Thursday, June 26, 2014

Call me Maybe

Relaxing before a 5 hour day trip on overtime. Crappy weather over most of the United States today with the potential for convective activity. I'm betting my trip will be more than 5 hours.

There are several ways to get extra flying (at the overtime rate) at my airline. As a reserve pilot I had to bid for extra flying. Many times before my bid would be processed a line holder would pick it up through the automated process or a more senior pilot would be bidding for the same trip. The bidding process is all seniority based. Beyond bidding the only way for a reserve to get extra flying was to be junior manned or volunteer for extra flying.

As a line holder I can pick up extra flying on days off through an automated system. I can also add on flying to my existing trips through the bidding process and of course be junior manned.   Finally I too can put my name on the volunteer list for extra flying.

I've covered junior manning in the past. The volunteer thing has not been discussed.

If I have a day off and would like to fly (but there are no open trips I like or no open trips period), I can put my name on the volunteer list.

On the day my name is on the list I will be called before any reserves are used. Trips assigned to volunteer pilots are paid at 150% of the hourly rate. If I am called I am under no obligation to take the trip and have no penalty if I decline. It's a pretty safe bet.

This morning I was called at 5AM for a trip worth a whole 1 hour and 20 minutes. The trip left at 9:20AM. My assigned trip for the day departs at 1:45PM. This meant I'd have a 3 hour or so sit after the 1 hour 20 minute turn. No thanks. Even at 150% pay it's worth about $85. It's extra money of course, but the sitting around the airport for 3 hours is fatiguing. It sounds odd to those who have never done it, but trust me sitting around in a plastic chair for 3 hours in a noisy environment is fatiguing.

I stated I was called, but my phone never rang. I used Google Voice for all phone calls. When scheduling calls it goes straight to voice mail with a dedicated greeting for them. I was notified via text message that they had called. I read the Google transcription and decided to stay in bed.

If the trip had been longer (say 2 hours) and the sit had been shorter (say 90 minutes) I would have done it.

For now I will relax....and maybe go for a bike ride.



Sunday, June 22, 2014

Getting paid to commute home

Last week was tiring.

Monday I had a 2 day trip worth 12 hours 15 minutes. It was to be a trip of musical Captains.

For the first turn I had Captain 'A' whom was reassigned to do a simple 2 hour 40 minute turn versus a much longer overnight. He gets paid for the overnight even though he flew much less as its part of the contract. He was reassigned as there were no other Captains available.

That 2 hour 40 minute turn spawned into 3 hours twenty minutes as we had a small delay on the outbound but a major delay on the inbound. We landed 10 minutes early...and then waited 30 additional minutes for a gate to open.

The next flight was the overnight flight. The Captain assigned to the flight had changed 3 times that day. Forty minutes to departure it was showing unfilled. No Captains available. Thirty five minutes prior a very senior Captain (call him Captain 'B') was assigned to the flight. It appeared to be a Junior Man. I thought for sure he wasn't going to show up.

To my surprise he was at the gate before me. He was HAPPY to be flying the trip. Reason? He was commuting home anyway in the back as a passenger. When he saw there was no Captain he called scheduling and volunteered. At his pay rate he was paid $450 to fly the trip. Four hundred and fifty dollars to fly home. Well played. Captain 'B' had no desire to fly back to base the next day.

My flight attendant and I went to the hotel and Captain 'B' went home.

The next day I met Captain 'C' on the flight deck. She was a very junior Captain whom I'd never met. She had been deadheaded out to fly back with me. Meanwhile the First Officer that flew the aircraft out was deadheading back. Very odd.

Full flight. We had a 777 Captain from our mainline partner in the jump seat. He'd never been on a RJ jump seat before. He was out visiting family and was headed home. He asked quite a few questions about my aircraft and was interested in the differences between the two. The 777 Captain is in the top 1% seniority. I did some quick math and said , "Ya know you make more money taxiing to the runway than the both of us make combined for an hour flight." We all laughed as it was meant to be light hearted. It was eye opening though.

Once in base Captain 'C' went home. I then met up with Captain 'D'. Long turn. Once back in base we had another 35 minute wait for a gate to open. All in all my 12 hour 15 minute two day trip ballooned into a 13 hour 45 minute trip. Wow.

I then had two CDO's in a row. Same one as last week. Same Captain even.

Next month I am back to 4 day trips. I didn't preference CDOs and could not hold 3 day trips. I despise 4 day trips, but it is what it is.

Four Captains for 6 legs. My airline cancels an average of 10 flights a day for lack of crew. There is no pilot shortage right?



Friday, June 20, 2014

Busy week

Two CDOs plus a crazy Two Day Trip makes for a tired pilot.

