Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The real deal

Day three of the trip was easy. One leg in. Finding the hotel van was again a challenge.

Day four..go home day...was supposed to be easy. One long leg (3 hours), a 4 hour sit, and another long leg (3 hours).

First leg left on time and we landed 25 minutes early at the outstation.

[caption id="attachment_1943" align="aligncenter" width="450"] Enroute, we followed this flight all the way in. Interesting long contrail.[/caption]


We saw a problem right away as there was a company jet pulling into our gate.

They had come back for more fuel due to a reroute around weather. We were scheduled to go to the same city in a few hours. Station personell were very busy as a mainline jet came back for more fuel as well. After all the scrambling we blocked in on time.

Long sit. Weather. This outstation started having departure delays....30 minutes and increasing. The inbound plane I was to fly outbound left on time, but was scheduled to arrive 45 minutes late due to a reroute. Ugh.

Everything was delayed. Mainline flights were headed to my old base....delayed due to weather. I began worrying about my commute home.

My whole crew commuted. Our original arrival time was scheduled for 6:35PM. We all had commute flights home leaving between 7:00PM and 7:55PM. My flight was 7:55PM. Earlier in the day the 7:55PM flight had 60 open seats.

The inbound plane arrived only 10 minutes late. I saw a pilot from another airline hoping to jump seat. I told her we were full but would make sure someone was in the jump seat (there was another pilot from my airline wandering around, thought they might get it.).

Full load. The jump seater from the other airline came down. She is a Captain and used to be based locally. Due to movements she now commutes. Her husband is a First Officer for the same airline. They see each other 4-6 days a month. Ouch.

It took 30 minutes to push off the gate (the doors were closed so we were on the clock). Min takeoff fuel was 12,007 pounds. Yes the 7 pounds mattered. At the gate we had 12,450 pounds on board. Not a lot of room considering an engine at idle burns 600 per hour. At the time we had just the APU on which burns 135 pounds per hour.

Once we pushed we taxied to the runway and were number 8 in line. Takeoff delays due to weather. ATC required 15 miles seperation...so about 5 minutes per plane.

Running on one engine we shut the APU down. After 20 minutes we were down to 12,100 pounds. The Captain worked the fuel numbers again and asked dispatch to decrease min takeoff to 11,800 by using a buffer fuel that was on board. Done.

After being instructed to "line up and wait" we had 12,010 pounds on board.....it had been almost an hour since the passenger door had closed.  Away we went.

A straight line between the two airports would mean flying directly east. Due to weather we had to fly  230 miles southwest and then turn around the storm to go east.

Our arrival time was estimated at 7:30PM. Not great.

The ride over the top of the storm was rough, constant light turbulence with occasional moderate turbulence.

An hour out the Captain needed to go to the lav...as did the jump seater. Captain went first. After he came back we were given a hold. That meant I had to go as I didn't want to risk being stuck in holds for a long time.

While waiting for the lav a passenger asked, "how many pilots are up in the cockpit?" I said I was the last one..."we are playing musical chairs." They laughed.

First EFC time was 30 minutes long. Thankfully we had plenty of hold fuel onboard. We held for 15 minutes then rejoined the arrival. A few minutes later we were given another hold....for 20 minutes.

Finally vectored in albeit slowly at 170 knots. Instructed to join the localizer 20 miles out and hold 170 knots till the FAF. Planes were spaced 3 miles apart.

Autopilot on, in the clouds, I just scanned my PFD and MFD. I noticed the TCAS target for the plane we were behind was getting closer. Sure enough Approach came on, "Citrus 392 keep your speed up, traffic following is 2.5 miles behind, we're good but they can't get any closer."

We were then told to reduced to 150 knots. The plane ahead didn't appear to change speed much as the Final Approach Monitor advised both of us a few more times about how close we were.

Broke out of the clouds at 600 feet. Only about a 10 knots crosswind.

I'd been up at that point for 13 hours, on duty for 12 hours. Kinda tired. The stars aligned and I made a veeeerrry smooth landing.

Blocked in at 2 minutes under 4 hours. We went 58 minutes over block.

Tons of delays and cancellations. I made my way to the crew room to stash my kit bag. My wife texted me that my orignal 7:55PM flight was delayed by an hour, but there had been a cancellation earlier in the day. That meant those 60 open seats were likely all gone.

Sure enough the flight was now overbooked. The airport personell were setting up cots as passengers would likely be sleeping in the airport due to cancellations. When airlines cancel due to weather, no hotels are given.

I looked around and saw two other pilots from my airline. They were senior to me (both Captains). That meant they would get the jump seat over me. Of course a mainline jump seater had priority over all of us.

