Saturday, February 27, 2010

Back to your hole flyboy

Scheduling has been interesting this week.

Monday - 4 legs with a 3 hour sit in between

Tuesday - off

Wednesday - Morning airport reserve

Thursday- Late morning reserve at home. They didn't realize they had no one to cover afternoon airport reserve until it was 2PM...the time the shift starts. They called me at 2PM to sign in at 4PM. Released at 10PM

Friday - Once again no one assigned afternoon airport reserve. They didn't realize it until 3:30PM when they needed a reserve quick. They scrambled and called me at 3:50PM to come sit ready at 5:50PM.

That's where this blog starts....5:50PM. I arrived and attempted to sign in for airport reserve. The computer rejected my sign in stating I wasn't assigned airport reserve. Whatever. I was there. I went and sat down with a buddy of mine in the crew room. I did notice a 6:30PM overnight that was open (due to the First Officer who is based elsewhere, being reassigned during the 3:30PM scramble!) I know the Captain...didn't feel like screwing him over so I stepped up to the plate. I called scheduling and advised that I wasn't able to sign in and that I saw a 6:30PM flight open. "Oh yeah, First Officer Smith, yeah okay I'm going to assign that too you then you have one leg out in the morning and a deadhead back."

I was okay with it, except they had a 20 minute connect time scheduled for the deadhead. Impossible as my flight arrived at 7:50 AM. The deadhead left at 8:10AM. There is 15 minutes of duty scheduled at the termination of each flight for debrief leaving 5 minutes for the flight. She fixed it. I did state, "Good thing I called or the flight would have likely left late." No response. Whatever.

The Captain and I flew together about two years ago. I didn't remember it till I brought up my previous profession in the IT field. A light bulb went off in his head and he recalled how I helped him with his computer problem. Oh yeah.

Flight was fine. My leg. I was being super lazy and didn't feel like putting in a fix 30 miles out at 10,000 feet (to help with Vertical Nav/fuel savings). I just winged it from FL 360 down to the 2500 altitude at the FAF. Same with the approach. Clear night. All worked out. Even landed on the 1000 footers for the first time in a while. Overnight short. Just 9 hours.

Many hotels have these waffle makers. I am a pro at them. If I get furloughed I am going straight to Waffle House!

The other base gives me Tourette's syndrome. I don't like it. The ground controller asked where we were parking. He gave simple instructions, "Ok taxi Hotel to Mike 2 then Lima to the gate." But then he continued, "If the gate is occupied, Hotel to India, India to Foxtrot 2, Bravo, Charlie then Double back on Lima and hold short of Mike 9". I think. Honestly I have no clue what he said....he spoke way too fast. The Captain got it all. Thankfully the gate was open.

The Captain had a 2 hour sit and offered to do my post flight. Nice. Off I went to my deadhead.

I was assigned a middle seat in the back...better than the jump seat. Prior to leaving my schedule had me terminating in base after the deadhad. I texted my wife my flight number and my ETA as she dropped me off yesterday, I would need a ride home.

Yadda, yadda, yadda I land in base. I called scheduling to get released. Nope. Assigned another overnight leaving in 45 minutes....from the other side of the airport. As the scheduler rattled off my assignment all I could hear was, "No you can't go home, now back to your hole flyboy!" Over dramatic yes. But it's the weekend and it would be nice too see my wife.

My wife was already on the way to pick me up....had to tell her to turn around.

Being in the back of the plane, it took a while to get off. I made it to my gate with 25 minutes to spare. Flight attendants on board, no Captain.

After greeting the flight attendants I fired up the APU. For whatever reason the ground crew didn't hook up power. Not my gas. Not my problem.

The Captain arrived with 10 minutes to spare. He was called from home and was actually early as they called him late. We blocked out 1 minute late. I was hungry.

The winds were gusting from between 100-120 degrees to the left of the centerline. Captain managed a nice gusty, slight tailwind,  light weight landing.

Once at the gate, he was deadheading back. I was staying the night along with the Flight Attendants.

The airline is short on Captains. He is heading back for a 4 hour sit for an overnight. Another Captain would be deadheading up to fly out with me in the morning. What a mess.

