Archive for flight attendant

Fried Sky with a Side of Regret.

Posted in air travel, airline, airline industry, airline pilot, airline pilot blog, airliner, flight, flight attendant, flight crew, jet with tags , , , , , , , , , , on March 29, 2014 by Chris Manno

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Night falls slowly, painfully on the flight deck westbound. Chasing the sun but losing, sunset grudgingly unfolds in slo-mo, Pat Summerall running color commentary: “Oh my, that’s not how it’s supposed to happen.” A burning lip flecked with cobalt, shafts of charcoal stolen from the blue promising a stormy beating for a landscape miles away, yet you know, feel, what you can’t see. Darkness comes in withering shades and declining latitudes, searing the horizon, azure overtaking the florid arc as if the smoldering, sighing sun just didn’t give a damn anymore.

Entropy flies in the cargo belly: chickens–baby chicks breathing through air holes in cardboard cartons, never imagining themselves winging 500 knots across the ground–and radioactive material (aft compartment), tagged bags and other stuff, plus a tissue sample on dry ice rushing to doctors on the sunset coast, deciding if someone in the eastern darkness can live or die, or so the cargo folks told me.

Not really more sanguine upstairs in the pressure hull defying the -60 degree stratopause inches away, with a meager partial pressure of oxygen that would instantly start the blood bubbling and the gas escaping crushed lungs in a fog. Never mind, eyes on the prize, 250 degrees true, beyond the jagged threshold of the Rockies and Sierras. Less than an hour to go.

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While I’m ten stories forward of the aft jumpseat confessional, I’m aware of what’s unfolding nonetheless. One just left her husband, the other just got left. Forward galley, well he’s an old friend, a gay guy with a good head on his shoulders and compassion enough to care how hard relationships, same sex or otherwise, can be when the wreckage piles up.

And we both have Old Testament faith in flightcrew clannishness: we’ll get through whatever together, day, night, a few thousand miles or continent, even an ocean away; the jumpseat and crew van and the gawd awful bidsheet that binds us hot forges a flightcrew stronger than we could ever be alone. So we never really are–and the two pros will smile and work that coach cart, they’ll do the giving that they always do, with stronger hearts regardless of the weight they’re bearing.

Me, up front, I’m just the timekeeper, shoveling coal to stoke the boiler fire and constantly questioning the course I’ve set: can we get the chickens and tissue and broken hearts and shattered dreams to the far coast with fuel burn I counted on? Does the X-Ray vision of the radar and the wind plot say that the wedding gown carefully, almost religiously stowed in the forward closet will make it timelessly to the reunion with the soul-sister maid of honor waiting to pick up the bride in the City by the Bay?

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Flex. Breathe, flex again; crank the rudder pedals back, unfold the six foot scrunch another inch, strapped in just the same. Breathe. Force the HEFOE litany carved in stone an age ago: “hydraulics, electric, fuel, engines, oxygen,” amen. Simple, my part as captain is: keep us flying forward, rightfully, safely. Be the faceless guy in the locomotive cab of the wailing freight train, dragging an ice trail across the night sky, contrails silhouetted in moonlight like silver rails against a shadowy landscape thundering below: dusk left and right, darkness behind–we sail on ahead nonetheless.

Crossing the last waypoint before arrival and descent, claim that inward smile: job done, promises kept; plans worked, fuel plenty, brides, chicks and heartbreak alike–delivered. From here it’s only about negotiating the descent, the approach, landing and taxi in. Cake. And folks will either be happy or not, but you did what you promised them. Chicks will either recognize a new coast or they won’t, someone in New Jersey will get good news (I hope) or bad, and somebody’s big day will lead to a lifetime of heartache or not. And the heartbreak cabin crew will be replaced by another eastbound, instantly bound by the Gilligan’s Island of flight crews: castaways, for better or worse, on a thin air island eight miles above and a world away.

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Yet in the end, it’s not regret, really, that darkens your sky, but in a way it is: can’t be sure how any of what we landed just now turns out afterward, though I’m not sure I’m supposed to know. Back off; take a deep breath and set out once again on the ironclad litany for the eastbound flight, the homeward leg. Regret can wait; another worthy ark of eastbound hope and dreams and everything in between sails on at brake release and pushback in an hour. Claim a breath, a moment of peace, then get your head back in the game: details, captain, and promises you must keep for the hundred some souls on board.

Keep ‘em, every one, defy the sunrise alone. Careful, truthful, the sky is the footpath home.

