Friday, May 8, 2015

Under Pressure

Finally home after a grueling 4 day trip worth 24 hours. It was a 3-2-2-3 trip with all overnights south of the border.

Staying in Mexico means I have to alter what I bring. Customs in Mexico is very nonstandard from station to station. They have been known to try (and sometimes succeed) to fine crew members for bringing in too many electronics as they think the crew members are going to resell them.

I am a geek.

I normally travel with 2 Ipads (1 is an EFB), a chromebook, a nexus 7, Roku box, two routers and a Google Chromecast.

I am also a vegetarian. I normally travel with fresh fruit (apples mostly) and veggies for the first two days (broccoli and carrots mostly). For Mexico I could bring none of that.

The first two overnights were fine. No issues in customs.

For the third overnight we were given a plane with an inop automatic pressurization system. This is a MEL I read about, but never thought I would encounter. Manually controlling pressurization is a taxing job. We have to manually control the outflow valve to release pressure in the aircraft and control the cabin altitude.

Captains leg down. It was a tedious job controlling the valve with a potentiamotor. The good thing was the field elevation at the destination was a lofty 7300 feet MSL. Cabin altitude at FL370 is 8000 feet. Pretty easy to modulate.

In Mexico passengers press a button before leaving customs. If it turns green they simply leave. If it turns read they have their bags searched. Flight crews can not press the button. It's some Mexican customs rule that every crew member have their bags searched by hand. Every bag. Every crew member.

Going through customs I had a liquor mini I purchased on the first overnight in my bag. A liquor mini! The agent pulled it out and set it aside. She then went through every other bag. Nothing else found.

I told her, in Spanish, that I forgot I had it. She said it's okay but to follow her. I knew what was coming next...a shakedown.

She asked for my passport and photocopied it. She then started typing up a form. I've heard about this form from coworkers. It's all in Spanish and is an admission of guilt and includes some type of fine.

All of this for a liquor mini that's well within personal use guidelines set forth by Mexican customs that was given to my airline.

A Flight Attendant had a 36 hour overnight and is a heavy smoker. Before leaving the US she bought a carton of cigarettes at Duty Free. The same station tried to fine her $200 for not declaring the cigarettes. Mind you we are not given ANY form in which we can declare anything. After over an hour they forced her to pay $100 and get the money from an ATM. She offered to leave the cigarettes with them. Not an option.

After about 10 minutes, which my crew only knew I was detained but not why, a man came in speaking only in Spanish. I picked up a bit but a woman came in and said, "You can not have this. We will let you go this time, but you can not have liquor, cigarettes, or cigars."

I left. I think they "let me go" because they felt I would have refused all fines/bribes and would ask to go to jail (other crew members have said the same). A judge must be called before someone can be arrested. They would not risk their jobs calling a judge to arrest a crew member for al liquor mini.

Truly ridiculous and a scar on the face of a beautiful country.

Shortish overnight in a beautiful hotel. Long van rides to and from, which is the norm as airports are all far outside of town.

Beautiful departure next to TWO active volcanoes. First two legs were mine. Lots of weather to contend with.

We arrived at the outstation late due to weather. The ground crew did an amazing job and we blocked out on time. When I called for taxi the bad news started.

Center was delaying our departure for 15 minutes. Not horrible. We taxied out and waited. Then more bad news....ground stop for 30 more minutes. We shut the engines down. I let the passengers know the bad news.

Eventually we left. We worked around the weather and made up a lot of time. We landed just 15 minutes late.

Pulling into the gate I was exhausted. 7 hours and 45 minutes of flying will do that to ya. Out of the corner of my eye I saw a bald guy.....a crew chaser.

A crew chaser is the guy you never want to see. Ours is a really nice guy....but he only delivers bad news. He either junior mans, extends or delivers drug test notices.

The Captain was sure the drug test was for him since we were both not legal for more flying. I knew it was for me. Sure enough it was for me.

For random drug test we must be escorted over to the testing facility at the airport. No stopping along the way. I really wanted to go home.

It took about 30 minutes. I'm paid for a whole 15 minutes.

I got home about an hour later than planned. I haven't done a full four day trip in months.

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