Posts Tagged ‘airline crews’

Flying over the holidays

Tuesday, January 15th, 2013

As I write this, we are a week away from Christmas Day, with New Year’s right behind. I can’t help but think of all of the employees within the airline industry who will be working, especially the pilots and the flight attendants. For the most part, all of the other employees will be going home after their shift. Flight crews may not be.

There is much that is very cool about being an airline pilot, but there is one thing that is decidedly not, and that is working on the holidays, with Thanksgiving and Christmas being two of the worst. Most folks can get past most of the other big days on the calendar (the reality is that the Fourth of July fireworks from an airplane are pretty cool), but Thanksgiving is a truly American holiday, and since more families go out of the their way to get together for Turkey than Santa, it’s a tough one to miss. Christmas is also hard, especially if you have young kids who are still enraptured with Santa.

While the winter holidays can be celebrated pretty much any time you want them to be, being gone is hard. Even if you would not normally have done anything special, a hotel can be a pretty lonely place. Restaurants are closed or open only for limited hours; room service often is cancelled for the day; and when you turn on the TV, you are reminded even more so that you just are not where you want to be. Hotels will do what they can, but their staff will be limited as well. If there is anything worse than being stuck in a hotel for a holiday, it’s being stuck in a hotel when you and your crew are the only guests.

Working holidays is a fact of life in many occupations, and the airlines are no different in that regard. But, when you work a job where you can go home after your shift, it’s much easier to swallow, especially if you get premium pay. A little-known fact is that more airlines do not pay a premium for holiday pay than those that do, and that just adds insult to injury. Those that do often have no problem finding volunteers.

If there is a benefit to working holidays, it may be a reduced schedule. Flights are usually reduced on certain days, and that may create fewer trips. If the overall schedule is large enough, it may be possible for the company to build a lot of shorter (one -and two-day) trips, or a lot of trips with a split a.m./p.m. schedule that allow at least part of the day to be spent at home.

If you are a commuter, one of the first things you will do when looking at trips for November and December is to try to find one that overnights in your home town or the town of family. In fact, if you’re really lucky, you might score a layover that gives you a full day off at home for a holiday, for which you might be getting paid.

Fly for the airlines long enough, and you will undoubtedly meet someone who clearly has the seniority to be off for a holiday but chooses to work it. I can’t remember if I was a first officer or a captain at the time, but I had to work Thanksgiving early in my career, and one of our most senior captains (one of the top three) was working. He had no kids at home anymore, and had decided to work so that a junior captain who probably had a family could be home. There have also been folks who have bid the holiday off, and then gone into work and picked up a trip from a fellow pilot as a surprise so that they could be home with their families. It’s a favor I’d like to pass on someday myself.

As with any career, the airlines have their downsides, and working holidays can be depressing, especially when you’ve done it several years in a row. Some have pretty stringent policies in place to prevent abuse of sick time, but the reality is that at some point you will most likely have to do it, and most of the time, your fellow employees will be in a good mood that becomes contagious. The passengers may not show as much appreciation as you’d like, but rest assured that they have a tremendous amount of gratitude for your work. I’ve been on both sides of the cockpit door, and while I’d prefer being on the one taken where I want to go, it’s not always so bad to be the taker either.—Chip Wright

Dumb things pilots have done, part I

Tuesday, September 18th, 2012

This is a random series of dumb, sometimes just “plane” stupid, and often funny (in retrospect) things that pilots have done. There isn’t a rhyme or reason to the order. But looking back over more than 20 years I’ve been flying, I’ve seen—or heard first hand—some real doozies. These are some of my favorites.

Tried to leave, but couldn’t. One pilot, a student, forgot to untie the tail of the Cessna 152. He started it up, did his After Start checklist, and with his instructor’s consent, juiced the throttle. The nose immediately jerked, went up a bit, and then came back down as the airplane rolled backwards a bit. The CFI had not seen that the tail rope was still tied either, but immediately figured it out. He also acted as though he let all of this happen: “Don’t make me do that to you again! Now, shut this airplane down, and go untie the rope. I hope you’ve learned something!”

At least he was a quick thinker.

Left, but shouldn’t have. Airline crews have certain things that they simply can not leave without. The maintenance log is one of them. I’ve heard of several captains, though, who have, and if they are lucky, they take off, get a radio call before they get too far away, and return to the airport. The tower usually knows what’s going on, and they take enormous pleasure in introducing the world to Captain Forgetful. It’s never happened to me, but I can only imagine what the speech to the passengers is like, let alone the explanation to the chief pilot.

What’s worse is when the crew gets where they are going, and then a special ferry flight has to be scheduled if the company can’t get the logbook onto another flight to XYZ.

As a result, guys come up with all kinds of reminders to make sure that they don’t make this mistake: turning screens off, moving their rudder pedals out of reach, writing notes on their clips or their hands. Hey, whatever works.

Left, but he shouldn’t have, Part II. Did you ever try to retract the landing gear, only to find that you didn’t remove the gear pins? Me either, but others have. The pins are put in to move the airplane after the hydraulic systems depressurize. But even modern hydraulic systems can’t overcome those pins. About the time you notice it, the tower can see the “REMOVE BEFORE FLIGHT” flags flapping the slipstream. “Hey, did you guys know…?”

Maybe they’ll get the chief pilot mentioned below.

Left…the engine running. This has happened twice that I know of. The first time, jets were new to the property and the crew left for the hotel. Upon arriving in his room, the captain got a phone call from the station. He talked the station through the shutdown procedure, and went to bed. Rumor is the company never knew.

The second time (different captain), the company and the FAA got wind of it, and the captain had to do the carpet dance, as he had several thousand hours in the aircraft. Not too long after, he became the chief pilot. Go figure.

In part II, Chip Wright will share incidents that illustrate how the FAA has eyes in the back of its head, and much more.–Ed.