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Flight Crew Talk: The Beatings Will Continue.

Posted in airline cartoon, airline pilot blog, flight, flight attendant, flight crew, jet flight, travel with tags , , , , , , , , , on May 15, 2013 by Chris Manno

What we have here . . . is a failure to communicate.

You wouldn’t think it would be so hard for crewmembers to communicate in flight–we have the technology; interphone, PA system, headsets and handsets–even our oxygen masks on the flight deck are wired for sound.

Nonetheless, once the cockpit door is closed, communication dies a slow, miserable death and as captain–it’s YOU taking the Cool Hand Luke beating from the Road Boss.

You don’t like it, I don’t like it–but that’s the way he wants it . . . so he gets it.

Let’s start with what’s usually the first salvo, fired right as we climb through ten thousand feet. That’s the magic end of “sterile cockpit,” which is the time period when flight attendants know non-essential communications with the pilots is prohibited because it’s a phase of flight requiring our concentration in the cockpit, and distractions are not welcome. I have answered the crew interphone when we’ve received a call below 10,000 feet with the admonishment, “We’d better be on fire if you’re calling me now.”

But above ten thousand, here it comes: “Can you turn down the air?”

Sigh. What does that even mean? More cold air? More hot air? Higher temperature? Turn down? So begins twenty questions: “What is it you want?” Sadly, though, the whole thing is our own fault or, honestly, usually the F/O’s fault.

ac tempThat’s because F/Os just CANNOT LEAVE THE TEMP CONTROLS ALONE. This is especially true of those with lingering brain damage from the MD-80, which essentially had a caveman vintage air conditioning system that DID require a lot of tweaking. On take-off, at full power, it could make snow in the back if you didn’t nudge the temp control valve off of the full-cold stop.

Not so with the Boeing–but F/Os HAVE to mess with it anyway–even though if the temp was comfortable on the ground, the Boeing will maintain that in flight.Nope–F/Os have to mess with it, have to do something, even though automatically, it’s fine left alone.

And that brings on the second failure to communicate. Inevitably, the F/O has to argue, usually tossing out, “Well, the duct temp says 75 degrees.”

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Unfortunately, the crew interphone system is a party line, and the flight attendants are listening. Sigh. They don’t give a damn about the duct temp–neither do I–they just know if they’re comfortable.  But that’s the pilot pigheadedness: we already know everything.

To reiterate, as I bump all three compartment temps down, just leave it alone, and give them whatever the hell they want. What do you care? You’re not back there.

Plus, use your head: this is a senior turnaround flight, with senior flight attendants swathed in layers of polyester, hauling carts and traipsing up and down the aisle. You think they want heat? You think I do? Sitting in the gazebo, direct sunlight–I constantly reach over and call for more cool air. You’re cold? Too bad–next flight, bring a sweater.

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Now, let’s visit the cruise portion of our non-communication. The primary voice passengers hear is the PA, which announces information pertinent to our flight, like arrival time and weather. That’s key information for travelers and crew alike. But, there’s a catch: flight attendants can’t hear the PA.

For flight attendants, the PA is like a dog whistle: we can all hear it, average dogs that we are, but flight attendants are oblivious. You could have just said over the PA “we’ll be landing in one hour” and within minutes, the interphone chime will go off and the question will be, “When are we landing?” And not just once, because not only do flight attendants not hear the PA, they don’t talk to each other either. So you’ll get the same call two, maybe three times.

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And never mind that you’ve given them a hard copy of the flight time before takeoff, and that they’ve typed that information into the touch screen at their station controlling the passenger information and entertainment system . . .

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. . . and that touchscreen, if they look at it, will tell them how much longer we have left in the flight. But, that would mean they’d have to look at their watch, then do the math. Especially when we’re landing in a different time zone–it’s easier to just call up front and ask me. Right?

Well, maybe not me. My answer is usually relative: “About ten minutes early.” Which means: look at your watch. This is your flight–know your own schedule.

Or, look at the gee-whiz panel at your station, counting down the minutes. Or, do the unthinkable: ask one of your colleagues in the back? Nah. Whether it’s the temperature or the time, rather than ask each other, just call up front. All of you–not one call, but four, because you can’t hear the dog whistle or talk to each other. Even had a fifth flight attendant, just riding the aft jumpseat home 130 feet behind me, ask me to “cool off the back.” Seriously?

Okay, it’s a given: we work together, fly together, even all talk–sometimes at once–to each other. We just don’t communicate very well. So, my new policy is this: any time the crew interphone chimes, I look to the F/O and say, “It’s for you.” He’s the one screwing up the temp anyway.

