Thursday, June 28, 2012

Making vodka out of lemons

My line award next month was initially just 72 hours. Not a lot of pay.

There is a small window before each month starts that I am allowed to trade my trips around. I did just that.

I traded every single trip for a new one.  New line value is 86 hours.

It wasn't easy as I still had to work around day care for my daughter and time with my family. I didn't lose any days off though.

A buddy of mine built his line from 76 hours to 99 hours and 30 minutes....but lost 3 days off. He has no kids and a very understanding wife. I'll see how sane he is after July.


Friday, June 22, 2012

Shimmy, Shimmy co-co...cancel

Day 2 of a 3 day.

I took the first leg.  Twenty knot quartering headwind.....greased it on. My Co-pilot took the next two...jammed them on. He tried to grease...didn't work.

On Day 2 I took the first two legs.

Calm winds on the first landing. Followed a MD80. I forgot about calm winds and wake turbulence. At 20 feet I hit the wake of the 80 that landed. Tossed around a bit...blown quite a bit right of center line. A quick addition of thrust and a little work and I greased it on again.

Plane swap.

On the next takeoff roll the nose wheel shimmied quite a bit from 60 knots to 80 knots. On climb out the nose wheel vibrated quite a bit as it settled in to the nose.

Second leg was into a really small airport. Coming in from the south and we were cleared direct to the Final Approach Fix of runway 27. On a 040 heading direct to the FAF we were cleared for the visual. I squared off my base turn and then turned final. Somehow greased it on again. Lucky streak.

Next two legs were my co-pilots. Same nose wheel shimmy. Got worse on the fourth leg.

While on final he was a high and a little fast. Big wide runway threw him off a bit. On short final the tower called, "Confirm you have the runway in sight?". Yep...go around.

During the go around he had a shallow climb since it was a straight ahead missed approach procedure and he started at 500 feet AGL. The GPWS (Ground Proximity Warning System) went nuts.

Initially "Too low gear! Too low gear!" was blaring. He leveled off initially at 1000 AGL, "Landing Gear! Landing Gear!" started going off.

I first thought we had a landing gear issue. Finally went away as he climbed to 1500 AGL. Back around for landing. Again around 80 knots the nose wheel vibrated badly.

After parking we advised the next crew about the vibration. Again it was only around 80 knots. The next crew called it in...flight was cancelled. Ouch.

On the way to the hotel my wife texted me. My family was travelling to NY (on real tickets, not nonrev...not that it matters much) and their flight was cancelled. They were rebooked for tomorrow with another connecting flight. If they were nonrev they would be really hosed as all flights as overbooked majorly.

New York had a double whammy today. First was bad weather...then a fire at a huge Air Traffic Control facility in New Jersey. Massive cancellations resulted.

Lucky for my part of family they cancelled while making a connection where my house is.

My brother in law is travelling with his two daughters. They are staying at my house. His stepson was travelling separately and is currently awaiting a possible 10PM departure.

Because the issue is beyond the control of airlines (fire and weather), no compensation is being given to passengers for's in the fine print when you buy a ticket. It might not seem fair...but think about how much money the airline would be out paying for ATC issues?

It's stressful enough travelling with kids. Since he checked all his bags he has no supplies (one is in diapers). It must be a nightmare for passengers.

Thankfully for him my wife picked him up and will bring him back to the airport tomorrow.

Tomorrow I have three long legs. Should be done by 2PM, then off till next Thursday when I do the same trip again.


Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Plan A...Plan B...Plan C....non-revving!

Back from a visit to Disney. The park was expected during the summer. We went with 9 others from our family. Good time.

Getting out was interesting. We got out on the very last flight out of town. Thankfully we got a whole row to ourselves. Got in late. Tired. Straight to the hotel.

Next day we went out and explored a bit. I used my airline discount to score a 2013 Ford Escape (brand new model!) for $75 for 4 days...all in....sweet.

We had two loooong days at Disney. Then we had to worry about getting home.

