Every job has its upsides and downsides. Flying is no different. I recall a conversation with a friend of mine in which we were both lamenting something common between our companies. I don’t remember what it was, and it doesn’t really matter. But he summed it up very eloquently: “this was not in the brochure!” I couldn’t help but laugh. Fifteen years in the business has shown me any number of learning experiences…many of which are not in any brochure or would find their way into a Chamber of Commerce commercial.
For instance, when I first got into this business, I had the illusion that all of my trips would take me to exotic locales on a gorgeous beaches surrounded by a bevy of Victoria’s Secret models. The sun would always shine, the ride would always be smooth, and I would get paid truckloads of money. It didn’t help that when I started, I was based in Orlando, and I spent a lot of time going to Miami, Fort Lauderdale, the Bahamas and Key West. Further, I went to college in Florida, and most of my airline travels as a consumer had been to and from the Sunshine State. I got spoiled rotten and quickly.
Fast forward just a few years later, when I’d transferred to Cincinnati. Cold weather ops took on a new meaning. Deicing became a routine part of my work day, and at times the snow would fall so fast that we would not only deice, but we’d be forced to re-deice. More times than I care to remember trucks would run out of deice fluid, or would break down. A new truck has to be called, and the fluid heated (to 140 degrees F). If it happens halfway through the process, then it all has to be started over. Since we deice with the APU shut down (to avoid flooding the APU), the air conditioning is turned off and the airplane gets cold quickly. You can easily fall an hour or two behind before you have flown a single leg of the trip. It makes for long days indeed.
Hotels can often drive crews crazy as well. They can be noisy, either inside (New Year’s Eve is an awful time to fly a trip, not because of the holiday, but because of the disruption to your sleep) or out. Fire alarms go off unexpectedly. I was in a hotel when a bomb threat was called in. Renovations cause issues as well. The biggest hotel issue for airline crews, though, is unreliable transportation. Don’t get me started on that one.
Weather in general will make you shake your head. I fly in weather now that at one time would have been unthinkable. I’ve been in or through more hurricanes than I can count. I’ve had one severe icing encounter, dealt with a extreme turbulence, and picked my way through, over, around, and under enough storms for a lifetime. There is an expression that line pilots use: “It doesn’t matter what the Weather Channel shows….we’re going.” That turns out to be true more often than not. We may wait for the weather to pass, but we usually go.
I once had to go from Cincy to Indy, a flight that is normally less than 20 minutes. But because of a line of storms, we had to fly due south to Memphis, turn west through a break in the line, and head back north. Even if we could have turned early, we would have had to hold because we needed to burn enough fuel to get down to our max landing weight. Low visibility, high winds, and storms on the field are all that usually force cancellations, but more are caused by airplanes that need to divert, which forces the airlines to modify the schedule.
Mechanicals are another story. I once spent 12 hours at O’Hare waiting for a new tire that somehow got lost. Don’t ask…I just work here.
What gets you through these days? Two things. First, they are so rare on the whole. Second, the guy or gal sitting next to me. You have to have a sense of humor—sometimes gallows humor. Bellyaching isn’t going to improve anything, and you have to take the bad with the good, especially when you are getting paid for it. Besides, in my opinion, the good far outweighs the bad.
But I sure do miss my beachside hotels, especially in the winter…–Chip Wright