to drive a monster airplane from the left seat. You'll see left seat where you are before too long and maybe - just perhaps - that will be a very comfortable place to stay, for a long time. You'll figure it out... -C.

  2. Good post. I guess that you weren't kidding when you said that you were going to bid more southerly flying now that it's cold out. Island hopping sounds good here in the cold NE. I don't hear much complaining in my read of your posts. I do agree with Mr. cedarglen that your best bet might just be to stick with your current carrier and guarantee yourself the ability to work out of your current base. That seems to me to be the key for a high QOL. Live in base.


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