And at least I’m happy, and that’s a start.

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Dear Santa: The Airline Pilot Wish List

Posted in air travel, airline, airline cartoon, airline pilot blog, cartoon with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 9, 2012 by Chris Manno

December 2012

Subject: Wish List

From: Blog, JetHead

To: Claus, Santa

Sir:

As you know, it’s that time of year again. How about if we go ahead and stipulate the facts from last year: no, I haven’t been “good,” whatever that is, and neither have you so let’s drop that subject.

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And yes, I have more than I probably deserve, what with a good gig in the Boeing left seat, seniority to be a little picky (still flying the all-nighter, Fatman? Bummer.) trip-wise.  So this year, on my Wish List, I’m asking for less:

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For starters, how about a little less “ice fog?” I know, for you it’s “no big deal,” Rudolph, red nose, blah-blah-blah. But for me, it’s a Category III approach hand-flown to a fifty foot decision height (admit it: you’re cheating with the “red nose” crap, aren’t you?) which is no easy trick. Yes, I do appreciate the HUD you sent me on the Boeing two years ago . . .

. . . but despite the cosmic technology, less ice fog, more VFR this winter, please.

Also, less “fine dining.” I’m not talking about in flight, like this:

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Or the usual Pie in the Sky that I keep eating to see if I can grow an ass as fat as yours:

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Instead, I’m referring to the more typical “in airport” fine dining like this:

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This is more the norm for “fine” airport “dining,” and it’s all too familiar to have not enough time for anything other than a five minute “shove a burger down your throat” experience at an airport food court between flights. Or worse, depending on the layover hotel and the local weather.

Which is another thing an airline pilot could do with less of: layover hotels.

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I know you never do overnights in hotels, but those of us who do at least 150 days a year would appreciate a little less. Because depending on the location, the foraging for food can become pretty grim as well.

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Got Imodium?

In fact, there’s the main thing all flight crews would like less of: less hotels, lines, vans, crowds, airport “security,” bad nights of sleep in noisy hotels, scant food, long hours and if you’re still with me, here’s the one thing we all want more of: home.

Because on Christmas, just like every holiday, birthday, anniversary or significant milestone any family ever dreamed up, there will be flight crews in the air or worse, stuck on the ground in “that hotel,” wishing for a little more home and a lot less away.

I know, Fatman, that isn’t the deal: flying means away–a lot. So just knowing that of the things I want less I’m going to get more and more; and the things I want more I’m going to have less and less (what are we up to now, 19 flight days a month?), we’ll just forget about your “list,” I’ll behave as awful as I always do this year, and we’ll call it even.

Thanks for nothing,

JetHead

P.S. When are you going to learn how to bid?

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Holiday Air Travel Tips 2012

Posted in air travel, airline, airline pilot blog, airliner with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 2, 2012 by Chris Manno

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This year we’re going to do the holiday air travel tips different, for one good reason: leisure fliers never do what airline industry insiders recommend. Don’t know why; maybe travelers already know everything, maybe they don’t care—maybe they just don’t like to be told what to do.

Regardless, since air travelers so often seem to do the exact opposite of whatever the airline industry recommends, here’s our new approach:

–Don’t prepare ahead of time. Nada—no collecting your travel info (flight numbers, departure times) in one handy place. Rather, have a bunch of papers with boarding passes, itineraries, receipts and even hand-scrawled notes, cram them into your bag somewhere and pull them out, act confused and look for someone (and there are PLENTY of airport staffers ready help you!) to untangle the mess for you. Much easier than having your act together and your travel information at your fingertips!

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–Bring your dog, and let the dog out of its kennel in the airport public areas! Everyone loves your dog, no one is allergic to your dog, and other dogs won’t react adversely to your taking “just a little break” out of the required carrier, on or off the plane, right? And do ignore whatever “business” it does on the floor because “It’s no big deal” and the airport has “people to handle that,” of course. So no one else in the airport could possibly worry about health hazards.

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–Don’t pack sensibly. In fact, just bring everything that fits into your suitcase—never mind sorting out liquids or cosmetics; those will be sorted for you by the TSA. That’s what the screening is for, and the passengers in line behind you aren’t in a rush to get on their flights anyway.

–Do not put your name inside your luggage! If you do, once the flimsy luggage tag is torn off, the airline will know who owns the suitcase, rather than sending it on a Disney-worthy odyssey to the Land of Lost Toys. You want that, don’t you?

