It looked easy on paper

Why is the day that should be easy the one that gets difficult, and vice versa? As I write this, I’m on a trip that started off as a fairly long, potentially hard day. It was scheduled for five legs, with an airport check-in time of 6:09 in the a.m. The nine minutes is the company’s idea of being generous with extra sleep.

As a result, I woke up at four-something at the hotel in DTW to catch the 5:35 van. Our duty period was scheduled for 13 hours. Any number of things could have gone wrong. The consolation for me was twofold: The overnight was scheduled for my home city, so I could spend the night in my own bed; secondarily, the trip got easier with each day. The second day only had three legs, and it was scheduled to end at 1:30 in the afternoon. Very gentlemanly.

The first day went off without a hitch. All five legs went as planned, even with a flight attendant change in the middle and an FAA operational observation in Raleigh-Durham. We even had light loads, which always helps.

The second day did not start so promisingly. All of our flights would be full or close to it. The first one was full with a company dispatcher trying to get on our jumpseat. (Dispatchers are required to get five hours a year of observation time in the cockpit.) It was raining steadily when we got to the airport, and the weather in Memphis was lousy, which required an alternate. The closest one was Nashville, which is not close—it was 40 minutes away, so we had much more fuel than we usually do for a flight to Memphis. We spent at least 10 minutes trying to make the math work to get the dispatcher on board, and every time we thought we had it, something would change (like more luggage). It got so that not only did the dispatcher not make it, but neither did one of the passengers (who actually appeared to be quite pleased with the development).

In the middle of all of this, I had to review the MEL to make myself familiar with the procedures to use when a fuel pump is not working. The pumps are so reliable that this was only the second or third one I’d seen deferred in more than 9,000 hours in the airplane.

The end result was a late push followed by a headwind of well more than 80 knots. To add insult to injury, our gate was occupied upon arrival in Memphis, and we lost precious connection time waiting for another one. The poor visibility in the morning had slowed the operation considerably.

We made it to Cincinnati with the only aggravation being a different runway assignment than we had expected, which led to a longer-than-planned taxi, but we were still late. None of us could fly any farther without some food, so we ran to get something to take with us. And finally, fate smiled upon us: The weather system had pushed through, and the jet stream finally gave us the push we needed. We left 10 minutes late for Richmond, flew fast, and landed on time. The crew that took over the airplane had no idea how grateful we were to see them.

I handed the captain the keys, packed my bags, and bid him fare thee well. Oh, and by the way, there’s this fuel pump issue you should be aware of…—Chip Wright

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