I did go to lunch with the Flight Attendants to an awesome seafood cafe for awesome fried catfish. Almost made this craziness worth it.

Leaving tomorrow morning on a 4:45AM van for a 5:40AM departure.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

"Man, how do you do it?"

For February I had a regular reserve line, meaning I was assigned to be available all but 11 days of the month. On these days I could be assigned to sit at home "on call", at the airport "on call" or go flying. No idea which until the last minute. I am used to it.

A buddy of mine on my plane, but much more senior, forgot to bid for February. He also got regular reserve. In his 5 years here....he has never been on reserve.

When he was hired he got a line almost right away. He was lucky with his timing.

More than once this month he has asked me, "Man how do you do it?"...meaning putting up with reserve. I told him that I have been abused so much that I am somewhat used to it. It was a rude awakening too him. I am sure he will never forget to bid again.

On reserve it's hard to plan anything on a day I have to be available. If my wife needs me to go with her to the doctor and I am on reserve...well I do the best I can.

For example the next time she goes in for an Ultrasound is March 2nd. In order to make sure I had the day off I moved my reserve days around this month to work the 6 days prior to March 2nd giving me a 7 day conflict. My schedule for March originally had me working that day, now I have it off WITH pay.  I have 12 days off in March instead of 11. Of course I have to pay the piper by working 6 days of reserve in a row.

It will get worse when we have a kid. If the kiddo has a play on a certain day I have to hope to swap days, get the day off with pay (burning a vacation day), get the day off without pay or hope to be done in time.

My buddy has had a rough month even for reserve standards. It almost seems like scheduling is working him harder because they never got to screw with him in he past. Payback of sorts.

Because he was never on reserve, he had a lot of questions about what scheduling can do. Sure it's in the contract, but reading through the contract can be a little confusing....and there is a lot of grey. I don't mind helping out and gave him pointers. He has since bid and was awarded a hard line for March.

If I were a line holder it would be much easier to get days off and plan a life.

Next month I have afternoon airport standby again. I prefer this as I know on the first day I am off until at least 2PM. If it were a reserve day I would have no idea what I was doing. Knowing I am off till 2PM allows me to go to the Doctor, get my car fixed...whatever.

Come July 2nd I will have 10 First Officers below me. Life will get better. Though I will still likely be on reserve....I should be on the top of the reserve list (where I can control my life a little more) versus the bottom where I am now.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

My turn in The Crew Lounge

I was a guest on this weeks podcast from The Crew Lounge. Myself, along with a pilot from a major were asked to be on to discuss pilot and flight attendant relations. It was a lot of fun.

Check it out here...and subscribe!

Thursday, February 18, 2010

I'm no Flight Attendant or Dr....but I'm here too help

Wife and I grabbed seats in cattle class last night to visit family. Thankfully we got exit row seats for the flight.

About 2 hours in, I was resting with my Bose QC15s pumping in a Smart DJ playlist (I love my Zune HD!) into my ears when I overheard, "If there is a M.D or D.O on board please ring your flight attendant call button or come to row 22."

I opened my eyes to see two flight attendants briskly walking down the aisle carrying the emergency medical kit and oxygen bottle. Something had happened. A moment later the third flight attendant walked by with the defibrillator. Medical emergency.

I had changed out of my uniform into my "civies" prior to boarding the flight.

As two flight attendants and a Dr worked in the back of the plane, I noticed the front flight attendant had his hands full with First Class. As he walked to the back of the plane I took out my ID and let him know that if he needed any help I was glad to assist (I'm listed as a pilot/crew on the passenger manifest so he knew who I was). Being squeamish I can't help with the medical emergency, but I can help pick up trash and hand out drinks at the very least. I can also help with "crowd" control as passengers were trying to use the rear lavatory even though it was clear the area was packed. He said he was going to ask if I could help and appreciated my offer. Things were fine at the time, but he would let me know if he needed help.

I laid back and hoped for the best. There was still 90 minutes of flight left. If the seat belt sign came on or we started descending soon I knew it was because of the medical emergency.

Thankfully everything worked out fine. About 30 minutes prior to landing the lead flight attendant came back to my seat and dropped off half a dozen fresh baked cookies. He appreciated my offer to step up and help.

