Saturday, June 20, 2009

Catch me if you can

The weather at the outstation was nice. The weather at the base was beautiful and VFR. All I had to do was get to base and I would have 55 minutes between scheduled arrival of my flight and scheduled departure for my deadhead. Should be easy right?

Well in the “real world” 55 minutes is really 35 minutes at best. How so? Our scheduled arrival time was 815AM. That’s when we should be landing. If we land on time it will take at least 5 minutes to get to the gate. If the rampers are there waiting then we should pull straight in. If I bust out of the cockpit and do my post flight, then rush back in and grab my bags I can be done in about 10 minutes. Rarely does that happen as it takes a while for passengers to get off the aircraft. My deadhead flight is scheduled to leave at 9:10AM.

The hotel van was scheduled for 6:30AM. I was in the lobby at 6:20AM. There was another crew there who would be deadheading. The flight cancellations last night were crazy. Not only did the last two flights from the outstation to base cancel, but the last two flights from the base to the outstation cancelled. The deadheading crew was supposed to fly the early morning departure. Now they would be deadheading.

At 6:30 my crew was in the hotel van. Problem? The rest of the seats were full with passengers. The deadhead crew would have to take the next van.

This airport doesn’t have a crew only TSA screening line. We were able to cut to the front of the regular line, but were still in the back of the screening line. Nice. For some reason passengers always give us dirty looks for cutting in line. Without us cutting in line they would leave late….which is worse? Waiting 3 minutes now or 30 minutes later? Flight crews are professionals at clearing security. We have it down to a science.

My formula is as follows. Before I even get close to the screening line, I place my wallet, cell phone and sunglasses in my laptop bag. I grab two bins. I take my laptop out of the bag (I don’t have a TSA approved laptop bag, I like my current bag AKA my man purse) and place it in one bin. I place my laptop bag in the second bin. I move the bins forward till I am next.  I send my kit bag and suitcase in first. Then my laptop followed by the laptop bag. Why this order? Well I have seen laptops disappear as they come out first and a passenger grabs it and takes off. By going in last I should be able to keep an eye on it.

I wear metal free shoes so I can keep them on. Once clear I put my kit bag on the hook of my suitcase and then my laptop back in the bag and off I go. Most of the time between my first bag going in and me walking away is under 45 seconds. I am good.

We get to the gate at 6:50 AM. I ask the gate agent for the jet bridge to ramp code. Some jet bridges use keys (which I have) while some use codes. This one is a code. Remembering this code is vital. I used to get stuck out on the ramp in the cold/rain/heat as I forgot the code and no one was around. Sucks.

The plane is stuffy. The airport is next to a huge river. The temp in the cabin is 28 degrees Celsius or around 85 degrees Fahrenheit. I turned on the battery master and check to make sure the external power connection is within limits. Once done I power up the plane and turn on the recirc fan to get air moving in the cabin.

This is the same plane we flew in yesterday. It has issues. The cabin temp controller isn’t functioning and we have to manually adjust the temp. Sounds easy. It’s not. More later.

With the post flight done I head into the cockpit. The deadhead crew is on board. Due to all the cancelations there are way more passengers than seats. The deadhead crew is “must fly” as they have a flight to fly once reaching base. There were two flight attendants from my mainline partner also on board who are commuting to work to work an overseas flight. In order to help them get on board one of the deadheading pilots agrees to take the cockpit jump seat.

General boarding starts. The ground crew didn’t connect external air. Other planes (all my mainline partner) have it connected.  But none for us.

After 10 minutes boarding stops. We aren’t full. Something is up. The deadheading pilot states there is a group of 20 kids who were stuck in the TSA line. What?

The chaperones should have been way more responsible to make sure they arrived well ahead of departure time. Instead they arrived 20 minutes prior to departure. Hmm.

I fire up the APU. Once it starts I get a “ding” and a flashing yellow light, “APU Fault”. Garr. Wait a few minutes. Try again. Same thing. Cabin temp now 90 degrees.

The Captain went into the terminal for something. No idea when he is coming back.

Now I am in a pickle. We are almost loaded with passengers. Time is 7:15…5 minutes from departure. The cabin is uncomfortably warm. No APU. Time to make a decision.

I call operations and ask for pre-conditioned air. A ramper comes up. He is reluctant as he thinks we are leaving soon. True enough hooking it up for 5 minutes does no good. I make a deal. We have no APU. I asked him to have the huffer cart ready so we can start an engine as soon as the Captain comes back. Which I think is  any minute now.