The direct flights were all full. I could ride in the jump seat, but if I want to stay married I should get my wife and daughter home as well. I had to look at connecting flights. I avoided connecting in another hub as all those flights were either full, were the wrong direction or had the potential to fill up. Instead I looked at outstations with mainline service that are not hubs.

Places like Des Moines, IA, Huntsville, AL, New Orleans, LA....all have a mainline service, but are not hubs.

Found a new way the night before we were too leave. The flight left at 6:35AM, sit for 90 minutes then connect to another flight home. Done. We all went to bed.

The next morning we were out the door of the hotel at 3:35AM. On the way to the airport my wife looked and saw my plan A go down the tubes. Flights out were suddenly full. Time to find a plan B.

I began thinking of places we could connect...while driving down the 3:35AM.....and without coffee. I would spout out airport codes and my wife would check the flight loads.

Finally found a new way home. We had an hour to connect at the outstation. The flight out of the hub we were driving it flight 299 and the flight from the it 400...both had 60 open seats.

I normally travel in uniform. Not today...too tired. Checked all bags but a back pack for each of us. Ipads and our stuff in one...diapers and an Ipad for my daughter in the other.

Without asking we were directed to the frequent flier line (very short compared to the normal folks) by TSA as I was wearing my airline ID.

My wife and I are very good at getting through security. We have it down to an exact science.

We got to the gate and on board our Plan B flight at 6:30AM. There we sat...mechanical delay. My daughter and wife were in a row three rows behind me.

There were 40 other non-revs (mix of employees and buddy passes) on board doing the exact same thing we were doing....connecting through an out station. An hour and four minutes LATE we pushed back. There went our chances of connecting to flight 400. Not good as the remaining flights were fairly full.

Once in the air I used the onboard wifi to look at a plan C.

The next flight after 400 was fairly full. It was doable...but full.

As soon as we landed 40 non-revs went from one gate to the other. Just 35 minutes between flights.

The ground staff was not equipped to handle 40+ non-revs. It was a fairly small station.

Boarding started. There's a priority in non-revving. For the most part it's employees then buddy passes.

Just a handful of seats left. We were called up. No window seats left...which meant no car seat for my daughter. I volunteered to take the cockpit jump seat so another non-rev could get a real seat.

My daughter (remember she's not 2 years old yet) completed her 50th flight today. For 47 of those flights she had her own seat and sat in her car seat. For two flights we held her. Today she had a car seat.

My wife said my daughter was thrown off a bit and a little worried. This was not the norm. I asked for a ride home (even though not in uniform I do travel in proper jump seat attire!) from the Captain and took my seat in the jump.

Thankfully a short flight. Happy to be home.

Once home I looked at my line award for July. Crap. I bid while on vacation...which means not very well. I preferenced weekends off above maximum days off. That's how it turned out. I have a crappy 4 day trip covering the first weekend. Then I have all weekends off and 3 day trips. Not happy..."just" 15 days off. Yeah I know real jobs have less than 15 days off. Bleh.

Time to relax and wash clothes. I start a 3 day trip tomorrow morning.

My family truly enjoys non-rev travel. Well my wife and I enjoy it.....we assume my daughter enjoys it. It's a lifestyle. To fly non-rev means to be flexible and quick on your feet. You might want to Fly from A to B to C....but you might have to fly from A to M to the last row of the midnight.

What fun is it to buy real tickets and be forced to come and go at specific times???

Friday, June 15, 2012 26?

My 16 hour 3 day turned into a 10 hour 3 day after I was displaced so another pilot could be trained with the Captain I was to fly with (Captain was a Check Airman). My new 3 day trip was worth 10 hours...but I'd be paid 16.

I showed up for my first flight Wednesday night at 7PM. Yadda, yadda, yadda cancelled due to weather. I was happy as it was supposed to be a reduced rest overnight. Back home I went. If I commuted I'd have to pay for a hotel. I stayed the night with my family. My 3 day 10 hour turned into a 2 day 7 hour trip.

Next day I went back up and had one leg to the overnight. Long overnight.