Once we landed medical personnel came on board and rolled the passenger off. They ended up signing a waiver to not be transported after all.

Even though it wasn't my airline (it was a mainline flight) I'm always here to help another crew if needed.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

No Einstein

Another long day.

[singlepic id=439 w=640 h=480 float=]

Woke up at 5:00AM. Left the house at 5:20AM. Signed in for airport standby/reserve at 5:56AM. Went to sleep until 7:35AM. Sat in the crew room with the Captain on airport standby from then till around 9:45AM. At that point I was on the phone with my wife when I heard the home phone ringing in the background. My wife quickly learned to not answer calls from "Unknown". She didn't answer.

Sure enough it was Crew Scheduling calling and left a voicemail advising that a 1:10PM departure had been placed in my schedule. Not just any Crew Scheduler....the same person who called me on my overnight wondering why I wasn't signed in for airport standby in base. No Einstein.

I called the scheduler back. Very possible...I questioned why they called me 5 times the day prior asking why I wasn't signed in for standby when a quick check would have shown I was on an overnight and why did they call my HOME phone number when they knew I was on airport standby. They had no answer for the first question. As for the second they stated they simply called the first number listed and asked if I would like to update my phone numbers. Frustrated I stated my phone numbers were listed correctly as Home and Cell. My cell number hasn't changed since I started at my airline. answer. No scheduler in the last 2 1/2 years has called me at home when I was on airport standby. Not a single one.

Normally the ready reserve is used for last minute flights due to a crew arriving late, calling in sick, or equipment changes. Anything over 2 hours away is normally covered by reserves at home. Problem reserves at home.

Fine. I did report the problems I had with this individual from scheduling. Some additional training  appears to be required.

The flight was an upgrade from smaller equipment. Another airline cancelled the 3/4 full morning flight on a 50 seater. The next flight at 1:10PM was half full. In order to get everyone to the destination they needed a larger plane...hence my plane.

For whatever reason they didn't call the standby Captain until 12:40PM. When questioned why the big discrepancy between notification times, they stated they were hoping another Captain would become available (like out of thin air?!?!).

The destination was somewhere I had never been prior.

After eating lunch I headed to the plane. The flight was blocked 2 1/2 hours out and 3 hours back, arriving at 7:05PM. At best it would be a little over 13 hours on duty and being awake for 14 hours.

By 1:25PM there were 65 bodies in the back. Slight delay for a flight attendant who's inbound flight was running late. A jump seater from Delta, came up to the cockpit to ask for a ride. The Captain inspected his documents and welcomed him aboard. There was room in the back which is fine as the jumpseat isn't comfy. We were then held for late connecting passengers.

Then more delays as the passenger count was off. One too few seats intially. No problem, the jump seater quickly came up front. New problem, the gate agent said he wasn't flight deck authorized and he would not be on the flight. That lit a fire in my normally calm Captain. Out he went and told the gate agent to fix the problem as the jump seater IS flight deck authorized. The problem could have come from the Northwest to Delta switch.

Yadda, yadda, yadda he ended up getting a seat in the back and we left out 2:18PM.

The Captain took the outbound. We cruised at max cruise speed which worked out to Mach .81. That shaved 22 minutes off the block time.

Arriving at the outstation I went in to find warm food. None too be found. Everything closed 30 minutes prior to our arrival. If we had been on time I could have had my choice.  I grabbed some snacks from my suitcase and a coke from the galley....that would be dinner.

Flying back seemed to take forever. The lack of food and the long day began taking it's toll on my body. As we began the final descent to base I had been on duty for 13 1/2 hours.....awake for 14 1/2 hours. Tired.

Pulling into the gate I was happy to see a crew ready to fly it out. I was at that point I was fatigued. At 8:05PM I went off duty. The Captain and I were both assigned to be back at the airport for 6AM standby. Thankfully my wife was waiting outside to pick me up. As soon as I got home I went to bed.

This morning started at 4:50AM. Out the door at 5:20AM and signing in at 5:55AM. Another long day. Hoping to not go anywhere. I'm "only" legal for 15 hours of duty since I had less than 10 hours of "rest" (9 hours and 55 minutes to be exact).

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Scheduling had no clue.....

