Friday, December 5, 2014

Not Part of the Plan

Before I worked for the airlines I often wondered what it would really be like.  I'd heard stories, but I'd also heard many say, "until you get there and experience it for yourself, you'll never really know."  Despite that, I thought I'd tell you how my day went a few days ago so you could get a small glimpse into the life of an airline pilot.

My alarm woke me at 4:15am, which is not an uncommon time to have to wake up.  I immediately noticed a missed call from crew support (if you have any early show and don't want to be disturbed by friends and family who go to bed at a normal hour, the "Do Not Disturb" on your iPhone will become your best friend).   I knew a rainstorm was coming to SoCal, so I assumed our plane never made it to Carlsbad (CLD), maybe low visibility?  I called Crew Support back to find out what was going on and was informed our airplane never made it to Carlsbad but was still in San Diego (SAN).  Thankfully we had the same show time so I met my crew down in the lobby at 5:20am and we took a ride from the hotel in Carlsbad to SAN.

This set us back a little bit, but we were scheduled to have an hour break later on in the day, so we figured we could still get done on time if we gave up our break.

With our empty plane, we made it to Los Angeles (LAX) from SAN just fine, though we landed at our next schedule departure time (and might I add, I did the most beautiful landing at LAX).  We could have landed 20 minutes earlier, but LAX was landing to the east, something that happens very rarely- we're talking once a year or so.  Because of that, everything turns from normal operations into complete chaos.  To add to the wind change, causing us to land on the opposite side of the airport, it was also raining cats on dogs, and IMC (Instrument Meteorological Conditions- in the clouds) the entire flight.  The weather was like this the rest of the day, which I secretly enjoyed as I rarely see rain anymore- perks of living in a desert.

This is the pic I took in-between flight before I braved the storm to do the walk around.

I borrowed this sweet jacket to do the walkaroud so I didn't get completely drenched.  

We finally got to the gate in LAX after the longest taxi of my life, got all our passengers boarded within 10 minutes and were off to our next destination, CLD.  We made it to CLD just fine, but now we were running an hour late.  Again, because LAX was using different runways it took us twice as long to get airborne than it usually does.

In CLD we boarded up our 'starting-to-get-angry-passengers' because we were a bit late.  We made sure we had the required amount of fuel on board and were off, back to LAX.  Halfway between CLD and LAX, Air Traffic Control (ATC) informed us we could expect to hold for 3-5 holding patterns (and maybe more), which is about 12-20 minutes, which is about 250-500 pounds of fuel.  We told ATC we may have to divert because we didn't have fuel to play around with... especially not 500+ pounds... and from experience, many times holding turns into much longer than planned.  They told us it could easily be another 30 minutes, so we decided the best and safest thing to do was to divert back to CLD.

As much as we didn't want to, and as much as we knew our passengers really wouldn't want to, we made the safe decision to fly back to CLD.  We landed safely in CLD with the legal amount of fuel.  Even though it was a HUGE inconvenience to divert back to CLD, it was the best decision.  I never want to be stuck with air beneath me and no fuel.  No thanks!

There is always one passenger (remember that) who thinks his world is crumbling down around him when things don't go as planned.  He yelled at the poor flight attendant on our way back to CLD and then some more at the gate agents after we had landed.  Thankfully I couldn't hear what he was saying, but I know he used some pretty choice words.  He must not have realized that we don't have control over the weather... though that would be awesome if we did.

We added more fuel in CLD, let Mr. Grump get off, and slowly made our way back to LAX, this time running quite a bit late;  about 1 1/2 hours at this point.  Keep in mind we still had not seen any blue sky by this time of the day.  Only rain, rain, clouds, and more rain.  Though I LOVE the rain, it does get a bit exhausting fling in it all day; definitely more exhausting that flying in calm/10/clear.

We were supposed to change airplanes when we got back to LAX, but since we were running so late, they managed to swap things around a bit and let us keep the same plane to our final destination, San Luis Obispo (SBP).  Hooray!  Swapping planes can be a bit of a pain.  It wouldn't be bad if I didn't have my suitcase, my flight bag, my headset bag, and my cooler.  I'm not complaining by any means, I choose to bring all that stuff with me, but it is SO nice not having to swap planes throughout the day.

Nothing too eventful happened up to SBP, but again, since the winds were all crazy, we ended up having to fly past the airport to start the approach to the runway favoring the winds.  It was an ILS approach, which is nice, but for some reason our autopilot didn't want to follow the course smoothly, so the captain ended up having to handfly- after a super long day of approaches, long taxis, a divert, rain, ice, clouds everywhere, turbulence, quick breaks with no time to grab real food, etc.  You get the point.  But we made it safely to SBP with the captain shooting a beautiful approach and making a nice touchdown.

Of course the day was still awesome- I mean, I got to fly an airplane, in rain, and fly some pretty awesome approaches- but it was exhausting!  And we got done 2 hours later than planned.  So as great as this job is, if you decide to become a pilot, know that: