Last day, last leg…always

Our frienemy, Mr. Murphy, has long held court in the aviation world. In the airlines, he’s on a first-name basis with just about everyone. Try this on for fun: Walk up to a pilot or a flight attendant and query them on the frequency of a glitch occurring on the “last day and the last leg.” Chances are, you will get a wry smile and a tale or two.

It always seems that a trip will go swimmingly right up until the very end…and then fall apart. I offer myself up as evidence, but rest assured that it isn’t just me who suffers from this affliction. Several years ago, we operated a lot of trips that centered on Atlanta. The last day of the trip—I usually bid for four days—would be anywhere from three to five legs, and our scheduling computer would build the trips such that a lot of the trips would end with ATL to ABE (Allentown-Bethlehem, PA) to CVG. In fact, for roughly three months, my last day finished this way just about every trip.

And for three months, the last day of my trip never seemed to go as scheduled. I’d get to ABE…and the aiplane would break. I’d get to ATL…and weather would shut down the airport. I’d get to ABE…hours late because of a problem someplace else in the system. I’d get to ABE…and the fuel truck would break down. I’d get to Allentown…and they’d close all the factories down. OK, that was already done, but I began to feel like a curse. In fact, the station personnel began to see me as such. They’d get my flight release, see my name on it, and begin to rebook passengers! I couldn’t catch a break. But for me, it wasn’t all that bad. I just had to get to CVG, and I’d be home. If my first officer or flight attendant was a commuter, they’d be tapping their feet, concerned about missing their flight home. And, flying with me, they usually would.

Once in DCA—this is a long story, so I’ll spare you the details—we reached the limits of our duty day. We could not fly anymore. Dead in the water we were. It was my sixth day of work in a row, and since I had to have a calendar day off from duty, I got sent to the hotel. Now, I could have gone into “passenger mode” and non-revved home, but I decided to take advantage of the fine summer day and free accommodations. I spent the next day at Mount Vernon, and then met my parents for dinner. The following morning I caught the early flight home and still made it to my daughter’s softball game. Talk about turning a lemon into lemonade.

Nowadays, I am one of the commuters, and so I get to deal with the thrilling stress of trying to get home. I’ve got the foot-tapping thing down cold.

My most recent experience was in December 2011. Again, for three days, things rolled along like a greased wheel. Then, Day Four. Three legs. Easy. YYZ (Toronto)-DTW-MHT-DTW. I’d be done in time to catch the 3:20 flight home. Unfortunately, Mr. Murphy was working that day. We had to deice in DTW. So did everyone else. Twenty extra minutes on the ground for a spray of Type II and then Type IV. MHT tower informs us we have a flow control time to DTW. We also had to buck a headwind to DTW that was well over one hundred knots. In the gate at 3:50. The 5:20 was full. Oversold actually. There were no viable two-leg options to get home. I was tired. Off to the hotel, spent the night, took the early flight, and got home while my wife and kids were still eating breakfast. Not exactly lemonade, but not really a lemon either. Such is life.

The next time your flight is late, and the crew is a bit jumpy, chances are it is the last day, and the last leg, and trust me, they want to be going every bit as much as you do, if not worse. Either that, or I am your captain. I’ll be the one shaking my head and tapping my foot.—By Chip Wright

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