Wednesday, April 24, 2013

New skills

It's been a while since I've posted. Been really busy lately.

On days that I'm not working I've been home preparing to sell my house. Lots of little things to do. It's amazing the skills I've learned by being a homeowner. For example this weekend I learned how to dig up, cut and replace a section of PVC pipe in our sprinkler system. For whatever reason after 9 years a section cracked. Not hard...but not something I thought I would be doing.

Needless to say, not a whole lot of time to blog. Until now.

On day 3 of 4. Day one was rough as it was 3 legs to a reduced rest (8 hours 30 minutes!!!!) overnight in a different time zone.

I don't like reduced rest overnights. I've stood on this soap box a few times...but for those who are new to this term. Here's how it went down.

We arrived on time at 9:25PM. By 9:40PM we were outside waiting on the hotel van. Our "rest" started at 9:40PM.

We arrived at the hotel at 9:55PM. Hotel room by 10:02PM. I went to bed right away but fell asleep around 11:10PM. Crew members aren't robots, we can't just fall asleep right away. This is hard to adjust to especially when dealing with time zones.

My alarm went off at 5:10AM. Downstairs for a quick breakfast at 5:45AM and in the van at 6AM. All that was "rest".

We pushed out of the gate at 6:55 AM. Four hours of flying later I was at my next overnight.

I was due for compensatory rest since I was cut short the night before. The second overnight was 18 hours long at a Double Tree.

Normally Double Trees are nice. This one was nice, but REALLY OLD. The walls were very thin. There was a young woman staying next to me. I could hear every word she said and she was talking in a normal voice.

Day 3 started interestingly enough. About 10 minutes into the flight my Flight Attendant called up stating she wasn't feeling well. She was okay at the moment but was certain she would be calling in sick when we arrived.

I only had one Flight Attendant on board. There have been times when the Flight Attendant has had a medical problem and a passenger has called the Flight Deck to report it.

We checked on her a few times through the flight by calling back. She made it fine.

Quick turn was delayed as we waited for a reserve Flight Attendant.

While boarding for leg three I felt a tap on my shoulder and then heard, "Hey I was hoping you'd be my pilot today."

It was a friend of mine. Pretty low odds of him being on my flight as he bought his ticket last minute and had no idea I was flying. I happened to trade into this trip last week. Pretty neat though.

Once back in base my Captain left. He has vacation tomorrow. I also got a new reserve Flight Attendant. Musical crew members in effect.

Quick flight to the overnight.

I went out with my crew for dinner. It was the first time for me to go out with my crew in a while. Nice change. The Flight Attendant is a new hire. It's fun and refreshing to hear the stories and questions from someone new to the career.

Tomorrow is a 3 legger with a two hour sit after the first.

Next month I got 4 day trips again. I still can't hold 3 days like I used to. It's not a bad month as I have the same trip all month.

Monday thru Thursdays with a 5:40PM report time and I finish at 2PM. It's almost like a 3 day trip as I have Mondays mostly off.

I do have a week of vacation next month as well. Should be fun.

As far as my seniority. I have 1/3 of the pilot group "under me" and 2/3rds above me. I hope to get awarded Captain late this year, but likely won't sit in the seat until early next year.

Updates might be spotty for a while as I move out of one house and into a new one.

Here's a photo of the new house. It's a two story that looks like a one story...we like the understated look.



Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Flew one hour....paid for 19

I'm supposed to be preparing to fly to an overnight right now on leg 4 of a 3 day. I was looking forward to the overnight hotel as it's a Holiday Inn Express (warm cinnamon rolls FTW!). Instead I'm on my couch.

As I said in my last post I dropped my flying on day 1 (Monday) of my 4 day trip. The flying removed was worth 7 hours. I used "vacation" time to cover that portion so I still get paid for that portion.

I then had a 3 day trip worth 12 hours but it had 10 legs. I traded that trip for a trip worth 12 hours 5 minutes but had just 8 legs. Both trips started on Tuesday.

Before I left home my first turn on Tuesday cancelled. Due to our contract I still had to report to the airport at my scheduled report time of 5:40PM. Fine.

I signed in for my trip then found dinner. While eating dinner in the crew room I caught up with some co-workers I had not seen in a while.

Eventually it came time for my only flight of the day to depart at 9:50PM.

I had my pre-flight done and was ready to go at 9:30PM. Problem was I was all alone in the plane.

Odd. I headed up to the gate. There I found two Captains and one Flight Attendant waiting around. One Captain was mine, the other two crew members were deadheading. My Flight Attendant was out flying with an ETA of 10:15PM. Back down to the flight deck I went.

My Captain joined me around 9:45PM. The deadheading Fight Attendant came down and agreed to board the flight while waiting for the working flight attendant. We can't board without a Flight Attendant on board and pilots can't substitute.