After my deadhead home cancelled I got to work on getting the crew a hotel. My crew was comprised of two senior flight attendants who have only flown day trips for the last several years and a senior Captain that has day trips as his line this month. Only one flight attendant brought clothes. The other had a laptop. The Captain had just his flight kit.

Being so senior and doing day trips, they don't deal with irregular operations often. Me being junior, I am slung all over the place. I quickly got to work on getting hotel rooms by calling scheduling to get hotel vouchers.

My airline schedules hotel rooms for scheduled flights and crews. We weren't scheduled to have a hotel room so we needed a voucher to give to the hotel in order for them to get paid and for us to get a room.

In the outstation we were in, we use a Marriott. Nice hotel.

After about 35 minutes of working the phone I got through to scheduling and secured the hotel rooms. Just our luck the hotel van was waiting upstairs!

Scheduling had no idea what to do with our crew. I checked my schedule before we left the airport and an hour after we arrived at the hotel. Nothing.

Being winter, this city was snowed in. The only food was the overpriced hotel restaurant or a Denny's next door. We all chose Denny's. Because they know we are a captive audience, they have no reason to offer fast service....and didn't. It was food.

When I got back to my room scheduling had gotten around to us. We were now working a flight back the next day at 11:25AM. The rest of the crew would be getting junior man pay as they had the day off. I was on day one of six....regular reserve pay.

The next morning my phone rang at 7:02 AM. I saw the caller ID..."Unknown" was scheduling. I am not obligated to answer my phone while on a trip. They burned me once badly when I answered the phone on an overnight. Never again. They left a voice mail and then called 4 more times over the next 4 minutes. I got an email of the voice mail (I love Google Voice! Free Voice Mail to Email transcription). The scheduler was wondering why I wasn't signed in for airport standby in base. Really? She had no idea where I was. On the 6th phone call I answered the phone, "Good morning, I'm not signed in for airport standby BECAUSE I'M ON AN OVERNIGHT. I'm going back to sleep, DO NOT CALL ME AGAIN." I then hung up the phone. One might question why I just didn't turn off my phone/ringer, well my wife might need to contact me so that's not an option.

Due to all of the cancellations, there were over 230 passengers vying for 70 seats. Needless to say we were full. I was surprised we didn't have a jumpseater, although with 70 passengers, 2400 pounds of cargo and 14400 pounds of fuel there was barely enough room for a jumpseater.

The flight back was fine. The Captain I flew with does IOE and knows a lot about flying in general and the plane I fly. He hipped me to a new technique on landing. It was a bit different how I normally fly, but worked out really nicely. Might work it into my norm.  I somehow was released from duty at 1:35PM even though there were a slew of cancellations and delays.

Today I was assigned at 6AM airport standby. I got a good hour of sleep in. Now hanging out in the crew room. The field is covered by freezing fog and 1/8 mile vis. Flights are diverting and no one is taking off. Who knows what's going to happen to me.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

This could work

Right now I am sitting in the operations area of an outstation. This "situation" started last night.

I was off yesterday. I was looking at open trips last night and saw an "easy" turn. The flight left at 7:25AM and returned to base at 1:50PM. Not bad. As is I was assigned reserve at home starting at 4AM. This trip would be coming my way with a 4AM wake up call. I decided to avoid the call and asked scheduling for the trip. Turns out that was a bad idea.

I was assigned the trip late last night. This meant my duty day started at 6:40AM.

My crew is VERY senior. They are all in the top 1% of seniority here. I am in the bottom 10%.

The Captain is a nice guy who does IOE. I flew with him once over a year ago. He flies a homebuilt RV-8 and gliders in his off time. Three world records have his name on it for gliders including a distance record. The guy knows some stuff about flying.

We blocked out on time and made taxied out to the deicing area. This is when the comedy started.

At my hub we deice either while exiting the ramp or right next to the runway. I prefer the runway as it normally helps with holdover times. A holdover time is the time between when the anti-ice is first applied and when the plane has too be airborne. We figure out this time via various charts depending on conditions outside and the type of fluid used.

This morning deicing was being done next to the start. As we pulled up we were number 4 for deicing. It looked good. Light snow was falling. Visibility was around 3/4 mile. This could work. Then I remembered who was doing the deicing.