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–Rely on the airlines for your basic caloric needs. Food has been plentiful on the airlines since about 1965, remember? So why shouldn’t you expect in the course of your 6 hours of travel that the airline will cater a meal for you? Don’t bring non-perishable snack for yourself and please, don’t bring water aboard the plane. Some nutty people actually have reusable water containers that they fill up after security, then bring them on board to ensure their own hydration. Crazy, right?

redneck–Dress like a bum or a heroin addict. That makes it seem natural to all the service personnel that you’ll encounter that you have high expectations, even with questionable taste and hygiene, and so they’ll be ready to work closely and cheerfully with you. Please wear your headphones, have your music jacked up so that when the Flight Attendants ask you if you’d like a beverage, you can say, “What?” for the thousandth time in their very long day.

–Once you board the aircraft, hog all of the overhead bin space near your seat. Realize when the flight attendants announce on the P.A., “Overhead bins are shared space—please place one small hand-carried article under the seat in front of you,” they don’t mean “you” as in you. Rather, it’s the “Smokey the Bear” type “you:” like only “you” can prevent forest fires,” which doesn’t mean you personally, right? That’s everyone but you—and they know it. Act like you don’t even hear the P.A. as other passengers struggle to get their items stowed.

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–Once your flight reaches your destination and parks at the gate, as soon as the seatbelt sign is turned off, do not remain comfortably seated. Rather, immediately jump up and either stand uncomfortably hunched over because of the overhead bin, or crowd into the aisle even though the door isn’t even open and you’re not going anywhere anyway until all of the passengers in front of you have gathered their belongings and moved up the aisle. Why wait? Cram yourself into the aisle.

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There, now you have the latest “do’s” and “don’ts” and it’s up to you to sort out one from the other. Hope this new way of passing the information registers in a useful way but regardless, when human nature takes over and the “me first” priority rules the day, at least you’ll have a tall tale about your awful trip to regale your friends with. Bon voyage!

Special Note: as of today, JetHead has had 300,915 visitors.

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A Flight Attendant’s Story

Posted in airline pilot blog, airline pilot podcast, airline podcast, flight attendant, flight crew with tags , , , , , , , on October 24, 2012 by Chris Manno

What is a career as a Flight Attendant like?

The lifestyle, the experience, the passengers, the flights:

JetHead Live goes one-on-one with veteran flight attendant

Carola Shroeder-Delong


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Air Travel and Sundae Prayers.

Posted in airline pilot blog with tags , , , , , , on March 16, 2012 by Chris Manno

There are things we expect, things we ask for, and things that drop in our lap. The hard part is knowing the difference and at the same time, appreciating our own good fortune without any further questions. But that’s just not human nature–gratitude and minimal expectations–is it?

Let me start with myself, for the sake of full disclosure–and don’t worry, I’ll get to you as well.

I’ve been flying jets long enough to be Category 3 qualified, which in my jet means I’m certified to hand-fly down to fifty feet above the runway in dense fog or obscured skies, day or night, to land if it looks to me to be prudent.

And yet, having done this for most of my life, that’s not where the extraordinary satisfaction of the workday comes from. Maybe it’s intangible, or more accurately, a tacit reward you get out of the blue (pun intended), and maybe even that itself seems pretty mundane compared to what you’d think would matter about driving eighty tons of pig iron around the sky.  But here it is:

“Sundaes,” I was told by a very wise senior flight attendant when I was a very junior airline pilot, “are like a blowjob: if offered, you take it–but you never ask.” Maybe that’s why it’s special when that offer comes. But throughout the years, I never ask. Which is why this is more the norm:

Don’t get me wrong–I love flying one of the most advanced technology birds in the sky, I thrive on the challenges and the minute demands inherent in every flight. But I’m way beyond anyone’s stereotype of this job, and more like the stereotype of every job.

I have little or no patience for other than the essentials of flight. I’ll say up front that I’ll do anything to help the very young, the very old, those who don’t speak the language and those with special needs. But other than that, I do my best to remain invisible. Because overall, like you, I’m just trying to get through the workday without hassles or repercussions.

Now, shall we move on, and in fact, move back?

These are my colleagues on the far side of that armored and thank God, bolted shut flight deck door. They have to deal with hundreds–you read that right–hundreds of passengers a day. Yes, that’s their job, and they’re damn good at it, better than I’d ever dream of being (see above). But there’s more to it than meets your eye.