Didn't sleep well. Mostly due to being in the wrong time zone. Any time zone other than my own is the wrong time zone. Just the way I see it.

Woke up at 03:30 AM. Van time was 5:00 AM. Three legs. First leg was on time...which was important as I had to be home by noon for a repairman.

Next two flights were a bit delayed due to weather. I was going to land at 11:30AM..original time was 11:05AM.

My leg on the go home. Flew fast. A little tired. Somehow greased it on.

Blocked in at 11:38AM. In my car by 11:52AM. Home at 12:20PM. Not too shabby. Flew 7.5 hours total.

Now the long part of the day.

I'm taking my family to Disney for the weekend. The only flight we can get on leaves at 10:50PM. I plan to sleep on the plane. By the time I get to our hotel I will have been on the move for 26 hours.

Gotta pack. More later.

Monday, June 11, 2012

The Standard Briefing

Before every takeoff...and before every landing...I either give a briefing or listen to one.

Here's my standard takeoff briefing:

"This will be a right seat, Flex thrust, Flaps 8, Trims centered and around 7. I'm planning on taking off runway 27R. Anything before 80 knots we will abort, after 80 knots we will abort for engine fire, failure or if we feel the plane won't fly. Beyond that if a problem arises I will take the plane into the air and we will assess the situation airborne. There is no takeoff alternate so we can return right traffic back around to runway 27R or 27L. Plan on 2000 for a pattern altitude. There are no MELs affecting the performance of the aircraft. Minimum fuel for takeoff is 8400 pounds, we are squaking 0777 and the acceleration altitude is about 800 feet. Any questions?"

It sounds long....but it goes by quickly. When I fly with the same Co-pilot for the entire trip I will normally state "Standard briefing, except for" and give the changes such as runway, min fuel and so on.

For landings I give a full briefing each time I land on a specific runway during a trip. If I do 3 flights to my hub and land on the same runway each need for a new briefing each time.

Here's my standard briefing:

"This will be an visual approach to runway 27R backed up by the ILS. I will use green needles and approach mode for the backup. The runway  is 10,500 feet long and the performance charts show we need 3300 feet to stop. I plan on taking the 2nd high speed exit on the left. I will plan on using idle reverse. Should we need to go around plan on 2000 feet for an initial altitude straight ahead and await further tower instructions."

Most of the approaches I fly are visual. True ILS approaches happen maybe 20% of the time.

My last 3 day was easy. Nothing terribly exciting.

My next 3 day looked interesting. I traded my original 13 hour 3 day for a 15.5 hour 3 day. Yesterday I got an email stating I was displaced off my entire 14 hour 3 day as the Captain of the flight is an IOE instructor and needed to train a new hire. I still get paid for the entire 15.5 hour trip. A few hours later I was reassigned a 10 hour 3 day trip covering the same 3 days.

The new trip is shorter, but I still get paid the full 15.5 hours of the original trip. The trip starts at 7:30PM instead of 7AM for my original trip. The only bad part is the first night is a reduced rest overnight...8 hours and 45 minutes. Ugh.


Thursday, June 7, 2012

Aborted takeoff, 3 reroutes and a spiraling descent to avoid terrain...all on day one

The title says it all. Day one of a three day was a ball buster.

I had a 5:45PM departure so I spent the day with my daughter. We hit a new park, did a little shopping and had lunch.

It was supposed to be an easy day with three fairly short legs to a long 18 hour overnight.

When I signed in we were already 15 minutes delayed. Lot of weather issues.

Initially we were waiting for the inbound plane...then they assigned a new plane.

Preflight in the rain. I settled in to my seat and fired up the APU. After reviewing the aircraft logbook I noticed a MEL for an anti-ice issue. With all the weather around it would be difficult, it not impossible to avoid the freezing layer and clouds.

Sure enough my co-pilot came down...we'd been swapped to a different aircraft.

I shut the plane down and packed up.

Another preflight in the rain. I noticed the cargo compartment was full of bags...for another flight. They would later be removed and the bags for my flight loaded.