Twenty minutes after lining progress had been made. We were still number 4. After another 5 minutes we were finally guided into position. This could work.

The checklist requires the plane to be setup a certain way. One thing we have too do is turn off the packs....the air conditioning. Today was no different. One thing that helped was the light load...just 31 warm bodies. If we had been full it would have been too stuffy and we would not have made it two hours. If we had been more empty it would have been too cold. Thirty-one warm bodies was perfect.

There was more than two inches of snow on the wings. The deicer was having a heck of time removing the packed in snow. One third of the way through....he ran out of Type I deicing fluid.

Planes were stacking up in line for deicing including a Fedex Airbus. Three RJs take up the same amount of space as one Fedex Airbus. The Airbus was flanked by 3 Fedex deicing trucks. Because my airline was having problems deicing, it was decided for all of us too move and get the Airbus started.

It had now been 45 minutes since we left the gate. We had 2 hours 15 minutes until we had to either take off or return to the gate due to the Passenger Bill of Rights.

After another 20 minutes of being moved around we were lined up next to the Airbus. The deicing truck was back. They slowly applied Type I....and then Type 4. This could work.

While they were deicing the snow began to fall....heavy snow. The Captain and I began working on our holdover time. We both agreed...35 minutes. This could work.

Type IV was done. The deicer came over the radio, "Aircraft 141 your aircraft has been deiced...blah,blah,blah...your holdover time began 35 minutes ago." The Captain and I both looked at each other. We tried to explain that we couldn't take off due to our holdover time expiring. The deicer either didn't get it...or didn't care.

Thankfully the dispatcher was on the ball and we had more than enough fuel to sit on the ground with an engine running for 3 hours before hitting our min takeoff fuel number.

Thirty minutes later....yes thirty minutes later.......we were being deiced again. The snow was falling very heavy now. Holdover time was still 35 minutes. Once the deicer was done we were advised our holdover time began 26 minutes ago. The runway was less than 40 yards away....but it seemed like it was a mile.

The Captain started the other engine while I called back to the flight attendants and let them know we would be leaving soon. I then made a PA. The passengers had been standing up, walking around and on their phones for hours. All needed to be stopped.

I then went into my taxi flow. Cabin ready, engines fired up, checklist done, we lurched toward the runway with 4 minutes till we exceeded our holdover time...again. This could work.

We were number one holding short with one plane on the runway. Due to low visibility the tower was staggering departures and arrivals.

Finally they were gone and I read back, "Position and hold." This could work.

The clock was ticking. Literally at the last second....we were cleared for takeoff. Another minute and we would have had to return to the gate.

Being light we cruised at FL410. Nice view. We got several short cuts.

We blocked into the gate 4 hours and 25 minutes after we blocked out. The flight is blocked for 2 hours.

Our deadhead flight back also took 2 hours to get from the ramp, be deiced and takeoff. Right now the flight back is full...overfull. My entire crew is dead heading and is on standby.

As is I am going to have a 13 hour 20 minute duty day. If I stayed with my 4AM reserve I would have a 16 hour 10 minute duty day. Illegal.

I told the gate agent to assign my seat last. I would not mind at all if I stayed the night here. Being so junior on reserve, as long as I am not in base, they can't abuse...I mean screw...I mean reassign me.

Another hour at least until the flight arrives. Still showing full. This could work.

----- in a hotel room. Didn't work. Scheduling has no idea what to do with my crew. Let the fun begin.

Friday, February 5, 2010

New speed record

Think this is the fastest I have ever gone across the ground. I had 628 knots sustained in level flight. Nice tailwind. Took forever to get back though.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

The same piece of sky

With GPS navigation, airplanes can fly an exact route with very little margin of error. This results in plane flying through the same piece of sky....and the same air.

More than a few times I've had my plane rocked by flying in trail or a heavy jet. Even with FAA required entrail spacing, wake turbulence can occur.

On a trip back into base recently I snapped a photo of contrails produced by aircraft ahead of us that shows how we all fly through the same air. Kinda neat.

[singlepic id=438 w=800 h=600 float=center]

The Flight Attendant Call Button

I'm still very new to this game. I've been flying for almost 4 years and at my airline for a little over 2 years. Questions pop up in my head every now and then that I don't have the answer too. One question concerned the Flight Attendant call button.

