Friday, December 27, 2013

Fly a trip....get a Blendtec

One thing I like about my job is being able to make extra money. It's something all hourly employees can do.

I had a great Christmas off with my family.

The day after my wife had to I figured I'd work as well.

This time of year is always rough staffing. My company was paying a premium for pilots to fly all week.

I picked up a turn worth 5 hours that paid 7.5 hours. Easy day trip.

It left late but arrived back on time. When done I earned enough to pay for a Blendtec blender I've been eyeing.

Next month is going to be interesting. I have vacation for a week. During the bidding process I selected an option to maximize my time off...thus I work a whole 8 days next month. Just two four day trips.

Time to play with my Blender.....

Monday, December 23, 2013

Hostile Work Environment

There is a very scary thing going on out in the regional industry. It's going to get uglier before it (might) gets better. The bar is being lowered further than I could ever have imagined.

Back in 2006 when I started at ALLATPs things were bustling. My location was very busy. Instructors were flying at midnight as that was the only time planes were available.

After 2009 things started slowing down. Today my old school is much slower.

Banks are no longer willing to hand over $60,000 to a person wanting to learn to fly and work for an airline. The banks have been burned badly by the folks who got the $50,000 loans in 2006 who can't pay them back. Reason? Stagnation.

Back in 2007 several regional airlines were touting their 2 year upgrades. Heck I have friends that went to those 2 year upgrade airlines. Pilots figured the'd eat ramen noodles for 2 years then double their pay.

Just THIS year they began upgrading.......over 6 years later. Upgrade time is very fluid.

In the meantime there has been a lot of consolidation among the regional airlines. I thought this would lead to higher pay as there are fewer dogs in the fight. I was wrong.

The first airline to succumb to the dangling carrot of "fly it for less and get new airplanes" was PSA. PSA is a fairly small airline owned by US Airways. They agreed (among other things), to cap Captain pay at 12 years, First Officer pay at 4 years, much higher medical insurance cost, less per diem and more....all for 30 jets.

Their upgrade time is over 6 years.

Management stated they needed the cuts to help operate the jets competitively. take the pay cuts. The pilots didn't buy the current jets that are now obsolete. When Progressive Insurance needs to buy new computers and vehicles for their agents, do they ask agents for money? No. They find the money through higher cost to the customer. The pilots don't get to take the jets home...or fly them on weekends to visit family. They are a tool. Same as a tool on an assembly line to build a widget. The use of the tool benefits the company...not the employee.

It gets better....errr worse.

Management FIRST went to the airline currently known as American Eagle (they are getting a new name as American Eagle is now a brand). The union saw the same proposal and said no. They stood their ground as they had already taken concessions the previous year in which they were promised jets...but got nothing as their parent company went into bankruptcy.

Right now two of the largest regionals are being told by management to do it for less or else, Expressjet and American Eagle.

Since American Airlines and US Airways merged, American Eagle (formerly owned by AMR) PSA, and Piedmont (both formerly owned by US Airways) are now all family under the American Airlines Group.

American Eagle pilots have allegedly been threatened by management that if they don't take the current offer (which is almost a mirror of PSA) they will be "Comair II".

Comair was once a great regional. They had a great pay, work rules and were highly respected.

Back in 2001 they went on strike after Delta threatened cuts. That strike REALLY hurt Delta as Comair did the majority of the regional flying.

Comair won the battle...but Delta won the war. Delta began farming out more and more regional feed. Comair began shrinking. Finally Delta had enough regional feeders that they closed Comair down.

Up until 2012 American Eagle performed over 95% of the regional flying for American Airlines. In 2012 American Airlines closed the American Eagle Los Angeles base (after the pilots voted in concessions) and brought in Skywest to do the flying and expanded the flying. American Airlines then brought in Expressjet to do flying in DFW along side American Eagle. In Chicago they brought in their first 76 seat regional jets to be flown by Republic. American wanted diversified feed even though American Eagle has a no strike clause and took the required concessions.
Could American Eagle be next? They have roughly 2900 pilots and still perform over 85% of the flying for American Airlines. They can't be replaced overnight. At best 3 years if other regionals can find enough pilots to replace them.

It's going to get ugly at American Eagle. Over the weekend their Union sent out a letter stating crew members are no longer allowed to commute home if they get sick while on a trip. Instead the crew member must pay for a hotel where ever they are until they are better. This is another attack as it's okay for a passenger to fly sick, but not a crew member sitting in the back of the plane?

This new policy could force pilots (especially First Officers) to fly sick to avoid having to spend money on a hotel room, which in New York could easily cost $150 a night.

Anyone remember Colgan 3407? That First Officer mentioned flying sick because they didn't want to pay for a hotel room.