Going to rest...should have a write up on Sunday.

Took this as I headed home from my CDO this morning. It was quite odd to be heading home at 7:20AM while most airport employees were headed into work.


Monday, June 16, 2014

Papa's got a reskinned bag

I bought my current Strong Bag over 3 years ago. It's held up very well overall. I did have to replace the J-hook once under warranty and my tote was replaced by my own expense after I overstuffed it one to many times and really damaged the zipper.

The actual Strong Bag was fine until once again while on a 4 day two months ago, with really long overnights, I overpacked and.........damaged a zipper. The seams of the zipper had come apart. I sewed it back up. Then the track became damaged. It was time to put in a permanent fix.

I ordered a new skin for the bag.

The Strong Bag comes with a 3 year warranty. I am out of warranty. I did however purchase the Strong Bag with my American Express. Amex gives an extra year of warranty coverage for free. Of course I remembered this after I ordered a new skin. Amex approved the claim and refunded the entire purchase price of the original bag so I can buy it again (this is how they've handled all the claims I've made, full refund.) Since I had already ordered a skin I figured I would try that first.

Taking the skin off wasn't easy as it's a very well made bag. It took about 2 hours to get the skin off and new skin on. Over the years more than one ramper has manhandled my bag as the frame was slightly concave. A few whacks with a rubber mallet straightened it out. The original bag would still be 100% fine if I didn't overpack. The new skin should carry me at least another 3 years.

Time to pack for my 2 day trip.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

CDO...not so bad

Completed my first CDO of the month this morning.Interesting as my line was full of CDOs.

My duty started last night at 7:30PM. My wife and daughter dropped me off at the curb at 7:20PM.

After signing in for my trip I made my was down to the aircraft. It was cold and dark. No power. The GPU cable was plugged in, but the power wasn't turned on. I went down to the ramp and asked two different rampers to turn the power on, both said they were to busy. Fine, APU it was.

By 7:45 PM I had completed my preflight checks completed, FMS set up and had my bottle of water. The Flight Attendant arrived. She mentioned that our crew was the same one that got stuck in an outstation last December for 5 days.

The Captain arrived while boarding had started. He was part of the other crew stuck with me in December. We've flown together a few times. He's a no BS Captain. Nice as long as you do your job, if you mess around there will be words. I've never had words.

Departure was supposed to be 8:15PM. Boarding was complete at 8:10PM and the boarding door was closed. Then the hilarity began.

A flight to the same outstation had cancelled earlier. The airline operating the flight (operated by another regional for my mainline partner) had a mechanical issue. There were more passengers than seats for my flight. Many of their bags were set to go and were on board my aircraft. Problem was we were to 40 pounds. Forty pounds over Zero Fuel Weight. Funny math. I didn't bring my suitcase since it was just a CDO so in theory the 40 pounds didn't matter. I packed everything I needed into my kitbag. Whatever.

The rampers had to remove 2 bags. Done. Next issue was finding a slot to push.

Controlling the area from the taxiway to the gate at most Hubs is a ramp controller. The ramp controller has to monitor inbound flights, outbound flights, gate space and maintenance movements. There are defined positions called "spots" where aircraft transition from the ramp to taxiways. An aircraft will leave gate 5 under guidance from the ramp. They will taxi to spot 19 where the ground controller will give instructions to get to the runway. An inbound flight first calls the ramp for a "spot". They then till ground which "spot" they are going to. From the "spot" the ramp controller guides the flight to the gate. There are fewer "spots" than gates.

The ramp controller last night was new. He was flustered. He kept allowing mainline to push before RJs. It takes much longer for a 777 to push than a ERJ-175.

It took 20 minutes to push. Ridiculous. Several times the ramp controller ignored or didn't reply to multiple request from aircraft.

Captains leg out. He likes to "fly it like he stole it", meaning at the limits of the aircraft envelope. We got a few short cuts by leveling off at FL230 vs the planned FL270. By staying lower we got more direct routing so the extra fuel burn was a wash. We made up 16 of the 20 minutes lost.

We had 9 hours between flights. Blocked in at 9:24PM. By 9:55PM I was walking into the hotel.

The 5:00AM wakeup call came early. At 5:30AM we climbed into the van headed for the airport.

My leg back. We blocked out 8 minutes early and arrived 12 minutes early at 7:18AM. Total duty time was 12 hours and 3 minutes.

The remainder of my CDO's are much shorter.

Tomorrow I have an interesting situation.