He or she has been working nonstop for several days by the time you board, in many cases. That includes the hassles of hotels and transportation, little sleep or food due to schedule constraints, and throw on the added stress of increased hours and decreased pay, the industry standard, and the end result is predictable if you put yourself into the situation. Flashback–here’s me meeting The Missuz after one of her 3-day death marches, particularly when she was on callout reserve:

Probably will be no “sundaes” in the near future in this typical scenario, not that I’d ask. Because she, like most flight attendants in the sky, has just spent several days being deliberately nice to many people who don’t know the meaning of the word. So, you get the point: for all of the good parts about a flexible schedule, travel privileges (a cruel hoax, I say, but that’s another subject) and escape from any kind of office-bound (ugh) or desk-bound (yikes) work day, there is as you have to expect the grind-aspect of any job.

Now, let’s get to “the traveling public,” or as we like to say, “the pax.” I believe that there may be a common preconception among a large portion of “the pax” that may be less than accurate:

And the major contrast between the visualization–actually, the idealization–of air travel like this is not all on the crew side of the daydream. Rather, some of the dreamers show up out of costume for their own daydream:

No sundaes for you, probably ever–not that you’d need one, but you probably would ask. But the point is this: we’re all big on aspirations, but how about the follow-through? We’re certainly all human, but where’s the balance between expectations and obligations? Is there any connection between the way we act and what we get in return?

I’d like to think too that some of the behavior we see in the travel arena is different than what you’d see at the homes of everyone on the plane, but I guess I shouldn’t assume that. Regardless, the point is this: we all have expectations that rely on others, but sometimes it’s hard to remember that others have expectations of us as well. Pilots, flight attendants, passengers–we all tend to forget that.

But if you forget, the results are predictable. Which is why, as the senior flight attendant explained to me, when it comes to sundaes or anything else of a special nature in the air travel realm: if it’s offered, take it; otherwise, just don’t ask.

Airline Workers Burned.

Posted in airline pilot blog with tags , , , , , , , on February 6, 2012 by Chris Manno

Burned–not just figuratively: literally.

And while the feeling might be among those not close to the fire, “who cares,” the answer is simple, once you too start feeling the flames. And you will: the way of American business today is to break up the furniture and burn it to heat the house.

Still you might say, “not in my business” to which I’d reply, “maybe not for now.” But you will notice the wildfire consuming the airline business the next time you decide to go somewhere by air. And eventually, if those in big business who control yours decide it’s financially expedient in the short term to cash you out, your very own comfy chair, desk, pension and future will provide the heat to warm the place long after you’re out in the cold.

The Dallas Morning News reports that the combined post-bankruptcy Delta-Northwest combination, over 30,000 airline jobs went up in smoke; the post-bankruptcy Continental-United merger torched an equal number; USAir through bankruptcy burned up another 20,000, and American Airlines just forced into bankruptcy will of necessity claim thousands more faces ghostly to those who don’t  know them, even more ghostly to those who do.

But not you, not now, right? No, now it’s this guy, and whether you know it or not, he is you–not that you’d recognize it or admit it, for now:

He’s the Citizen Kane who has been handling your bags for all of the years you’ve been flying. He’s the muscle behind the launch of your jet to wherever you’re going, then he goes home to a family like yours. He’s been doing this for twenty-some years–but not any more: he’s been cashed out, broken up and thrown on the fire to heat the house. There are hordes waiting to smash your bags for minimum wage–so who needs him?

Airlines have no choice but to invest billions in new aircraft, then try to make ends meet with a cost structure skewed by oil prices, the wild card held hostage by both oil speculators and petroleum producing nations, many of whom despise the American way of life–including the cheap airfares connecting the length and breadth of our far-flung nation, a promise made to you by your congress as if it were a sacred entitlement no matter whose job or pension it costs to deliver the savings to you. Who do you think will pay that price for you?

I know who. She’s the one who would save your butt over her own when the real fires start burning:

Many started with me back in the 80s, flying now to support families and to pay mortgages and to have life on the earth like everyone else. Thousands of those dreams and lives went up in smoke through bankruptcy court to heat the chilling business that hangs and dies on the price of a barrel of oil. And month after month, that fluctuation extinguishes not only the hopes and dreams of folks like her–but also the bottom line of the airline that you love to vilify for charging a fraction of what it costs to buy an NFL or NBA playoff ticket. Getting you there, however, must be bargain basement pricing, right? I mean, it’s your right, right?