If an American Eagle pilot commutes home anyway they could have their travel privileges revoked meaning they can't commute to work on American Airlines or American Eagle. Management can easily track a crew member even if they fly on another airline.

This industry is in a tailspin. I've already told my wife I am prepared to exit if I'm forced to work for less money than I expected when I joined my airline. She supports me. I love my job. I love flying....but I will not do it for sub poverty wages.

Good luck Expressjet and Eagle. The results will be known January 14th for BOTH airlines.


Thursday, December 19, 2013

That guy

I had just one day off between trips this week. Glad I don't commute.

I was supposed to have a 4 day trip last week. Wednesday morning I felt well enough to go to work physically. But I didn't feel great about leaving my family for another 4 days. Once at work I decided to request Saturday off. As I handed the form to the office assistant she let me know that "critical coverage" was declared for Thursday and Friday...and that my request was behind 4 other pilots. As I made my way to the gate I had no motivation to be there. I could have called in sick....but I wasn't sick. Just going to get through this trip.

The Captain arrived. His name looked familiar when I signed in...then I saw him. A light went off....last time I flew with him I remembered he was very unpersonable. He loved to talk about himself but never listened to one thing I had to say. He has a computer background as well...thought we could talk about tech....nope just his tech. Fine with me as I get paid the same whether I talk or not. It was a 5-2-4-3 trip. He took the first leg. While at the out station I check my request had been approved. I'd be finished at 8PM on Friday. I took the next two and he took the last two. Easy first day. Doubletree hotel. Very nice. Day 2 flying was all me.

I tried to chat with him during the trip. He had zero interest. Fine. Clouds it is.

Day 3 was 3 legs with just the last being mine. All through the trip he did something that annoyed me...but I thought it was just me.

At 500 feet on every landing the pilot not flying calls out my speed in reference to VREF and my sink rate. This is just to give me a heads up on where I am.

Prior to that...maybe 15 minutes prior...the pilot not flying sets my landing speeds via flip cards we carry on the flight deck. The speeds are all weight based and include VREF (speed I should touch down at) and how much runway is required.

We take the VREF number and add a minimum of 5 knots for light winds and...well we don't have auto-throttles so no one is perfect. Additionally if there are any steady state winds or gust those are figured in as well.

So let's use easy numbers. If my VREF was 135 knots my VAPP (speed where I should be when fully configured for landing) would be 140 knots.

If I was on speed on a calm wind day I should hear something like , "Plus 5 sink 700" at 500 feet.

Every time I landed with this guy I would hear numbers like "Plus 14 sink 800" or "Plus 9 sink 700". I glanced down at my speed tape and I was within 1 knot of VAPP....which was 5 knots over VREF. He was throwing me off.

After my final landing I had enough. After blocking in I grabbed the flip cards and asked where he was getting his speed calls from as I was on speed.

His answer? He was using the low speed awareness line as VREF and not the book VREF. I was floored.

The FAA requires some mark to show the speed that is just above stall speed to give pilots a head up. CRJs use a green line while ERJs use a white bar.

Our VREF speeds were first calculated by the manufacturer and then my company added a percentage to it. So even with a 135 knot VERF the actual stall speed is way down at maybe 120 knots. Big gap.

I politely let him know that he's the only guy I've ever flown with that calls the VREF based on the low speed awareness and that by doing so he's throwing out all the numbers in the book. Everything I briefed for the approach was based on the flip cards.

He replied with that's what's in our operating manual. I then pulled out the manual and showed him the landing profile and it stated VREF from the cards...nothing mentioned about low speed awareness.

The Captain then stated he will likely stop using the low speed awareness as a guide. Great idea!

I then gathered my things and went home. I had a great weekend with my family.

For the rest of the month I have 3 two day trips. Easy and low leg.


Sunday, December 15, 2013

I'm still here....

With just one day off between trips last week....I'm a bit worn. Working on a post. For now gonna sit on the couch and relax.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Quite the trip

Quite the 2 day trip.

I was originally scheduled to arrive home at noon on Friday. I didn't arrive home until 4PM Monday.

My early morning flight from the out station that I as to fly on Friday, canceled Thursday night. No biggie as I was reassigned to fly the noon departure. I headed to the Casino as it's the only thing nearby.

Friday as I was getting ready to go the noon  flight canceled. My crew and I ventured out for food. Being in a “downtown” hotel in a small town meant limited options. The only grocery store was more of a beer and chips store. They had grocery in the name...but didn't even have bread.

Friday evening I saw I was scheduled to deadhead on the 6AM departure Saturday morning. I would be getting Junior Man pay which means 4 hours pay or 150% of what's flown...whatever is greater. About an hour after I checked...that flight canceled and I was again assigned to fly the noon departure. I headed to the casino.