Delayed more. The previous 2 flights cancelled due to weather. Waiting area was full of grumpy passengers.

Finally pushed out at 7:13PM. My co-pilot raised the nose into the air at 7:23PM. Upon contacting departure we were given a reroute...a 180 NM out of the way reroute.

At 8:40PM we were back on the ground at the out station. Lot of delayed passengers here as well. Fairly quick 27 minute turn and we were being pushed out again.

My turn to fly.

This out station has 5 runways...and they all intersect with one another.

Being late ground and tower were combined on tower frequency. The controller seemed a bit overwhelmed.

Initially we were told to follow Southwest who was also in the alley. We didn't see Southwest. Southwest finally piped up and said they were BEHIND us and we would have to lead. Fine.

We were assigned runway 13 for takeoff. Runway 5 was being used for arrivals.

Holding short. Finally cleared for takeoff and were advised "a 737 is on a 3 mile final for runway 5". Fine.

My co-pilot steered the plane onto the runway and said ," your aircraft."

I replied, "My aircraft," and pushed the thrust levers forward and said, "Set thrust."

He replied "Thrust set."

I then placed both of my hands on the yoke and looked straight ahead. Out of the corner of my eye I could see the lights from the approaching 737.

Around 60 knots I heard, "Takeoff clearance cancelled!"

My co-pilot idled the engines and said, "My aircraft!"

I pushed the yoke full forward, keyed the mic and said, "Roger aborting takeoff."

Apparently the 737 was much closer than 3 miles when we started the takeoff roll as they came through the intersection just a few seconds after we aborted.

Checklist run and few minutes later we were back holding short.

Cleared for takeoff again with a LEFT turn heading 280. I bugged heading 280. The left was important as the Flight Guidance Computer would show a RIGHT turn as  it was a shorter path at 150 degrees versus a LEFT turn of 210 degrees.

During the climb I called for heading mode and began a turn LEFT even though the Flight Director was indicating a turn to the RIGHT. The Flight Guidance Computer figured out what I wanted and commanded a left turn.

Long way back again....given 2 more reroutes.

Vectored between two weather cells. Not too bad of a ride.

Wind at the hub had picked up. Winds were 110@19G30 with light rain. Landing runway 17.

I eased it onto the runway at 10:45PM....2 hours and 10 minuted lates.

We were supposed to have LEFT for the overnight on leg 3 at 9:10PM.

The ramp was congested. More planes than gates.

Pushed back out for the overnight at 11:50PM. Two hours and 40 minutes lates.

More delays as the line for takeoff was crazy long.

I'd been up since 6AM. I should have been AT the overnight hotel at 11PM. Tired.

We had 1000 pounds of ferry fuel on board. I cruise climbed meaning a shallow climb at a higher than normal rate of speed to make up a little time.

The out station is a small airport surrounded by rising terrain. The tower closed at 9PM.

I discussed the approach and planned for a visual backed up by the ILS. I also discussed the engine out procedure and go around procedure. To make it simple I combined them meaning we would do the same procedure for both.

The center controller wasn't very busy on our frequency. I picked up the town about 90 miles out. Not hard being the only cluster of lights in a sea of darkness.

Fifteen miles out we were still 9000 AGL. He forgot about us. He finally came back and asked if we had the airport. Cleared for the visual.

Now an issue. We could make out high rising terrain against the somewhat lit sky. It was clear and a million as far as visibility. I had to descend 9000 feet to land on the runway...what to do?

I aimed for the final approach fix while descending. I told my copilot I was going to just circle above the FAF while descending, making at least one 360, maybe two. There was a hold depicted on the approach chart at the FAF so I knew if I remained in the protected area I was okay.

After the first pass I was still about 1500 feet higher than the glide slope intercept, one more time around. My MFD had terrain RADAR displayed...a sea of red (meaning terrain higher than the aircraft) and dots of yellow (meaning terrain at or slightly below the aircraft) were all around.

Midway through the second pass I was at glide slope intercept altitude. I stopped the descent and kept the turn.

