Airline Pilot: Day 2 In The Life.


[Did you miss Day One of this saga? If so, here it is if you'd like to catch up.]

The phone blasts you awake at an ungodly hour. “Huh? What?”

“Crew Tracking. Your inbound aircraft is late, so your pick-up at the hotel will be an hour later.”

Damn–you realize you’re in a hotel. Not at home. “Uh, okay. You gonna call the first officer?” No sense letting him get any more sleep than you, right? Besides, he’d be down for crew van pick-up an hour early.

“Sure, Captain.” Click. Hate wake up calls–that’s why you never request one. Two alarms, plus the cell phone. And slowly, it dawns on you what’s just happened: Crew Tracking woke you up early to tell you to sleep later.

Of course, you can’t go back to sleep. Wrong time zone, too awake. Coffee? Foraging for coffee. Darn, it’s the one-cup jobber: won’t stay warm, but take it or leave it.

Strike One: now you’re going to have to risk the coffee bath in the crew van bumping to the airport. It can’t be helped–you need your morning medication. Meanwhile, time for your bloodbath: shave.

You know a widebody captain who just retired (initials Dan H.) but swore he always took not only the hotel free stuff like soap and shampoo, but also the extra roll of toilet paper and when he was running low at home, a couple light bulbs, too. Of course, you took a beer glass from the LaGarbage hotel bar every trip because they were charging $9 per draft. Ought to get something for that price, right? And you are probably the reason why now they allow carry-outs only in a plastic cup. Shrug . . . you have a complete set of their glasses anyway.

Stick your head in the shower, wash away the cobwebs. What the . . . okay, that’s Strike Two:

It’s like you’re in a submarine that’s been hit and is going down.

Anyway, blot that drain clog out of your mind’s eye–the submarine image is better. Grab your stuff, take the key, too, in case you need to come back up for something you’ve forgotten.

Get downstairs for pick up, if your time zone math is correct. If not, and you’re an hour or two early (don’t laugh–you’ve done it), then you’ll need your key to go back upstairs, acting nonchalant (yeah, I just came down to look around . . . uh, with my bags).

It’s quiet in the van because half of the crews are from the opposite coast and so are not yet quite awake; some from the early coast are already on their phones. You and your bunch are on Central time, midway between time zones and everyone, regardless, is heading to the four points of the compass.

It’s a funny career field, isn’t it? First thing everyone does after coming to work is scatter across the country. Maybe that’s why there’s a feeling of comraderie among crews, even from other airlines. We’re all in this nomadic drifting life together, passing each other along the way.

You hate the single point security, at least for the passengers. You’re at work, and you’ve done this so many times it’s pretty well a mindless annoyance. And there are crew lines. You hate the monolithic hassle of giant security operations like DEN and PIT for the families and the elderly who are almost overwhelmed. The special crew line? Well, should we get to the gate and preflight, then wait for the passengers, or vice versa?

There’s no time for anything after the security lines, just go to work. Not making eye contact with passengers, which will normally lead to questions you can’t answer anyway ( more details? click here). There’s an exception, though–there’s always time to help the very young, and the very old.

And of course, the families shepherding both through the airport. Their travel is most important, being their first or maybe even their last flight, and they need and deserve your help just as you would hope your family would get help in a similar situation. Find your way to the gate and  here’s the payoff for you.

The jet, fueled, waiting. That goes back to the core, to the Air Force days: pointy rockets lined up on a quiet ramp, waiting to split the morning sky with the sound of  jet engines. Let’s get to work.

Preflight done, boarding, pushback; take-off.

Do that again two more times. Food? No time–cram in a quick meal eaten out of your lap.

... and keep the cracker crumbs off the radar, okay?

Same sequence, step by methodical and disciplined step, two more times through three more time zones. By the last leg, you’re pretty well worn out. But there’s no slack, no easing up: the third leg has to be just as precise as the first.

Enjoy the desert moonrise, watch the fuel flow, and a constant eye on the route and the weather. The finish line’s only a couple hours away. Never mind the time changes and hotel sleep and missed meals, bring everyone home safely. Park the jet; captain’s the last one off. Now you can relax, the rest is just a sleepwalk to the hotel. And here’s why it’s all worthwhile.

Walk around them. Head for yet another hotel, try to get some rest. The whole thing starts over again tomorrow morning.

_______________________________________________________________________________________________________

Stay tuned for Part 3: Going Home.

Coming soon . . .

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10 Responses to “Airline Pilot: Day 2 In The Life.”

  1. Tom Seagraves Says:

    OK, my dream of being an airline pilot has been squashed. I still think the gut bomb video was hilarious though. So do you mind aviation geeks asking you stupid questions at the airport? Like, “What’s your favorite plane you’ve ever flown and why?” and stuff like that?

  2. F-18 Used-to-Be Says:

    Really enjoyed it. Keep writing. After traveling 20 days a month (in the back) — nine countries in 14 days, 9 to 13 time zones one way, twice a month … this resonates well. Thanks for the perspective on the reason why. Good to know you guys enjoy the reunions.

  3. Rishi sharma Says:

    hi i really like how you educate everyone one on your life as a pilot. i want to be an iarline pilot as well. im a sophmore in highschool and i plan on going to embry riddle in florida. my question is are you always away from your family?

    • Left today at 5pm, will be home the day after tomorrow at 9pm. Then either 3 or 4 days off and do it again. So I’m not gone that much, and when I’m not flying on those 3 or 4 days off (that varies week to week) I’m home 24 hours a day.

  4. Autumn Jones Says:

    I just found your blog yesterday and I’m trying to catch up on all of your posts, you are such a wonderful writer! My goal is to be a Commercial Pilot eventually and your blogs just make me more excited about it. Keep up the great writing!

  5. Hey, I am a high school student as well. After seeing how much stress is really involved, and its not just aviation, navigate , communicate, but tons of paperwork, I don’t know if I should follow my dream of becoming a pilot(which I have after yrs of hardcore PC Simming). What’s your advice, sir? (About flying schools, if u think its worthwhile becoming a pilot…)
    Ps: I am living in India, thought ur advice might just change…
    Thanks in advance!

    • I don’t think “paperwork” is really the issues and in fact, we’re going more and more paperless with electronic resources replacing hard copy.

      The “paperwork” aspect–digital or hard copy–is reflective of the huge regulatory and technical documents that regulate passenger carriers and of course, the pilots doing the flying.

      There’s no way around the technical parts and I wouldn’t want one: this is the core of flying these jets. And the regulatory stuff, from the specifics of instrument and RNAV flight to specifications for every phase of the flight operations are what comprises the safety net that has given the airline industry the best safety stats of all time.

      So I embrace them both. If you want to be successful and safe in the flying biz, you will too.

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