Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Make $43 an hour sitting on your couch!

Right now I'm sitting on my couch watching TV making $43 an hour. I was supposed to be taxiing out for a 5 hour turn.

This morning I woke up in Mexico. It was planned and not some adventure gone wrong. I bid a two day trip worth 10 hours. I added on 3 hours of overtime equating to a productive 13 hour two day trip.

Day one started with me backing out of my garage at 4:40 AM. Just an hour later I was sitting inside a very cold flight deck preparing for my first turn which was on overtime.

Ideally the ground personnel connect warm air to the plane. It had been there all night. Didn't happen. I fired up the APU and turned on the heater.

During my pre-flight inspection I found a small patch of frost on the left wing. Everything else was clear.

In reality the plane would likely fly just fine with that small amount of frost (maybe 3 feet by 2 feet wide). Requirements state the aircraft must be clear of frost on top of the wing. De-icing was needed.

A ramper arrived at the flight deck and asked if we needed de-icing. I told him about the small patch. He saw the same patch and assumed the same. He said the trucks would be ready for us and we would be out quickly.

The Captain arrived and I filled him in. We blocked out with 9 passengers at 6:05 AM, five minutes early. We were the first departure of the morning. We made our way to the deicing pad to see dark trucks. No steam. No smoke from the engines. No rampers.

The wait began. Twenty minutes later the rampers arrived. Forty minutes after blocking out we were finally deiced. So much for being ready for us eh?

Nice Captain and Flight Attendant. Blocked in late and left late. I did get an extra 30 minutes of pay due to the inability of my airline to properly prepare for deicing.

I was supposed to have a plane swap before heading to Mexico. Because we were so late I was able to keep the same plane. Score one for me.

Old crew out and new crew in. Well most of the new crew. The Flight Attendant was fairly senior. I have worked with her a few times. Very nice...but crazy chatty. Like I could walk away and she would still be talking, chatty.

Five minutes to departure and there was still no Captain. The Flight Attendant stated she rode the employee bus with the Captain so she knew he was at the airport.

Two minutes before departure he arrives. He gets a little annoyed with me as I didn't fill out a form that is normally filled out by the Captain. I'm allowed to do it, but not once in 7 years and 4000+ hours of flight time have I ever done the Captain normally does it. I blow it off. I had done everything else from programming the FMS, briefing the Flight Attendant and weight and balance information.

Away we went. I took the leg down. Long but easy flight. There are very few ILS approaches into airports in Mexico. Most have DME arcs. This was no different. I began configuring while on the arc. In and done.

Long ride to the hotel.

This morning started with a 5:40 AM van time. Surprisingly heavy traffic but we zoomed around most of it.

Leaving this airport always makes me laugh. We have to go through a metal detector where EVERYONE beeps. I swear I could go though naked and still beep. We each get wanded down. The security person only spoke Spanish. I speak bad Spanish. We get through fine.

Departing also involved a DME arc. Away we went.

Right now my airline and pilot group are in negotiations. They want me to work for less money among other things. I won't go into details, but I will say morale is low and the pilot group is frustrated. This along with management not abiding by some parts of the contract have made things outside the flight deck less than desirable.

The contract I'm bound by states, and I'm paraphrasing, line holders can only be reassigned by having a member of management or a scheduling representative verbally notify the pilot of a scheduling change. Many times pilots are met at the jet bridge and handed a form and told of their new assignment. That's fine.

Descending into the airport our inbound and outbound gate information prints up. The rest of my crew was doing another Mexico turn. I was assigned something else. Well on paper anyway.

We parked on time and made our way to customs. As I cleared the Global Entry process I expected to see someone waiting for me to reassign me. No one was there. Odd.

I just assumed they changed their minds. I was hungry since we left before breakfast opened at the hotel. Off to find food. I had a wonderful Vietnamese Tofu Sandwich. Truly delightful. I then made my way to my next gate which was the turn to Mexico with my crew. Again I expected someone to be waiting for me.

On the way I picked up some bagels and saw my Flight Attendant. She said there was a new First Officer assigned. Odd I thought as it was my line.

Bagels in tow I arrived to the gate. The Captain was there. I looked at the paperwork expecting to see my name. Nope, another First Officer was assigned.

I then called scheduling. They stated they tried to call me to reassign me. I asked why no one met me to reassign me and was given no answer. Since the flight they reassigned me to had again been reassigned and they staffed my original flight with a new First Officer....I was done for the day.

I get full pay for the flight they pulled me from. I get $43 an hour for five hours of TV watching, doll house playing and relaxing.

Improper planning on your part does not constitute an emergency on my part.

I still love my job. I work with an amazing group of talented and pleasant Pilots and Flight Attendants. The climate outside of the aircraft needs to change. It's gotten so bad I've put out several applications to places that would involve commuting for the rest of my career.