Rolled out on final. Looked good.

Calm winds. Tired. Flared a little high. Floated a little. Done.

Next issue. No hotel van as it was 1:35AM. I called the hotel...they thought we cancelled and would send a taxi as the shuttle driver went home.

There were no taxis at the airport (very small airport). Fifteen minutes later the hotel shuttle arrived, they "found" someone to drive it.

Very tired. Still a 14 hour overnight. Today is just two legs. Tomorrow is 5 legs. Hopefully the rest of the trip is easier.



Monday, June 4, 2012

My new "get up and go" song

When I'm tired or just need a little "get up and go" I turn on "Comeback Kid"" by Brett Dennen. All of his albums are really good.




Finished an easy two day. More later.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

The day that wouldn't end

Finished my last 4 day of the month. It was almost a 6 day trip.

My 4 day started May 29th and terminated June 1st. I then was to start my only 2 day trip of the month on June 2nd and finish June 3rd. I traded it for a 2 day starting June 3rd and terminating June 4th. One day off between trips!

Day one was fine with 3 long legs. Day two was 4 long legs....7 hours 50 minutes of flying. None of us were looking forward too it.

Van time on day two was scheduled for 10:50AM. Well weather happened. In bound plane was very delayed. Van time changed till noon.

Due to the delay our second and third legs were cancelled. Once we arrived back in base we had 6 hours to kill before the flight to the overnight.

My entire crew is local. Some live further from than airport than me, but local all the same.

We were all excited to be able to go home or, in the case of my cabin crew, go shopping instead of sitting around the airport.

My leg. As we approached our hub we got the bad news. We had all been reassigned to cover other flights. My co-pilot was being seperated from the rest of us.

My new assignment looked fine at first. A very quick 25 minute flight and then come right back. But the times didn't add up. Why are two 25 minute flights taking 5 hours? Ah ha....a sit.

I was assigned to fly to an outstation and then sit for 3 1/2 hours then fly the same plane back. So much for going home.

The next plane had a minor issue. There were several cancellations due to weather and my flight was overbooked by double. Unhappy passengers to say the least. In my head I thought "The out station is 90 miles away....why didn't they just drive?"

My cabin crew advised I get something to eat as there were "very limited choices" at the out station. No need to tell me twice, I grabbed a  salad and headed back to the flight deck.

Left 20 minutes late. Minor delay getting off the ground due to traffic.

Just 19 minutes after taking off the runway my copilot greased it on to the runway.

Passengers got off and there we sat.

The out station is very small. We are the only airline. The terminal is extremely small and there are no restaurants. The "very limited choices" meant a vending machine.

I grabbed my netbook, Ipad and phone and headed back to sit in the cabin. The ground crew connected the air conditioning and power. The cabin was nice, but the flight deck was a little warm.

I relaxed and played a new game I bought. I have been toying with the idea of buying this game for 5+ years. ATC Simulator is not for the average person. It's a very complex "game". I like strategy games...controlling planes is like a huge chess game.

Storms moving in. Lightening strikes 14 miles from the airport. If they got much closer they would close the ramp as there is no jet bridge.

My copilot made the decision to leave early as if we waited we would likely not go at all.

Leaving early was tough to approve as only 3/4 of the passengers had arrived. Dispatch said "go" as it was better to take a few passengers than none at all.

Lightening getting closer. One of the last passengers to board was a lady holding a new born baby. She had only paid for one seat and planned on holding the baby. This made all of the crew uncomfortable. A Flight Attendant yelled out to her to bring her car seat if it was FAA approved. This confused the passenger as she didn't pay for an extra seat. The Flight Attendant then explained we had extra room and it was much safer for the baby to be in a seat.

We taxied out 25 minutes early. To save time we ran the numbers to take off with a 7 knot tailwind instead of taking the time to taxi down to the other end of the 11,000 foot runway and take off into the wind.

The numbers worked (including my "lets not make the news" fudge factor of adding an extra 20% penalty).