Boarded up we waited....and waited....and 10:34PM we pushed out.

Quick one hour and two minute flight. Arrived at 11:36PM. We got to the hotel at five minutes past midnight.

I slept decently. This morning crap hit the fan big time. We had an 11:55AM van time. Around 9:30AM all my flights for the day cancelled due to weather. All of them. I only had one leg on day 3.


Scheduling was working like mad to fix flight crew schedules. When weather happens it causes havoc for airlines. Airlines HATE cancelling flights. Seriously. It's a huge headache as planes, flight crew members and passengers all must be rescheduled.

I watched my schedule for a bit. I know better than to call when weather hits. It was kinda funny for a while as they had me flying from a hub (not my base!) to an overnight....but they didn't have a way of getting me from the out station to the hub.

Eventually they gave up. I was put on a deadhead flight to base....and I was done. I only had one leg on day 3. The rest of my crew was also on a deadhead, but they were on a 4 day trip so they go back in tomorrow to finish their trip.

I flew just 1 hour and 2 minutes, but since I have cancellation pay I get the full 19 hours.

Off till Monday. Between now and then I have to set up my preferences for Mays bid.

Monday, April 15, 2013

A lot of sleeping in someone else's bed

Currently sitting on my sister in laws couch in northern California.

I was originally supposed to be getting ready for a 4 day trip right now.

About 6 months ago my wife made a reservation to have family photos taken here as the photographer does excellent work and her prices are very reasonable.

Thus my bid for April was complicated. I had to bid around April 5th as my wife was scheduled to fly out to testify as part of her job. I also had to  try and bid around day care (we like just using day care for 3 days a week). I also like weekends off.

What I got wasn't great. I only had three days off a week (Friday, Saturday and Sunday). My trips started at 1PM on Mondays and finished at 4PM Thursdays.  I didn't get the right hours needed for just 3 days of day care so we will have to pay for full time day care this month. I prefer starting my trips after 5PM on day 1 and finish whenever on day 4 as my wife can get home before 4PM on day 1 so I can head to work and thus we save money on day care.

I did end up trading all my trips except for the first week and last week as they were low time (18 hour 4 day trips) and high turn (lots of ups and downs).

I also requested to drop my flying I was supposed to do today April 15th. I still get paid for it. The reason why is complicated. My request was approved. My 4 day turned into 3 day.

That 3 day was a 3-2-5 worth 12 hours. I traded that 3 day for a 3-4-1 three day worth 12 hours 5 minutes! I get an extra 5 minutes and 2 fewer legs!

With this mini-vacation away from home I'm spending more time away from my bed. Between April 7th and 18th I will only have slept in my own bed twice. It's nice to be able to fly and see family....but it does wear on you. At least I'm traveling with my family.

My daughter is a travel expert. She has well over 54 flights under her belt. The "agents" in security commented at how good she was at  being patient while in the line and going through the metal detector.

Time to pack up. We fly out this evening. We should be at our house by 11PM. I sign in to work tomorrow at 5:30PM.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

There are lots of ways to skin a cat...and fly a plane

Day 3 of a 4 day.

Today started with a 3:30AM wake up...early.

My Captain for the month has been around a while. Fifteen thousand hours + of flight time. I have about 3500 hours.

There are many, many, many ways to fly my airplane well inside the parameters set forth by my airline. For example I can climb using vertical speed mode, indicated airspeed mode or pitch mode. My choice. Most of the time I climb at indicated airspeed until 10,000 and then vertical speed mode above 10,000. I keep it simple.

My Captain likes to fly in pitch mode. Fine. I feel it's more work, but to each there own. Some like Pepsi....others like Coke.  However he commented on me flying in vertical speed mode as it wasn't as "efficient". Eh. I was well inside the envelope.

He also didn't care for my intercepting the localizer about a mile before the final approach fix (on a VFR day) rather than just head for the final approach fix. There were a few more items. He is a micromanager. I learned long ago as long as I'm safe and operating within the boundaries of my flight's fine. I take advice willingly. I've changed the way I fly based on input and suggestion from Captains I've flown with. I learn something every time I fly and take things from every Captain I fly with....the good and bad.

Anyways today was an early start. First two legs were his. Small delays.

I had legs 3 and 4.

Due to low ceilings at the hub we had not one, but two alternates. This meant extra fuel. Another hit was an odd runway limit.

The runway limit was due to a runway gradient that sloped down from the approach end to the departure end. Even though the runway was 12,000 feet long...we were runway weight limited.

We blocked out 5 minutes early and 240 pounds over that limit. It's a "funny" number limit as each passenger is assumed to weigh 185 pounds. Each of their gate checked bags (carry on bags don't fit on my plane) are assumed to weigh 35 pounds. A 12 year old girl is assumed to weigh just as much as her 45 year old dad....thus "funny" numbers.