A few minutes later I hear the huffer cart spin up. No Captain. Grrrrr. The deadhead Captain is in the back. I can’t start an engine without the Captain. Grrrr.

Cabin temp 92 degrees. Captain is back. We run the checklist and start an engine. Cooling.

Meanwhile the 20 kids showed up. It’s now 7:30AM. The two mainline flight attendants are pulled off the flight to accommodate the kids. Final count is 68 plus the jumpseater. Something is wrong, if we have two empty seats put the flight attendants back on. The jumpseating pilot took the jump seat to help them out. No go. New count is 69 + 1 jumpseater meaning one empty seat. Both mainline flight attendants gave us a thank you wave but they were staying behind together. They would miss their international flight.

I call for pushback. The airport is so congested that we can’t pushback without blocking a taxiway. We are cleared….”tail south.”

During the takeoff roll around 100 knots we get a "ding" and a flashing yellow light. I quickly look up and say "continue". The warning was simply a L PACK TEMP caution due to the temp controller being out of whack. No big deal. We lifted off the earth at 7:50 AM…. thirty minutes late. Not good.

There is weather between the base and us.  Other planes are flying around the weather. We are reduced to 250 knots until we clear 27,000 feet! We normally do 290 about 10,000 feet. Today the Captain planned on flying at 310 to make up time. For the entire flight, every 10 - 15 minutes we would get a "dink" with L PACK TEMP. I would reach up and manually warm the pack...over and over. Annoying. Boo.

Even though it’s summer we hit icing conditions between 12,000 and 26,000 feet. On went to cowl anti-ice.

Clearing 27,000 feet we had normal speed. We requested FL380 to get above traffic and fly fast. Approved.

Looking down at my display we were estimated to land at 8:39 AM. Add 15 minutes and I would have 16 minutes at BEST to make my connection. Hmmmmm.

I sent operations our ETA via the ACARS and out of the printer comes our next assignments and the connecting gates for the passengers. My next assignment is my deadhead. The gate is one of the farthest away from where we are parking.

The weather in base is beautiful. We could see the airport clearly 30 miles away. At 25 miles we were cleared for the visual. At 8:34AM the main gear touched the ground.

Due to the APU fault we would be handing the plane over the maintenance. This is one of two scenarios where I won’t have to do a post flight. Nice. The Captain I am flying with used to be based as my base, but was displaced to this new base. He is hoping to jump seat home on the same flight I am deadheading on. I let him know I will refuse the jump seat if offered. Why? Well as a deadhead who has a confirmed seat I should not have to travel in the jump seat. By doing so it might get a paying passenger on, but will block a pilot trying to jump seat.

At 8:45AM we pulled into the gate and waited for external power before shutting the plane down. At 8:52AM I was out the door heading for my deadhead. I briskly walked up the jet bridge past the passengers who were waiting on their gate-checked bags.

I needed a boarding pass. The line at the gate could be long. I stopped at a kiosk. I hit the check in button then enter my information. It comes back with it’s too late to check in and puts me on standby for the next flight. WTF? I checked in last night. Frustrated I leave and head for the gate.

I’m walking full speed to the gate. Hmm bladder full. Better stop now than wait till I board. When I checked in last night I was assigned a middle seat. Ugh.

One liter lighter I am back enroute to the gate and arrived at  9:01AM. Area is full. I pass a mainline crew and hear they are upset that they aren’t getting on board to deadhead due to a full flight. Hmmm. I stand in line. The two passengers ahead are tying up the gate agents with questions about LATER flights. Grrrr.

I tell the gate agent I am deadheading and already checked in, I just need a boarding pass. Telling her this lets her know I am not trying to jumpseat/non-rev home. She handed me a boarding pass….6F….First Class. Nice.

After arrived back in base I made a quick call to scheduling. Released for the day at noon. Not too shabby.

The same buddy of mine who brought the plane to me yesterday was still trying to commute home today. All the flights were full. He was trying to fly another outstation on one mainline flight and then home to my base on another. Well at the outstation his next flight cancelled. No hope of getting another, as they were all full, including the jump seat. He ended up having to use Southwest Airlines to get home. Two leg looong commute. Ooof.

Enough for now. It’s Miller Time.

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