At VR I rotated the nose into the air. The windshield instantly changed from ground to nasty black and grey clouds.

I smoothly turned the plane to the right to make a 180 degree turn away from the weather and towards the hub.

The next 5 minutes were nothing short of constant moderate turbulence with several stiff jolts.

Hand flying. We were cleared to deviate around the weather. I used my eyes and RADAR to try and find holes in the weather.

The final altitude was 17,000 feet. We never made it that high.

Passing 14,000 the turbulence got worse. So bad that I was fighting just to keep the wings level. I could see blue sky at 11 o'clock and slightly lower.

My co-pilot requested a descent. Approved.

I slowly turned the plane to the left and began a descent. With the turbulence and updrafts I didn't want to bank too much and risk over banking.  Using the flight director or autopilot was useless in that kind of turbulence. I was happy the baby was in the car seat, no way the mother could have held it.

Finally in the clear. We could see the hub 40 miles ahead.

Decent landing. Ironically I landed 2 minutes after the original departure time. I felt bad for leaving people behind, but it's better to take a few than none at all.

One hour sit until the overnight flight. My original co-pilot was flying the plane in that I would be taking to the overnight.

Delayed....but only by about 20 minutes.

Finally blocked out. The weather that was at the outstation was now threatening the hub.

Long lines for departure. All south and east departure routes were closed due to weather. We were going west.

Things looked good so I fired up the number two engine. Then it happened. The tower called out several flight numbers followed by "Monitor 124.8 for a reroute due to weather".

Thankfully we were tankering extra fuel known as ferry fuel. It was cheaper to carry the extra fuel for the next flight than it was too buy it locally. We could use it if needed.

We waited 12 minutes until the clearance controller called out our flight number. Long reroute. We surely needed the extra fuel. Our dispatcher ran the numbers, we still had more than enough fuel.

My leg again. Up and away we went. Long line of planes given the same clearance to avoid weather and numerous holding patterns setup for inbound flights.

Smooth flight.

The tower at the outstation closed at 9PM. Our scheduled arrival time was 9:45PM. Our ETA was 10:25PM.

Clear and a million at the outstation. Runway 30 was the primary runway. It's 12,000 feet long and 200 feet wide. No VASI or PAPI for vertical guidance.

I loaded up the ILS and tuned in the frequency. Visual approach backed up by the ILS.

On short final I succumbed to the "flat featureless terrain + wide runway" phenomina....I flared a little late as I thought I was high. I was able to "fix the glitch" by adding a little power. That did mean I passed my planned exit point. Whatever...glad to be done.

We were all tired.

After all the passengers were gone...we still weren't done working. A "large" passenger used an armrest for a seat....and snapped off the armrest. Paperwork.

My first time at this overnight....and hopefully my last.

The hotel is a La Quinta. Normally nice. This one is okay...but the wifi is horrible, the breakfast was kinda sparse and there is very little to do around the hotel. This is an 18 hour overnight.


Day 3 was easy. Two legs into a reduced rest overnight. Delayed. My Co-pilot flew into base and we swapped flying duties.

My leg to the overnight. I was NOT looking forward to less than 8 1/2 hours of "rest". I flew very fast. Flew straight in for runway 34. Done.

We had 8 hours and 8 minutes of "rest" between when we finished duty and had to report back to the airport. Of course 20 minutes of that time was spent in a hotel van, 30 minutes spent getting ready to go to bed, 30 minutes being spent getting ready for work and eating breakfast. So maybe what 6 1/2 hours sleep? More like 5 hours sleep.

I was VERY tired on day 4. All of us were. Just 3 legs. My Co-pilot took the first two.

We had about an hour break between the 1st and 2nd legs. I got coffee. Feeling more tired. I debated calling in fatigued.

The coffee and sugar helped. Felt a lot better about 40 minutes till departure. Still tired, but at least I could think clearly.

Two short legs later and I was done...20 minutes early. Really tired now.

Headed home for lunch and then I picked my daughter up from daycare. The moment I came around the corner and our eyes met I was full of energy again.