Using my Ipad I logged in to check the standby list. I was number 30. Tired. Hungry. I left the gate in search of food. Two bagels in my bag I returned. Boarding had started. My flight attendant walked up. Her original commute flight cancelled so she was hoping to get on mine as she had family where I lived. If she didn't get on she would be paying for a hotel.

I checked the standby list. I had moved up to 21 but it didn't look good. Thankfully I got a seat...an aisle no less. My flight attendant and the other pilots got seats as well. We all had seats because the original passengers misconnected.

The flight left at 9:10PM. We landed in my old base at 12:40AM. I walked in my front door just after 1AM. At that point I had been up for 18 hours.

I'm off for 3 days....and get to do the same trip all over again.

For 3 1/2 years I had it easy, living in base, flying 30-40 hours a month, home most nights. That was a fairy tale career. This is the real deal. Commuting. Weather. A lot of flying. I have flown more than 42 hours so far this month. It's low because I dropped two 21 hour trips due to vacation. If I had not gone on vacation it would have been 84 hours...likely a bit more. Right now I'm scheduled to fly 94 hours next month. Yowza.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Flying Tired

So prior to this month I had been on Reserve most months. That meant I had little control over where I fly or when I flew.

Being a line holder should be different...but so far I'm not seeing it.

My line started on Friday. Due to weather my first turn cancelled. I was then reassigned to do a shorter turn. My pay is based on my original flight time. If the shorter flight went longer ( due to weather) I would get the extra pay.

The turn was supposed to leave a 5:20PM and return to base at 8:30PM. I would then sit until 9:45PM and fly to my overnight that's part of my line.

The first flight was rough. Moderate turbulence. Lots of bumps and altitude variations. ATIS initially reported winds 160@19G24 landing runway 10. Wet runway. Captain and I discussed the conditons and I felt okay landing. Did I mention it was my leg?

On a 3 mile final in IMC. New winds 160@26G40. Going around. Out to hold.

Controller seemed overworked and gave us a hold that made no sense. Another flight asked for clarification as well as they were holding 1000 feet above us. Again the instructions made no sense, but we both got what she wanted and did it.

With the turbulence bumping us around it was difficult to put the hold into the FMS. We went retro and held the old fashioned way..by tuning in the VOR and timing

After 15 minutes we were getting close to bingo fuel. Winds died back down to 160@18G27. We would do one approach then divert

Previous aircraft reported gain and loss of 10 knots. I Briefed I would add 10 knots. Long runway.

It was rough. Turblence all the way to the runway. Gust pushed the plane around quite a bit. Took me 2500 feet to straighten it all out and land. Quite smooth though...which is normal during the windy landings.

After landing my flight attendant called. Several passengers had vomited due to all the bumps. Nice.

Parked. More weather. The vomit covered cabin was so extreme that the ground crew could not clean and remove the smell. Lucky for us a previous plane came in to overnight. We swapped.

More weather. We finally left. Landed back at base at 11PM. My overnight was cancelled. No gate. Again due to weather.

After sitting on a remote pad for 55 minutes, we had a gate.

Since I commute and lost my overnight. I had to find my own place to stay. Got to a hotel at 1AM. Sleep around 1:45AM. Woke up due to sunlight around 8:ooAM. Had to be back at the airport at 11:30AM Deadhead and connect back up with my trip.

Due to all the weather my original crew was scattered about.

My deadhead was to leave at 12:05PM. I would arrive at the outstation at 2:00PM where I would then wait 30 minutes before leaving on my next flight.

Delayed. Staffing issues. Finally at 2PM I Walked down a jetbridge to my deadhead. I heard my name from behind. It was the First Officer....that I happened to instruct while I was at ATP.

I had not seen him in 3 years. He just hired on with my airline 3 months ago. With all time constratints there wasn't much time to talk.

Away we went. Tired but couldn't sleep. At 4PM I arrived at the outstation. I saw my plane next to where we parked. Loaded up and waiting for me.

I literally walked up one jetbridge, down another and into my seat. Captain had done the preflight.

Away we went. Three hour flight. Already tired.

We were headed to an airport I had not been to in 2 years, the Captain had never been there.

While enroute we studied the airport diagram. We had an idea of where we parked.

None issue. Done. We previously thought we lost the next quick turn because we were 2 hours late. Nope we still had it.

It was only a 94 mile flight. Kind of a waste to me. Whatever, I just fly the planes.

Tower, Ground, Approach, Departure, Station Personell...just about everyone assumed we knew what we were doing and were used to the local procedures as my airline does a lot of flying around there. This made it more stressful as we had to ask for clarification a few times.

My leg. Short flight. Once again approach assumed we knew they would clear us for a visual on downwind while 5000 AGL...oh and a short approach.

