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.


  1. Yeah, 94 hours is great for the bank account - but it sucks for the home life. Sounds like it could be a nasty May... I commuted for 22 years. It really beats you up.

  2. Hi Geek. An interesting post to be sure. As I've noted elsewhere, I DO know why you folks commute, but I also think you are nuts. I suspect that you know the schedule grids better than most ticket agents and spend more time checking loads and cancelled flights than do gate agents. And if the weather goes bad, Plan "B" is not enough; you probably have "J" in y our pocket. I hope you ocarry current pictures of your family -without same, you won;t know if you are in the right house. While the three days off is nice, about 1.5 of them will be recovery time. A banked 94 hours is good, but it may kill you. The other commenter, SierraTR has it about right - it sucks for the home life. As a 22 year commuter, I think I know this fellow. Recently retired from a long and interesting career and the victim of a merger or two, I can imagine that he is GLAD to be retired. Whp you fly for and where you fly from seems to be a crap-shoot these days. Only the real nuts are flying anymore because it is just too hard on everyone else. I hope the commuting gig works for you. -C.


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