And don’t forget this guy; well, then again I guess you’d better:

He’s the knuckle-buster I depend on to tell me the jet’s ready, fixed, 100%. And when he says it, I know it’s true. Because he’s the same mechanic who migrated with me from tough, lean years in the military, or the civilian A&P ranks, who like me has put in the thousands of hours of sweat equity taming these giant beasts of metal and fuel and fire and a thousand high-tech components wiring it into a flyable tonnage the size of a freight train at shotgun speed–with your ass strapped aboard. But, his craft can be duplicated–though his lineage certainly cannot be–somewhere a thousand miles off shore for a third of the price. So he goes up in smoke too.

And finally, come on up to the pointy end.

Who’s going to fly your jet? Me, I’m here for the duration: USAF experience worldwide, 26+ years at my airline, 21+ as captain, but here’s the catch: who in the next generation of pilots who witness my nearly 27 years of pension go up in smoke like a “strike-anywhere” match as it just did is going to dedicate his life to your cheap air travel? Who will spend the $80,000+ on flight ratings, or the years of military indentured servitude to aspire to the dead end, $20,000 a year entry level that the job boils down to, just to linger in slow-death overtime as no one can afford to leave once their pension is erased?

Airline analyst Michael Boyd predicted that if this trend continues, airline pilots of the future will be the five year, “I was a ski bum/bartender in Aspen then got a real job” type turnovers, despite the weather, the terrain, the technology, and the challenges of piloting your airline flight.

Because who else with a lick of sense would perform a life and death drama daily for peanuts and an unsure future, branded by the vision of 100,000 airline pilots before them stripped of a future, cut loose with a retirement reduced to nothing?

I don’t know who, but that’s who’ll fly your jets. And I don’t know who in their right minds would choose the monumental and unrecoverable price tag that fuels the “burn ‘em up and keep it cheap” model endorsed by your blind eye congress and ultimately by, well, you.

And that’s what you’ll get. Breaking up the furniture to heat the house, regardless of what’s left, never mind habitability or who would have thought, survivability, down the road?

Meanwhile, no worries for now, bon voyage and just warm yourself at the bonfire . . . for as long as it lasts.

FlyJinks: Well that was really stupid.

Posted in air travel with tags , , , on October 16, 2011 by Chris Manno

Mimi has always been one of my favorite flight attendants: self-assured, smart, and a real sharp tongue coupled with a very sarcastic sense of humor. Rewinding to my DC-10 First Officer days, (okay, I’ve been a captain for 20 years now, do the math), I recall Mimi’s dedicated enthusiasm for a practical joke on a new flight engineer, an old tradition back in the days when we had new pilots and flight attendants joining our ranks literally by the thousands.

Although I usually took no part, I always got a laugh anyway. For instance, I can’t recall how many times I watched a captain send a new flight attendant back to the cabin to get some “air samples” in a barf bag. The passengers must have thought they were nuts.

Mimi’s plan involved luring  the engineer into the cabin to deal with a problem in the lav. Yes, the engineer wasn’t called “the plumber” for nothing. He’d put all of the hydraulic pumps to high pressure (hey, I was a DC-10 engineer way back), then all the fuel boost pumps back on, grab his hat and a few tools and head for the cabin.

DC-10 plumber's station. I did a year there . . .

Mimi was an expert in creating certain particularly vulgar sculptures from bran muffins and apple jelly, two items in the breakfast pastry stock in First Class. What she–and other flight attendants–would sculpt looked like the output of a German shepherd after digesting five pounds of raw meat, then squatting on your lawn.

The plan was to lay the sculpture next to the seat or on the seat in the lav, then call the engineer: “Look what someone did . . .” When he shrank away in revulsion, the flight attendant would scold him, then with her bare hands pick up the reshaped bran muffin  and wave it around like it was nothing, freaking out the engineer who was visualizing German shepherd output the whole time.

Funny. So Mimi creates her masterpiece, then slips it gingerly into a side pocket on her uniform dress (fragile! don’t spoil the shape!) and walks up the aisle through First Class toward one of the forward lavs.

She told me later she wasn’t exactly sure what happened, but on the way to the forward lav, a bump of turbulence jolted her sideways and her hip hit the credenza below the TV screen in First Class. The end result was her standing before the first row of First Class, and the oblong sculpture had flopped out of her dress and plopped down between her legs on the carpet. As if she’d just done the nasty deed right there.