For now though I will go back to episode of The Mindy Project is on the DVR.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Conga line

Done flying for the week. I was supposed to be waking up in a Holiday Inn this morning. Instead I'm on my couch as I have a union meeting today and was pulled off my overnight and remaining flights of my two day trip.

At major airports, approach controllers are tasked with sequencing arriving aircraft for landing. For the most part jet aircraft are spaced 4 to 5 miles apart. This allows aircraft of different sizes (say a 737 followed by a CRJ200 followed by a 757) to land on the same runway within 90 seconds or so of each other. I've seen 7 aircraft lined up at once for the same runway. Long finals.

Most of the time in VFR conditions we are assigned 170-180 knots to the final approach fix. This allows everyone to go fast to a five mile final then slow to approach speed.

Most of the time that works.

Every now and then someone screws up the conga line.

Someone slows to 150 before the final approach fix for whatever reason without notifying the approach controller. That causes everyone else to slow down early. The approach controllers smooth flow is interrupted. The aircraft being vectored in to get in line have to be resequenced and turned away. I've seen it where on a severe VFR day, being slowed 60 miles out.

Last night was one of those "turn left heading 270 slow to 190"....while being 50 miles from the airport.

The approach controller did their best. I was brought in higher than normal as the guy I was following was assigned 170 while I was assigned 190. The 190 was an attempt to clear the clog. Finally told to slow to 160 and cleared for the visual.

I could tell on TCAS the aircraft ahead was right at 3 miles away. I called for final flaps and the gear. The leading aircraft was also just 3 miles ahead of the aircraft in front of me.

When the first aircraft touched down the next was at 700 feet AGL. I was 1000 feet above him and 3 miles behind. I had to slow to 140 just to keep 3 miles.

"This is not going to work, one of us is going around." I told my Captain.

He agreed it didn't look promising.

I firmed up my hand on the thrust levers and reviewed the go around procedure in my head.

At 500 feet AGL the aircraft we were following was rolling out and slowing down.

Tower asked if they had the next high speed as there was an aircraft on short final.

They said they did, but seemed to be in no hurry.

At 300 feet they were angled off the runway about 2/3rds the way down. Just enough room.

Down and done. So I thought.

Being a ramper is not easy. I don't envy them. My airline is having an issue retaining rampers. I can see why as the pay is very low ($9 an hour) for the work required (lifting heavy bags in very hot and very cold weather, rain, snow and wind).

Last night there was a shortage. We were 5 minutes early but we had no gate. We got in line with 7 other aircraft waiting for gates.

It took 50 minutes. Flights were simply parking at whichever gate opened first. First come, first served is a double edged sword.

Flights get parked, but the aircraft are often not at the gate planned for that aircraft for the next flight. That means passengers, crew, bags , fuelers and more have to be updated.

Many times aircraft are routed to specific destinations for maintenance repairs overnight. Other times aircraft are routed based on MELs. For example an aircraft might have an inoperable APU and can only be sent to outstations with an external air cart.

Anyways it was a mess. I felt bad for the passengers as we went from 5 minutes early to almost an hour late.


Saturday, November 8, 2014

Vacancy Giveth and Displacement taketh away

I picked up a 6 hour trip on overtime yesterday. With my recent (and final First Officer) pay increase it was worth just over $300. Not bad for a day trip.

The report time was 7:45 AM. I dropped off my daughter at daycare and headed to the airport.

The Captain I was flying with is extremely senior. Top 1% senior. This would come into play later in the day.

Back in the cabin was a very senior Flight Attendant.....also in the top 1%. I'd flown with her before. She is very sassy and likes to crack jokes. She complained that the First Officer she flew with previously was quiet and boring. She was happy I was giving it right back to her.

Blocked out on time at 8:30 AM. He wanted me to take the first leg. I get paid the same either way.

Nice flight up.

We talked about seniority and the state of the airline. He looked at my name on the flight release again and asked if I was Communication Chairman. Once I confirmed I was....he had a ton of questions and comments about what's going on with the union. I told him what I could, but with a consistent "I'm just the messenger and don't get to vote on things" tagline.

Smooth and cold landing in Madison.

I grabbed a nice pesto pasta salad for myself and a cake pop for my daughter. Back on the flight deck I noticed I had an email with the bid results.

After opening the PDF I searched for my last name. Turns out I was awarded Captain in the vacancy bid....but was displaced during the displacement bid.

Being the Communications Chairman I sent out several emails on how the vacancy and displacement process works. It was emphasized to have your top displacement choice as where you want to be if something happens. I had my current base and equipment as my top displacement choice. So after all was said and done I am right back where I started.