Saturday morning I headed to the casino for the cheap breakfast buffet. Once back in the room the noon departure canceled. I headed to the airport rent a car. At this point I would be paid 4 hours pay for the day plus all the per diem I was racking in (at $1.80 an hour).

My crew was getting cabin fever. I used one of my National Rent a Car free days to rent a car. I drove my crew around town for a bit before stopping at a Wal-Mart for supplies.

The Flight Attendant was driving the cart and throwing in groceries like we were going to be here for a week. She stopped and put a few things back...she was in her normal grocery routine.

Supplies in hand we went back to the hotel. I ate my apple and walnut salad and got bored. Headed to the casino again. I then ventured out and explored the town in the car. Not a whole lot to see.

Saturday evening I was assigned to deadhead on the noon flight on Sunday.

Sunday morning I packed my bags and left the hotel early as I had to return the car. While waiting at the return counter.....the noon flight canceled. I just laughed.

I was getting frustrated. I was going to head to my airline counter to look for options when I saw the hotel van outside. I just walked outside and got in. The van was there for another airline crew. Once on board....back to the hotel I went.

The hotel gave me the same room again. I slunk back to the room to see it was being cleaned. After about 15 minutes of waiting in the lobby it was done. My wife couldn't believe the cancellations. Even though I was originally supposed to work the weekend I had been approved to have the days off. We had no real plans, but did plan on doing something as a family.

I then hit up friends at other airlines for load factors for a way home. There were only two departures per day from the out station for my airline. It would be a two legger on any other airline.  All could get me on one leg, but the legs home were all full. I was stuck.

Sunday afternoon I was set to deadhead again on the 6AM flight Monday morning. That evening it canceled and I was assigned to dead head on the noon departure.

This morning I woke up and checked the flight status...still a go.

I headed to the casino for the cheap breakfast buffet.

A bit disillusioned I didn't bother checking the flight status.

Once back in the room I checked....still a go.

I met my crew and the crew that would be working the flight in the lobby. We were all ready to go...especially the other crew. They were to overnight somewhere warm and packed for it. They got stuck here Thursday night. The temp outside never got above 20.

The station, for reasons I do not understand, had not prepped the plane. No heat...and it was covered in snow that fell last night.

The temperature of the cabin was just 1 degree Celsius. A few of the soft drinks in the galley had exploded from the cold temp. The Captain was not happy.

He fired up the APU and turned on the heat. After 20 minutes the cabin was still just 10 degrees. Eventually it warmed up. The station removed the packed snow from the engine nacelles. Boarding started.

Deicing took a while as the snow was quite thick. An hour after scheduled departure time we were in the air.

Arrived in base to see a winter wonderland. My car was covered in snow and ice. I picked up my daughter from school. Her teacher just shook her head and said, “ I thought about you each time the news said flights were canceled.”

Once home I decided I needed to visit a doctor. While stuck I started having an issue with my back. An itch developed that turned into a small rash. The Doctor looked at my back for 2 seconds and let me know I have...............shingles. Nice eh? It's not common at all in those under 60.  I was given a prescription and told it should be gone in less than 10 days.

I contacted my union medical Doctor to confirm I'm safe to fly while on it as I have a just one day off. I'll decide tomorrow if I am going to up for it or not. I'm not contagious unless someone directly contacts my no massages for me this week. Ha.

The trip was originally just a 7 hour 2 day trip. I was to be away from base for 25 hours. I ended up flying just 1 hour 40 minutes and being away from base for 102 hours and 35 minutes. Total pay including Junior Man will roughly $760 + $216 in per diem. I broke even at the casino so overall it's a lot of money. Not worth the frustration though.

Even my Captain whom has been here 15 years has never been stuck for that long before. Quite the trip indeed.

Still love my job.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Why do I even bother?

I had a 4 day starting on Thursday. Earlier in the week I put in a request to drop the weekend flying. The result was a 2 day finishing at noon on Friday.

Weather. Lots of it.

Day 1 on Thursday was one leg in. Before I even left my return flight was cancelled.

Arrived early. Off to the hotel..

Later that day scheduling reassigned me to fly a later flight. Just one leg in.

Friday morning my noon departure cancelled. I was reassigned for the noon departure Saturday.

As I got dressed for the 11AM van.....the noon departure cancelled.

All for weather.

The good thing was there is a casino nearby. I was up $130 yesterday. Came back with $80 positive. Pretty sure I'll give it all back.

Ya gotta have a sense of humor to work in the travel industry. I should make it home tomorrow.

xt I'm supposed to fly tomorrow is on it's way here.