We started both engines and left the APU running during taxi. After a 3 minute delay of burning off fuel we were 20 pounds under the runway limit weight after accounting for 5 knots of headwind.

I rotated the nose into the air with 8000 feet of runway left.....yep....8000 feet left.

Bumpy flight.

My Captain let me know yesterday he had a line check on leg 4 today. No big deal. I fly the same regardless of who is in the jump seat. It's much easier to fly correctly all the time than to be  sloppy and try to change when someone is watching you.

ILS approach. Broke out at 500. Nice landing.

After waiting 15 minutes for our ramp personnel to park us we blocked in 9 minutes late. Originally a 35 minute turn was down to 26 minutes. Not likely.

I took my time. Post flight, physiological needs and a coffee were needed.

My Captain was rushing....and visibly nervous with the Check Airman on the jump seat. He made a few errors that were clearly nerves. I knew the Check Airman...he was the one I busted my ATP check ride with back in September.

Blocked out 1 minute late. Cold and low clouds. Holding just short of the runway we caught an error. We needed the anti-ice on for takeoff....and it wasn't set.

After checking performance and turning anti-ice on we were ready.

Very short flight. Just 77 nautical miles between the airports. Cruising at a whole 14,000 feet.

My Captain got the ATIS...Here was the weather:

2008KT 1SM -RA BR BKN004 OVC009 09/08 A3007

The only approach to the north was a GPS approach. The runway has no approach lighting system...just a PAPI.

The minimums for the approach were 400 feet and 1 mile. With broken 400 it was going to be tight.

I had him set up for the approach and then I briefed it. If we went missed we had enough fuel for one more shot before diverting.

While on vectors my Captain mistakenly selected the ILS nav source. The Check Airmen asked why, he stated it was a mistake.

The controller vectored us in tight. I had to configure in the turn to final.

I was a little slow in descending and was going to cross the final approach fix 100 feet high. I pushed the vertical speed dial down quickly and realized I had already asked for MDA to be set in the altitude pre-select. If I didn't change the vertical speed I would have been under the final approach fix altitude. Both my Captain and Check Airman corrected me before I busted the altitude. Done.

Right around 450 feet he called the PAPI. Right at 400 he called the runway. I looked out and barely saw both.

I was a bit aggressive in pulling out the power and had to quickly add power and arrest my descent. In and done.

The Check Airmen debriefed us and off to the hotel we went.

Tomorrow is 3 legs. Done at noon.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

The Minute Men

I think I'm turning in to a grumpy old man.

Finished March. Happy to move on to a new month, schedule and crew.

My Captain last month was a "minute man". I'll explain.

Per my contract I am paid f or my line value each month plus any extra. Say I am a awarded an 80 hour line. The least I will get paid for the month is 80 hours. Even if every flight cancels I get 80 hours of pay. Not all airlines have this, some will deduct pay for cancellations.

Now lets say each week I fly a 20 hour trip (4 weeks in a month to keep it simple). To make it easy lets say it's 10 legs a week and each leg is blocked for exactly 2 hours.

I am paid block or better. Thus if I over block half the legs by 5 minutes, that's an extra 25 minutes for the week. If I do that all month that's an extra hour and forty minutes for the month. So I would get paid 81 hours 40 minutes for the month.

However if just one of those flights cancel....all the extra is gone (per contract). Also in the contract is cancellation pay. I get paid for the cancelled flight, but any overages under the flight time go away. Thus if 1 two hour flight cancels, and I over blocked by 1 hour 40 minutes, then my pay goes back down to 80 hours. If I somehow overblocked by 2 hours 5 minutes I get paid 80 hours 5 minutes.

In March I was pulled from an overnight due to being late. The overnight and return flight were worth almost 4 hours. Thus I didn't care a bit about over blocking. Actually I rarely care about over blocking.

My Captain for March on the other hand had no cancellations or misconnects. He was tracking each minute.

One thing I can't control on the ground is how fast (or slow) we taxi. My March Captain would purposely taxi at a snails pace....just to add a few minutes to the flight. At least once a ground controller asked us to pick up the speed as there were several flights behind us.

As long as we arrive within 14 minutes of scheduled arrival time, the Department of Transportation counts us as being on time.

Our departure and arrival times are automatically reported by an onboard computer.

It got so petty that my Captain would yell back to the lead flight attendant to not open the door for a few seconds until the clock ticked over to the next minute.

For April my Captain is also a minute man. I'm happy with whatever my bid line gaurantee is. Sure over the course of a year, a minute or two here or there adds up. For me it's not worth it as one silly cancellation or misconnection wipes all the extra out for the month.

Enough of that rant.

Time to go look for food. Day 2 of a 4 day. It's still winter in the north. Guess the memo that it's spring is lost in the mail?