Despite the gawking, the horrified passenger looks, other flight attendants told me Mimi just reached down as if it were nothing, snatched up the offending torpedo, and walked forward, eventually ending up in the cockpit.

“The deal’s off,” she told me, a finger to her lips. The Flight Engineer was off the hook–at least on that leg. Pretty sure she got him later.

While we’re on the DC-10–my second favorite jet to fly, behind the 737-800–maybe I could relate the tale that involved a half dozen flight attendants in the lower galley in their nightgowns calling me and one of my favorite pilots (we still see each other and back up the facts to whomever else has trouble believing the true story) from the cockpit one at a time for a “slumber party,” with 275 passengers upstairs clueless except for the fact that so many flight attendants seemed to have vanished.

Well, maybe next time.

Flying Home.

Posted in air travel, airline cartoon, flight, jet flight with tags , , , , , , on August 13, 2011 by Chris Manno

No matter who you are and which way you’re pointed, somehow, you’re going home. Maybe not now, but eventually and the place defines where you’re bound. Because what’s ahead is most clearly determined by what’s behind; where you’re going by where you’re from. Really, there’s no “to” without a “from,” and the ultimate “to,” the eventual “at last,” is always home.

A lot of home, then, is in the leaving and sometimes you can see it clearly; sometimes you can’t. But you can appreciate the separation when it happens before your eyes, though you try not to look. There’s a bit of loss ahead, if only for a moment but it’s there, reinforcing the value of home carried aboard in every parting.

Other times, home just about comes along for the trip.

Little ones travel like rock stars, trailed by adult roadies hauling enough of home to make it so for the kids. Now that’s okay to look at, refreshing, almost, in the world of to and from: home is parents caring for kids, being a family. That’s almost enough to make up for the home more often left behind with family too; distance being more than just a measurement.

In that case–maybe even more so than in the families dragging “home” through an airport–you can see what’s left behind and it’s even more powerful often than what’s immediately ahead. Because home throughout the miles is always ahead, eventually.

But there’s not always unlimited miles to go, you have to realize.

Yes, home is home but there aren’t always more miles ahead than behind on the journey. That’s not always easy to acknowledge, but it’s true. We’re all along for the ride, however many miles that entails and whichever way you want to cross them.

But some of us are just tagging along for all the miles. And when you realize the journey for what it is, day after day, mile after mile, you come to see the reality, the duality of the crossing: there’s doing it–then there’s living it.

Here’s the plain old doing: plans and performance, weight and balance, thrust, speed, lift, ceiling, cruise winds, fuel flow, amen.

Everyone’s underway, doing whatever they do, going wherever they will, being whoever they are, and living the miles how ever they do. Probably it’s not easy if the ride is all you’re along for, enduring the here to there, mindful (or not) of miles to go and the distance to or from home nonetheless.

Still I’d like to think that there’s more I can do in the actual flying to make the journey more than just a death march en route. Besides the safe passage at shotgun speed and above and beyond the course and track.

If nothing else–at least after sufficient java–I can live it out, rather than just do the job. Someone on board should do more than just endure. Someone should transcend the details and grasp the height and speed of the journey, the distance between here and there and the island of now between where and when.

Yeah, we’re miles above the thunderheads–doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate the swelling curves of colossal power and beauty back lit by the retreating sun. With the lightest touch–so you won’t notice in back–I steer between the valleys trenching the boiling stacks and darting lightning exchanged between angry towers.

So much to go around; so much we go over but no matter what, we’re on the way as fast as we can practically get “there,” aren’t we? Might was well do more than just endure: let’s inhabit the ride.

We can do some wide-angle musing over the monolithic man made  greatness which, from the god’s-eye view, seems delicately intricate and much less significant on the grand scale of creation. That passes quickly, inevitably.

There’s always the seductive magnificence of disaster playing out on a epic scale below, a detailed tapestry scrolling below.

I mean, why not? It’s all between here and “home” anyway, between you and whenever, wherever you finally find home. Sure, your compass whether you realize it or not always points to and from–that’s how you know where you are, based on a straight line from where you’ve been.

But that doesn’t mean you have to stop “being” along the way, especially since often you get there sooner than you think due to factors like an unseen tailwind virtually undetected from 7 miles above the dirt, but pushing you along nonetheless. Then “there” comes abruptly, arriving in ways you might not have considered, bringing you home one last time.

Home, eventually, in the business of to and from has a certain finality; the journey a finite continuity. The flight is more than just science, although it’s every bit of that. The enduring legacy is the journey lived, the hours on the wing, and the appreciation of reality of flight, over and over, higher, faster and wide-eyed throughout.