"Regional 499 cleared for a visual to 27, turn your base in the next mile." Was what were told.

I had been to this airport once....as a passenger. I saw the airport. Slowed down, popped out the flight spoilers, clicked off the autopilot, and began a smooth diving turn.

There was no way I would have attempted that as a new guy. It was a tight approach. Landing into the setting sun made it even more difficult. Decent landing.

More issues with station personell assuming we knew where they wanted us. Quick turn and another 94 miles back. Still tired.

My line orignially had a 2 hour break coming up. Due to all the delays we had just 35 minutes. Crew meal break.

After we each bought a $10 salad we loaded up. My leg. Tired. I'd been up for Sixteen hours on 7 hours sleep. By this point I had been on airplanes for 6 hours 20 minutes....and had another 2 hours to go.

Total flying was scheduled for 8 hours 20 minutes. Because of the first flight being a deadhead that 2 hours doesn't count towards actual flight time.

Blocked out on time. Tired. I set the autopilot to climb at 310 knots....and cruised at Mach .83. Tired.

Being so late there was not much radio chatter. We ate our $10 salads and then just sat in silence. Very tired.

Decent landing. Long runway. I let it roll to the end as we had to go there anyway.

None of us had been to the airport for an overnight. Took us a bit to find the hotel pickup spot. Then it took 30 minutes for the van to arrive. We weren't happy.

When I arrived at the hotel I had been up for 18 hours. I hit the bed without turning on the lights.

Slept about 7 hours. Today is an easy day...just one leg. Fourteen hour overnight and then 2 legs tomorrow followed by my commute home.

Friday, April 22, 2011

How commuting makes for a long first day

Yesterday I woke up at 5AM. Not because I had too, but because my wife woke up and my daughter woke up.
I took care of my daughter while my wife got ready for work. My wife left at 6AM. My daughter went back to bed while I finished up packing.

At 6:50AM my daughter and I left the house. I dropped her off at daycare at 7:15AM and made my way to the airport. I had to be in my domicile by 12:15PM to start my trip.

There are flights almost every hour between here and there (lucky for me!). There was a 7:55AM flight and then a 8:30am flight. I doubted I would make the first one.

Somehow the starts aligned as security was empty. I walked onto the 7:55AM flight at 7:45AM. Nice.
By 10:50AM I was in the crew room. I didn't know a single person as I am new too this base. I updated my manuals and just hung out till 1PM when my flight left.
I had not flown in a little more than two weeks. My leg. The crew was all new to me. Normal flight until the approach. Winds were 300@24G45 landing runway 33. That huge gust made for a lot of work on my part during the approach.
As passengers were deplaning a few commented on the great job and landing given the winds. Two passengers did fill up their sick bags though. It was really windy.
My entire crew was commuters. Arrival time back in base was scheduled for 6:20PM. They all had flights leaving between 6:15 PM and 6:55PM. Captains leg.

We were doing great cruising at .83 for over an hour when we were slowed and put into a conga line.

Captain was starting to think he would miss his flight, the last one home for the night.

He landed at 6:02PM. Gate at 6:08PM. He made his 6:30PM flight as did the rest of the crew. Me? I went to a hotel.

Only a semi longish 13 hour day. Legally I could have worked until 3AM.

Today starts my line. Yesterday was all overtime. My trip was supposed to start at 3PM. I checked my schedule and noticed my first turn cancelled. My next flight doesn't leave until 9:45PM. Checkout time for the hotel is noon.
Since I am a commuter I "get" to find somewhere to hangout for the next 9 hours. Crew room is most likely.
So this is commuting.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Back from vacation....kinda

I jump seated home from vacation on Sunday afternoon. My immediate family (plus 10 more of my extended family) enjoyed a 7 night cruise to Honduras, Belize, Mexico and Key West. Long time.


[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="100" caption="I'm not much for swimming. I sat on the beach under cover and relaxed with the strollers and baby stuff."]cruise[/caption]

[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="100" caption="I tried a local beer from each place we visited.....all were good."]img_0715[/caption]

[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="100" caption="Leaving Costa Maya....not a whole lot there."]img_0858[/caption]


Bidding closes today, which gave me just days to get my preferences in for bidding for next month.

This month I wanted maximum time off for vacation AND to work weekends to save on day care cost....oh and commutability.

Next month I want to work weekends, be commutable and maximize days off. Hard to combine commutable and max days off as many of the high time lines start at 6AM and finish at 10PM. I will know my fate in a few hours.

I've been at my airline for 3 1/2 years. Current movement and predictions show I MIGHT have an opportunity to upgrade to Captain in the next 2-3 years.