Being so junior I deadhead often. I also non-rev quite a bit as non-reving is the best benefit I have. If I couldn't non-rev......if my wife couldn't non-rev....I don't think I would put up with all the crap.

In all over my 32 years on this earth I have never used the Flight Attendant call button. I've always been kind of afraid too. Silly I know. But it's true. I've seen the looks some flight attendants give passengers who hit that button. No thank you.

I was curious though about ways to get a coke or water in between services. There is an awesome (seriously check it out) podcast called The Crew Lounge. The podcast is run by Flight Attendants from several airlines. They cover topics concerning not only flight attendants, but pilots and passengers as well. One of the Flight Attendants on the show is Sara from The Flying Pinto.  Via Twitter (I long thought of Twitter as a fad, but when used properly is an informative and entertaining tool) I asked The Crew Lounge  the following question to them, " Is it kosher to just walk up to the galley and ask for something or just use the call button?"

In The Crew Lounge episode 5 they answered my question...boy did they ever! There were several opinions on the use of the call button. The short answer is, if the service is over, the flight has some time left, you aren't sitting in the window seat next too two people who are sleeping, and the flight attendants aren't eating their lunch, then sure attempt to approach and ask for something. I know the Flight Attendants on my mainline partner this tactic is hit or miss.

As with most legacy airlines, the Flight Attendants at my mainline partner are all senior. They are a varied group and are extremely varied when it comes to attitude.

When I travel in uniform (be it Deadhead or personal), most of the Flight Attendants make a point to give me whatever I want. If I ask for water, I get a whole bottle. Snacks are handed over no charge. It's nice as we are all one big disgruntled (and slightly dysfunctional) family.

While traveling incognito (only partially as Flight Attendants get a manifest and can see who is a non-rev and who is a paying a lot more info) some Flight Attendants just seem downright un happy. I know we all have our bad days, but I've seen the same Flight Attendants on more than one flight treat passengers, and their fellow Flight Attendants, horribly. On the other side I've seen some flight attendants who seem to have a permanent smile and great attitude.

In case you haven't noticed, Flight Attendants don't have much in the way of personal space on airplanes. The galley and their jump seats are all they have. When I have stopped by the galley (the handful of times) I make it a point to stand back a bit and politely ask for something. Most of the Flight Attendants are happy to assist, a few gave me the "get the hell out of my space glare" and a few (when I am in Uniform or they know me) tell me to help myself.

On the most recent episode of The Crew Lounge, they covered how reserve and commuting works. They gave a good overview of why people choose to commute and how the reserve system works. Flight Attendant reserve isn't much different than pilot reserve. I subscribed to their podcast and look forward to every episode. Anyone with an Zune, computer or even an I-Pod should check it out.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Bose QC2 vs QC15 and UFlyMike

So I am lucky enough to be married to a woman who has purchased not one....but two Bose noise reducing headphone sets for me. The first was a Bose QC2 more than 4 years ago. They worked fine. Right before we went to Tokyo she bought me a pair of the new Bose QC15's. Then for Christmas she bought me a UFlyMike adapter. Yeah I know I am lucky.

Initially I tried the QC15s and UFlyMike. I had a hard time with the microphone as it sounded muffled and tinny. I tried playing with the microphone bias. No joy.

On Sunday I got a chance to use my QC2s and the UFlyMike. Wow...what a world of difference. The microphone sounded much clearer.

It's no secret Bose is not happy with UFlyMike (Bose tried to sue UFlyMike on trademark infringement) as Bose wants pilots to shell out much more for a Bose Aviation X Headset. The sound clarity was much nicer with the QC2s than the QC15s. The only difference I know of between the QC15's and QC2's is that the QC15's have an additional microphone on the outside of the headset for extra ANR.

For the foreseeable future I will only be using the QC2s in the cockpit instead of the QC15s. I still carry my Telex 500 ANR headset as a backup. I am sure I will start leaving it behind soon.


Update 12/15/2011- I've given up on the QC15/Uflymike and switched to the Bose A20. A bit more than the QC15 but no more ear buds. If I commuted I might have stuck with the QC15/UflyMike as the QC15 would be useful during the commute.