For those who fly–that truly is home.

Summer air travelers, beware: he’s out there!

Posted in air travel, airline delays, airliner, airlines, airport, flight, flight attendant, flight crew, flight delays, jet, jet flight, passenger, travel, travel tips with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on July 8, 2011 by Chris Manno

Summer air travelers, beware: he’s out there.

I mean that guy. The one who will make your travel a little less pleasant, probably unknowingly, but still.

For example, cruising at 40,000 feet northwest bound, the cabin interphone chimes. The First Officer and I exchange glances that ask hot, cold, or stupid? It’s too soon for crew meals—that’s where we’re stupid for eating them, but it’s something to do—and only minutes ago someone called to say it’s too hot in back.

Traditionally, within minutes, one of the other four Flight Attendants who don’t seem to be able to talk to each other will call and say it’s too cold.

But I answer the phone and this time, it’s stupid: “We just found a passport in seatback 30-A.” No, it’s not the flight attendant that’s stupid—it’s the passenger who on some previous flight for some odd reason decided to stash his passport in the seatback pocket.

Before our flight, the jet had come in from JFK. Maybe an international arrival, and now someone is enroute somewhere without a passport.

That’s where you come in: you’re in line at Mexican Customs in Los Cabos, and you’re sweating like a fat lady in a vinyl chair, waiting, waiting, waiting—because the guy ahead of you in line talking to the taciturn Customs agent is suddenly aware that he doesn’t have a passport. Your vacation is on hold just a little longer because like me in the super market, you got in the wrong line (“Price check on lane seven!”) while passengers to your right and left are breezing through and claiming their luggage (and maybe yours), heading for the beach.

Sure, it’s going to be worse for him—without a passport he’s not getting back into the United States without a major hassle and, you hope as payback for your delay, a strip search. But the lingering question is, why would anyone put anything of value in a seatback pocket on a plane?

But you’d be amazed at what you’d find back there after a flight. Well, what someone else would find back there: I’d sooner stick my hands into a trash can in a crack den than risk the snot rags and barf bags or kids’ diapers or half eaten ham sandwich that will be stuffed in there.

 

Still, people for some odd reason nonetheless sit down, empty their pockets, stash wallet, iPod, keys, camera, travel documents, passport—you name it, into the seatback pocket as if it were their glove compartment on their family car (okay, there may be a ham sandwich in mine, I admit).

Never mind the hassles going forward to recover a lost item, a headache made all the more difficult because the jet will crisscross several thousand of miles before the discovery of a missing item is made (call the lost and found in Seattle, Chicago and New York). The important thing is that the Stupid One is delaying your vacation.

And unbeknownst to you—he may already have delayed you. Remember sitting at the gate well past departure time? I can’t tell you how many times five or ten minutes from pushback to a resort destination in Mexico or the Caribbean when the agent steps into the cockpit and says “we have a problem.”

Let me guess: someone confirmed on the flight is in a bar somewhere starting on the umbrella drinks and about to miss their flight to the actual resort. Why? Because they can’t read a ticket? Don’t know their own itinerary? Can’t do the math on a time zone change? Are intellectually low functioning and were finished off by the TGI Friday’s Bloody Marys in the airport bar?

Doesn’t really matter. The point is, if they’re not on board we get to sit at the gate while the ground crew sorts through the cargo compartments crammed with the luggage of 160 passengers to pull their bags off. That takes a while. You get to wait, I get to wait, both of our days becomes a little longer.

Yes, it’s the lowest common denominator that dictates when we leave and when you arrive in paradise.

But there is justice in the situation, as I witnessed once at a departure gate as I waited for my inbound jet. Airport police officers had pulled a couple off to the side as passengers boarded a jet for Cancun.

Apparently the man and woman had been to the airport bar, and the man had clearly had a few too many. Federal law prohibits the boarding of any passenger who even appears to be intoxicated, and the airline agents had done the right thing: when in doubt, call law enforcement to sort out the situation in accordance with the law.

Sorry ma’am,” I heard an officer say as the man was being detained, “he’s going to be placed under arrest for public intoxication.”

I couldn’t hear the exact back and forth between the steamed woman and the officers, but in the end, it seemed the officers weren’t the cause of her anger: she grabbed her boarding pass, shot a pointed glance back at her handcuffed partner—then boarded the flight.

Just as well: he’d probably realize in the Customs line in Mexico that his passport was missing anyway.

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