I traded my original CDO worth 1 hour 35 minutes for a 2 day trip worth 8 hours. The Captain of that trip is an IOE Captain. Another pilot needed IOE so I was displaced off the trip. I was reassigned a trip worth 9 hours. I then added on a 3 hour turn on premium pay that pays 4.5 hours. I will be paid for 13.5 hours to fly 12 hours in just 2 days. Not too shabby.


Saturday, June 14, 2014


Two day Mexico trip was mostly uneventful.

Day one was uneventful. I took the leg down. Even though it was VFR they were advertising a VOR/DME approach with an arc. I haven't done one in a while and did the full approach. In and done.

At lunch at the same place as last week. Used up the rest of my Pesos.

One quick shot I took while down south. I like to blend in to the area and avoid taking photos as that screams "tourist."


Early morning van ride back. The hotel had amazing coffee in the lobby. I love black coffee and this stuff was awesome.

Easy leg back. Arrived 25 minutes early. Breezed through customs and stopped by the crew room to pickup a new checklist. Mine was becoming worn.

For the outbound leg for the last turn I arrived at the aircraft early. Hot. I started the APU and setup the aircraft. The Captain arrived 25 minutes to push. Just as he sat down I heard a clicking noise coming through the overhead speaker. The thing was it wasn't selected to be on. I then saw four caution messages on the EICAS. Rut row.

I advised him first of the call I made for a taxi light to be repaired (it had a cracked lens). I then told him about the clicking noise and caution messages.

We did a CTRL-ALT-DEL by powering down the aircraft and then back up. All back to normal. Just needed the taxi light fixed.

Mechanic arrived. He signaled to turn on the taxi lights. We did. He signaled again. We cycled them. Nothing.

He came up to the flight deck to troubleshoot. I waited in the jet bridge.

Just inside the aircraft above the Flight Attendant jump seat is an emergency flashlight. Normally when the aircraft is powered the flashlight is charging. This one wasn't. I asked the Flight Attendant if the rear flashlight was charging. It wasn't.

I poked my head into the flight deck and asked if any of those flashlights were charging. Nope. Something electrical was going on.

After about 10 minutes he headed out to take a look at the lights. We had to call a different mechanic to checkout the flashlight issue.

The first mechanic MEL'd (put out of service) the taxi lights since they weren't needed for flight.

When he left we noticed he had turned a switch that , among other things, charges the flashlights. Once it was back on....the flashlights charged again.

Away we went.

Long flight south of the border again.

The airport was advertising visual approaches. We have to cross a mountainous area on the arrival. One thing about Mexico....stay on the airway unless it's VFR. Controllers will approve ANYTHING you ask, even if it means flying into a mountain. A few places we go are in a non-RADAR environment.

Descending from FL360 there was a clear overcast layer below. We were on the airway.

The controller asked if we could fly direct to the final approach fix. Because we had not yet cross the terrain below the clouds we declined.

This seemed to annoy him.

We were out of RADAR contact. Told to report 40 DME. We did. He again asked if we could fly direct to the final approach fix. Still above the clouds we declined.

At this point he cleared us for the VOR/DME approach. The approach was based on the airway we were on during the arrival portion (we were using the FMS, but it was using GPS/VORDME for location and navigation).

We stepped down per the altitudes listed on the approach plate.

Clearing 11,000 feet we were below the clouds and could see the airport and terrain. The airport was straight ahead.

I advised we could see the airport and could proceed to the final approach fix.

Denied. The Captain remarked that we were being punished for not going direct earlier.

In and done.

My leg back.

The clicking in the speakers came back as did the caution messages, but only for 10 seconds. Gremlins. We looked further back in the had been "fixed" last week.

Being the last leg we were motivated to arrive early. Tailwinds and a few short cuts and we pulled into the gate 30 minutes early, I was in my car at arrival time. The Captain wrote up the clicking and messages again.

Tonight I do my first CDO. Monday I have an interesting trip. More on that later.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Let's do it again

Headed down south again tomorrow. Same overnight in Mexico, but a different trip.

It was to hard to pass up. The original trip was a CDO (Continuous Duty Overnight) worth 1 hour 30 minutes. I traded it for a 2 day trip worth 9 hours 30 minutes. True this is a longer overnight, but it's only 4 legs.

Day 1 is one leg to Mexico. Day 2 is a return flight to base followed by another Mexico turn.

I will be doing a legit CDO Saturday night worth 2 hours 10 minutes. The overnight time between flights isn't terribly short at 9 hours. This time last year it would have been legitimate overnight. With the new rest rules it's just time between flights where I can rest in a hotel.

Still working on the math but the ratio of pay and work will be heavy in my favor. My back of the napkin math shows me flying 48 hours but being paid for 99.


Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Down under

I don't go down south often....down south being Mexico.