My wife and I have already decided that once I upgrade to Captain, to put all the extra Captain money into a savings account (we use ING....best rates out there) for two years. The rationale being I've been used to living on First Officer money for years, I could be pushed back to the First Officer seat since I will be junior, why not build up more than 6 months salary?

Originally I was going to commute back down on Friday morning to start my line Friday night. Instead I picked up a 5 hour turn on Thursday. It's commutable, but I will likely just stay the night. Normally I wouldn't pick up a turn on overtime, but since it's the 19th of the month and I've only worked 4 days....eh...I will bend my rule this once.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

First trip done....next ? Vacation

My first 4 day trip as a commuter is done. It was pretty easy. Most legs per day was scheduled for 4 but ended up being just 2. It helped that I was flying with a Captain I knew and got a long with well.

With the crazy fronts passing over the United States we both had our share of gusty approaches including one with a 30 knot direct crosswind.

The only interesting parts of the trip were the constant flight attendant changes. Every time we entered a HUB we would get a new flight attendant.

I've said it before and I will continue saying it. Flight Attendants are a vital part of the crew. I'm a little more relaxed knowing I have a competent and ready flight attendant in the cabin.

When I was first hired I liked having younger Flight Attendants on board as I thought I could relate to them easier. Eh. The younger/more junior Flight Attendants are, for the most part, not as customer focused as the older/senior  Flight Attendants. Now a days I want a Senior Mama (term for Flight Attendants that have been around for a while) on board. I know a Senior Mama won't be texting her friends during boarding or refuse to do a service on a 25 minute flight. When I have a Senior Mama on board the passengers tend to leave happy regardless of how bad the weather, delay or flight was.

I had a mix of Senior Mamas and Junior Flight Attendants on my 4 day. The last one was a very nice little older lady who has been with my airline for 15 years, but a Flight Attendant for "only" 5 years. She reminded me of my Grandmother. Passengers were happy and I was content knowing she was in control on the cabin.

My 4 day finished at 11:30AM. I was able to hop on a 12:30PM flight home. Not too shabby.

So what's next? I'm off till April 22nd. I used strategic vacation bidding to use 7 vacation days and get 15 days off. I only get paid for 7 of them though, but the extra time off will be nice.

Monday, April 4, 2011

And the commuting began.....

I'm supposed to be buzzing around the sky right now. Instead I'm on my couch.

Yesterday was my first day commuting. Also the end of Spring Break. My commute was rough. Full flights. I ended up having to two leg it, meaning two flights to get to work.

After I arrived I only had one leg out to the overnight. I was paired with a Captain that also transferred bases and two legged it to commute in.

Light airplane, clear skies...we blasted off early and fast. I am an avid watcher or The Amazing Race. Scheduled arrival time was 20 minutes before it started. Being a hotel leg we flew a little fast. Gusty approach. Landed in 20 minutes EARLY. No gate. Yadda, yadda, yadda, we blocked in on time. Then a late hotel van meant I arrived at the hotel 10 minutes after the show was to start.

I rushed to my room and turned on CBS....no Amazing Race. It wasn't on this week. Bleh!

Decent 4 day trip.

This morning a storm blew into the overnight. Loud winds kept me up. Five twenty AM van. Six AM departure.  When we got to the gate we were told to call dispatch. Weather. Delayed by 30 minutes. Ugh.

Blocked out 42 minutes late. Long reroute around weather. Originally this was 7 hour 30 minute flight day with a 13 hour duty day.

Another gusty approach. Tower advised numerous aircraft reporting a loss of 20 knots at 50 feet. Captains leg, he kept the power in all the way to the ground.

Blocked in an hour late. Originally had a 90 minute sit. Now just thirty minutes. A few minutes after blocking in my next 5 hour turn cancelled due to weather. I had an eight hour sit!

Ironically I was in my former domicile. My house was just a few minutes away. Problem...I had no car. My wife dropped me off the day prior. Thankfully she has a flexible job and picked me up.

On my way out of the airport I wanted a cup of coffee. I was in line behind a solider in uniform. I wanted to buy his breakfast but he was too fast with his credit card. For whatever reason his didn't go through. I handed the cashier mine. Both the solider and I are both at work, the difference is I get to go home soon. Coffee in hand I met my wife outside of the airport.

I dropped her back off at work then went to pickup my daughter from daycare. Bonus time with my daughter!

At my airline I still get paid for cancelled flights. Not all airlines do this. I know of at least one other where pilots lose money for cancelled flights.

Weather is still in the area. If my overnight cancels I will get to spend the night at home. I doubt it will cancel though as it would be a nightmare getting me back into position tomorrow.

For now....I get to have play time with my daughter. This is day 2 of a 4 day. I commute home on Wednesday.