Another pilot just 3 numbers junior made a mistake. he was also awarded Captain, but had a different base and aircraft as his top displacement choice. Thus he will now go to training and be a commuter until the next vacancy bid. That bid could be in two weeks...or two months....or never.

Just thirty minutes after arriving, we were being pushed out.

As far as the affect on me otherwise I will be more senior in base. I'm currently in the top 22% in base. I will soon be in the top 10%.

The Captain checked out the bid results. He only looked at the top few pilots as he is very senior. Just 3 pilots coming in on top of him. He stays in the top 3% in base.

We finished our trip at few minutes late. I arrived home at 6 PM tired.  I tired myself out with all the thinking of "what could have been" if I had held Captain.

Off today. I start a two day tomorrow....with an overnight on the beach.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

When your base ceases to exist

The closing of a base. It doesn't happen often, but when it does things get difficult quickly.

Contrary to popular belief a pilot base does not have to be a hub for a major airline. One airline, Republic, likes to have non-hub bases.

Republic has pilot bases in Louisville, Kentucky; Greensboro, North Carolina; Columbus, Ohio and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania among others. None of those is a hub for a major airline.

Most regional airlines do base their pilots in the hubs of their major airline partners.

Being based at a hub has it's perks. There are likely more flights at the Hub than an out station which makes it easier for commuters. Hubs also tend to have more robust services (easier de-icing, multiple runways for less congestion, more places to eat).

No matter where a pilot is based there is always a risk of a base being closed.

My airline has closed several bases since I started 7 years ago. When I started there were 8 pilot bases to choose from. Today there are 4. Soon there will be 3. Rumor is there could just be 2.

Pilot contracts vary when it comes to expenses involved with closing of a base. My airline is about average as it will pay all moving expenses (professional moving company or actual cost if you do it yourself) from your old base to your new one. The airline also gives up to 3 days off to complete your move. I know of at least one regional airline that gives pilots nothing when a base closes.

Moving when single is fairly easy. You pack up and move. When a pilot is married and has kids it gets complicated.

The pilot I'm flying with this week just moved to my base. He's been at my airline for 16 years. His base closed last year and tried commuting for a while. It was rough.

His former base had over 200 pilots plus another 130 flight attendants who were nearly all local. Overnight they all became commuters. With near record load factors, commuting was difficult as there were sometimes over 50 employees a day commuting to work. They were "fighting" for seats along with other employees who were on vacations.

For him moving was the only option. Lucky for him his wife worked from home and his kids were just graduating high school.

Rather than just move to any base he picked the largest base in the system assuming it was safe. Many of the other pilots in the base moved to the next closest base. They made an unfortunate choice as that base will soon be closing.

This next base to close has over 250 pilots and another 140 flight attendants.

When a base closes the airline runs a displacement bid. Displacement bids are like a game of musical chairs only slightly modified.

The airline is running a vacancy bid along with the displacement bid. There are an equal number of Captain and First Officer slots being added to two of the 3 other pilot bases. It looks like this



120 Fargo Captains

130 Fargo First Officers



120 Omaha Captains

130 Omaha First Officers


As I mentioned there are currently 3 active pilot bases. In addition to "Omaha" there are "Portland" and "Reno".

The pilots from Fargo can displace to ANY pilot base that their seniority can hold. Right now the commute between "Fargo" and "Omaha" is really rough as it's a popular tourist route and a lot of mainline employees commute between the two bases. Fargo to Portland is easier. Portland also happens to be the junior base.

Even though there are no vacancies posted in Portland or Reno, Fargo pilots can choose to displace to them. Once a Fargo pilot displaces to Portland or Reno, the bottom pilots at each base are forced out. They then have to choose to displace to another base. A single pilot displacement can cause countless more displacements.

I say choose, but in reality it must be pre-selected. Each pilot has to set up and maintain a displacement preference. They have to list, in order, the places they would like to go if they are displaced.

Say I was the most senior pilot in Fargo. I chose to displace to Portland. I then push out the bottom First Officer in Portland. He then displaces to Reno. He pushes out the most junior pilot in Reno who has no where to go but Omaha.

Thankfully there are enough seats for everyone to sit when the music stops. When there are more pilots than seats.....that's when furloughs happen.

I don't envy them in the slightest.

My seniority is high enough that I shouldn't be affected much. I ran the numbers and only 16 First Officers in Fargo are senior to me. This means, as long as no Fargo Captains displace to First Officer, I will have at most 16 pilots coming in above me. Since I'm based in "Omaha" I don't forecast much change as Fargo pilots will likely not displace here.

On a slightly positive note there's a smaller glimmer of hope I could slide over to the Captains seat. In addition to published vacancies, my airline has the option of back filing. Back filling is replacing pilots who retire or quit from random bases.