My airline doesn't do a lot of Mexico flying, but there is a bit.

I have nothing against Mexico per say. There are some security issues. The worst event went down like this:

The crew were all new to Mexico and didn't speak Spanish. They left customs and went to the hotel pick up area. A man in a unmarked van (which is normal ops in some cities) approached and said ,  " I take you to hotel." He went on to say the correct name of the hotel. The crew got in and away they went. The driver said he was going a different way. Since the crew had never been there before, they didn't know which was the normal way.

All of the van rides in Mexico are long as the airports are not near downtown areas.

After about 10 minutes the Policia pulled in behind and the lights went on. Behind the Policia was the REAL hotel van. We were not told who the van driver was the crew had been riding with. Since then procedures have changed. One being an escort with a bilingual airport employee to the van and a bilingual van driver. There's more...but I won't go into that.

My biggest issue with Mexico flying is the long sit time when returning to base. This is to allow the crew to clear customs. I have Global Entry so I speed thru. On this trip the time from the aircraft to the curb was 9 minutes. Never stopped walking.

I said all that to say this. I almost got stuck in Mexico for an extended period of time.

My 2 day trip was a 3 and 3 worth 8 hours 20 minutes.

The first turn was easy. The Captain I was with was flying it on overtime. Super senior guy. The pay disparity was eye opening. For the 2 hour 20 minute flight I was paid $96.57. The Captain was paid $366.91. He was flying on a premium pay day due to a shortage of Captains. Without the premium he still would have been paid $243. One day I will get that.

After the turn I was scheduled to keep the same aircraft for the flight to Mexico. I had 70 minutes so I left to get a snack. When I left the aircraft it was being powered by the ground power unit.

When I returned 30 minutes later the aircraft was cold and dark. No that's was hot and dark. The ground crew decided to turn off the external power and neglected to connect the preconditioned air. The lack of preconditioned air is an ongoing issue at my airline. Pilots complain.....Management "takes action"....nothing changes. Annoyed.

I turned the aircraft back on and started the APU. I'm a professional and refuse to sit in a hot aircraft and I will not subject my passengers to a hot aircraft. Boarding was scheduled to start in 5 minutes.

With the APU on, I turned on the "packs" then called to have the GPU reconnected. Reason being I was now burning fuel. I had not seen the release yet so I wasn't sure how much fuel we needed for the flight.

The APU on my current aircraft burns about 170 pounds per hour when providing air and power, 140 pounds per hour when providing just air, and 100 pounds per hour when just providing power.

Not a lot of fuel, but it can add up. I was using the APU for air only and using the GPU for power. This is perfectly fine per the manufacturer and my company.

Nice and cool I started setting up the flight. Even without the flight release I can pull the clearance and ATIS and have everything set up.

The Captain for the flight to Mexico was a very junior reserve guy. He's barely senior to me. He was coming in from a different Mexico overnight and had just an hour connect time (only reserves have short connects, line holders have longer connect times).

Once I was done I took a moment to check my phone when everything went nuts. Flashing lights, caution chimes and screens blinking. The APU failed and went offline. Additionally my airspeed indicator was showing faulted. Nice. Plane getting warm as boarding was almost complete.

I called first to have the air connected. I then called the mechanic.

The Captain arrived. He's very laid back, but also very strict when it comes to operating procedures.

I filled him in with what was going on. The ground crew was looking at us to disconnect the external power as they assumed we were ready to go. I was looking the ramper in the eyes when I shook my head no. He then looked at me and walked away. Unbeknownst to me he turned the external power off.

A minute or so later I noticed the battery voltage dropping. I checked and sure enough saw the external power connection at 0 volts. I quickly went to find a ramper to turn the power back on.

When the mechanic arrived things got interesting.

Mechanic - "Captain I need to power down the aircraft for a few minutes to reboot. Is that okay with you?"

Captain - "That's fine with me, but what about the passengers? Can they be onboard without power?"

Mechanic- "I'm not sure that's why I'm asking you."

Captain - "I'm not allowed to deplane passengers at the gate. I can no longer make that decision until the boarding door closes. You do what you have the power to do."

Mechanic- "So are you saying you want to deplane?"

Captain - "I can not make that decision."

This went on further. After about 15 minutes we were set to go. The GPU caused some kind of glitch that spiked the system and the aircraft took it offline.

Captain took the leg down. Easy flight. Most airports in Mexico has VOR or VOR/DME approaches. There are very few ILS approaches. VOR/VORDMES are pretty easy as most transition straight off the airway. In and done.

I speak enough Spanish to get by. I'm not fluent, but feel comfortable getting around.

This trip changed my packing habits as I couldn't bring any fresh veggies. The hotel room had no microwave so if I wanted hot food I had to go out.

The hotel didn't offer money exchange. Thankfully I had a few small bills. I found a cafe nearby and ordered potato and rice gorditas. Very good.

Long overnight. Before I went to bed I checked to make sure the inbound arrived. It did.

About 30 minutes later my phone rang. It was the Captain. The inbound came in but was down for a mechanical. The Captain side oxygen mask was inop. During the inbound flight the First Officer stepped back to use the lav. My company requires the remaining pilot to wear and use the oxygen mask. Well it seems there was some damage to the hose.

We would not be leaving in the morning.

Mexico has some special rules concerning aircraft requiring maintenance. As I understand it, only a Mexico licensed mechanic can repair an aircraft in Mexico. I've heard of my airline sending down mechanics (for medium to large repairs) who can only watch and supervise repairs.

I slept in. For breakfast I hit the hotel buffet. Not free, but very good with lots of fresh fruit.

We were scheduled to dead head out at 2:40PM, almost 24 hours after we had arrived. Fine.

We had a 1:30PM van time. I met the Captain and Flight Attendant I flew in with along with another Flight Attendant and a First Officer. The other Captain had left earlier as the station needed to open  the cockpit door and they had no keys. The Captain I was flying with was also called, but refused to go early.

Once at the airport the station asked if we could "ride the brakes" while they pushed the broken aircraft off the ramp as it was a small ramp and they needed the space. None of the station personnel were qualified to sit in the cockpit.  The Captain refused as it wasn't in his schedule. The time was 2:05PM.

I asked if he would be ok if we submitted the paperwork later to get credit for moving the aircraft. No engine needed to be started. Nope. He wanted it in his schedule or he wasn't doing it.

This was the last flight of the day for my airline.

The agent PULLED our seats at the direction of crew scheduling. If we didn't move the aircraft we weren't going home.

Phone calls were made. At 2:21PM the Captain relented.

I fired up the APU and set the aircraft up for taxi. We were pushed back about 300 yards from the ramp. We then hitched a ride on push tugs back to the departing flight. We boarded with 3 minutes to spare.

With the moving and shuffling I'm off until NEXT WEEK on Thursday for a CDO. Pretty easy month.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

The airline giveth....and the scientist taketh away

Seniority is a great thing.

For the first time ever I scored a CDO as a line. What's a CDO you ask?

CDO stands for Continuous Duty Overnight. They aren't for everyone and definetly not for commuters.

A CDO line has an overnight shorter than legally allowed so. The overnight isn't counted as rest, it's scheduled that the pilot is on duty non-stop. It's like working a long shift...but you get a hotel room for a few hours.

My line has three CDOs in a row followed by 3-4 days off. I only "fly" 24 hours but get paid the line minimum of 72 hours.

The trips vary but the most common trip is as follows:

Report time of 8:20PM. Depart at 9:05PM. Arrive at 9:50PM. Go to a hotel. Depart again at 5:45AM. Arrive at 6:35AM. At that point I go home and report back the same night to do it all over again.

With that schedule I would nap during the day, pick up my kid from day care, eat dinner with my family, put my kid to bed and then head to the airport. She'd hardly know I was gone.

Well life happened. My wife is a scientist and works for a major DNA company. Every now and then she has to testify for court cases across the country. She hasn't testified in months, but it's always a possibility. With a small child one of us must be on the ground locally as we have no family in town so it's just us.

The airline giveth and the scientist taketh away.

One perk of my job is moving my trips around at will.

I scrambled my trips around and traded a few CDOs for traditional 2 day trips that start and finish around the times my wife has to testify.

There is a side benefit of the pay check gets larger.

My line was 24 hours but paying at 72 hours. If staffing was good I could drop all my flying and still get paid for 48 hours (72-24=48). Another trick also works...the trade.

Because each trip is worth an average of 2 hours, by trading them for higher value trips it increase my pay.

If I trade 10 - 2 hour trips for 10 - 8 hour trips minimum gaurantee for the month is 132 hours. Take 72 hours to start...take away the 20 hours (10 trips worth 2 hours each) then add 80 hours (10 trips worth 8 hours each). Not too shabby. In practice it's hard to do. Right now I'm going to get paid for 93 while actually flying closer to 50.

Maybe next month I can get a CDO and just fly it.  I was kinda looking forward to it.

I head back to work Monday. My vacation was very nice. My family was able to score a row together for our flight home. We arrived at 5AM. I stayed awake the entire flight.  I hoped to power through the jet lag and stay awake all day. Nope...we all napped from 7am till noon.