Archive for storm

Fly early, or be late.

Posted in air travel, aircraft maintenance, airline delays, airline ticket prices, airliner, airlines, airport, flight attendant, flight crew, flight delays, jet, passenger, travel, travel tips, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 27, 2010 by Chris Manno

Fly early, or be late. Here’s why.

First, consider aircraft and crew access. On the first few flights of the day, both the aircraft and crew are beginning their first flight of the day. That’s important to you, because it means they most likely spent the night at the airport. So when you get there, they’re already at the gate, not coming in from a distant location, subject to arrival delays due to weather.

Some important advantages you gain early in the day:

1. If on the last flight the aircraft had any mechanical discrepancies reported, mechanics have had all night to perform any required maintenance.

2. The crew, too, is fresh: their FAA mandated maximum day is just starting. No problems with crew legalities.

3. The crew is together–not the cabin crew coming in from one coast, the flight deck crew from the other. They’re all starting from this particular airport.

4. The maintenance shift has just begun, plenty of time for mechanics to complete any work before shift change. More about that later.

5. Less gate delays: the aircraft is likely ON the gate, not waiting for the gate to become available, thereby delaying their deplaning, your boarding, and the swap of cargo and baggage.

Delays due to crew manning, maintenance requirements, and gate availability are much less likely EARLY IN THE DAY.

Next, think about passenger loads, because they do affect you. Here’s a chart of planned departure times and passenger loads from Denver to Chicago on one air carrier:

Passenger Loads Denver to O’Hare 2-27-10

Flight Departs Arrives Passengers Capacity
1 0700 0914 65 148
2 0755 1008 71 148
3 0845 1100 110 148
4 0955 1215 127 148
5 1100 1300 165 172
6 1135 1345 138 148
7 1210 1430 142 148
8 1255 1520 144 148
9 1340 1605 255 237
10 1450 1720 150 148
11 1535 1755 181 178
12 1650 1917 155 148
13 1800 2005 135 148
14 1900 2110 142 148
15 1950 2205 128 148
16 2055 2305 101 148
17 2130 2350 65 148

Note that before noon, the flights aren’t quite booked full, but after noon, several are overbooked. Why?

If you’re early, particularly in a mid-continent hub like Denver, DFW or Chicago, no one has been able to fly in yet to connect: the east coast flights haven’t landed yet, and the west coast, hours behind, haven’t even begun to board and dispatch. Which means less competition for seats with standby upgrades or overbooking.

But you’re not standby, you say, right? You will be if there’s a cancellation, especially of your flight. But look at the above chart–your best bet to snag another seat is in the morning. By the afternoon, a bow wave of standby passengers will have those flights packed to the gills.

Once the connecting flights from either coast or commuter connections from outlying areas add their passengers into the hub airport passenger pool, it’s a whole different ballgame. If arrival at your destination is time critical, or if you have a down-line connection the odds are more in your favor early in the day. Later, as the day goes on and delays, cancellations and stand-by lists begin to snowball, not so much.

Here are two other crucial factors that can be largely sidestepped early in the day.

1. Weather.

Sure, there are storms in the morning sometimes. But not the ones that result from the day’s heating and convection of moisture. But even if there is bad weather in the morning, if your aircraft is on its first flight of the day, at least it’s there–and so is your crew. Later in the day, your inbound jet could have to divert because of weather, tossing you into the standby line, or inducing a large delay. Crews, too, start running up against the FAA duty limits due to diversions. Don’t gripe–the FAA limits are for your protection as well as mine: you really want me on duty more than 14 hours for your landing?

2. Maintenance shift change. Why is this important? Simple: because an FAA-certified mechanic is performing licensed procedures on any aircraft. His signature goes on the paperwork certifying the maintenance action. It’s just not workable for one mechanic to do part of the procedure, then have another finish and sign for the entire job. So, if the first flights are at 6:00 or 7:00 in the morning, add eight hours and see when lengthy maintenance actions will probably not be started because they can’t be finished within the shift and so are likely to wait for the next shift. Which means you will wait, too. And I know what you’re thinking, but no–there’s no money for mechanics’ overtime in the sea of red ink flowing from the airline industry. The job will be done right, but you’ll likely wait.

Finally, I recommend you board early. That’s because of human nature: nobody’s going to do as they’re told and put one of their hand-carried items under their seat, then maybe one in the overhead storage bin. If you board last, it’s likely to be you standing in the aisle with a bag but no place to put it.

Other passengers will avoid eye contact with you, acting as if they DIDN’T already hog all the overhead storage space–but they did. And your bag is going to have to be gate-checked, whether you want it to or not. Choose a seat near the mid-point of the cabin if you can, which means the middle boarding call:

I like those emergency exits over the wing. Not only is there more leg room,  it’s also the smoothest ride  because the center of gravity and thus the pivot point of the jet in both pitch and roll are there. No, you won’t see much on the ground because the wing is in the way, but  you also won’t be the last group called to board, and thus be stuck with nowhere to stow your hand-carried items. You also won’t have to wait for the entire aircraft to deplane before you can get off–you’ll be in the middle of the pack.

Okay, got all that? Here’s a summary: early, early, early; booking, boarding, flying. You’ll have a smoother flight with less opportunity for delays.

Good luck, and by the way, don’t look for me at the airport when you get there early: I’m not an early morning person. Since the plane won’t leave without me, I’ll take my chances later.

Lake Tahoe

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Sure, it’s always funny till someone loses an eye.

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Airline pilots are overpaid–or maybe not.

Posted in air travel, airline cartoon, airline delays, airliner, airlines, airport, flight crew, flight delays, jet, passenger, pilot, travel, wind shear with tags , , , , , , , on February 6, 2010 by Chris Manno

Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.

None of my passengers yesterday had any idea that on landing, they were speeding down the flooded runway with no brakes, which is fine with me.

I mean the part about “nobody had any idea.” I’m a big fan of braking, especially when it comes to a sixty-ton jet on a rain-slicked runway.

They all deplaned a few moments later, none the wiser, which is also fine with me. I wanted to make a phone call and grab a bite between flights and I only had a few minutes to do it.

If you prefer to have “no idea” what goes on in the cockpit, click here.  If you you want to pay attention to the man behind the curtain, here we go.

Twenty-some miles out of Raleigh-Durham Airport at 5,000 feet and about 200mph. The wind is a direct tailwind at 69 knots. The ceiling at the airport is between 300 and 500 feet. That means we won’t break out of the clouds until we get below 300 feet. But the minimum we can descend to without a determination that the landing is safe is 200 feet. That means we’ll have about 5 seconds from when we see the runway to decide if we can land–and make the necessary control inputs to position the jet for a safe landing and oh by the way, the approach lights aren’t working today. With me so far?

The tower reports the surface wind to be a direct crosswind. So we know the wind will shift 90 degrees somewhere between 5,000 and touchdown, plus decrease in velocity by nearly half. Also, the temperature at our altitude is about 50 degrees, but it’s 33 on the ground with freezing drizzle. Besides the fact that the jet, like a galloping horse, wants to point it’s own head and go where it’s pointed–into the crosswind, which isn’t unfortunately the way the runway’s pointed–the shifting airmass we’re riding in is bumpy as a logging trail. I call back and warn the cabin  crew,

“Hang on–she’s gonna buck.” They’re Dallas-based as well. They get it. Lightens the mood–okay my mood–a little to joke around.

My F/O is one of the best. She’s an Air Force Academy grad, and like me, a former Air Force pilot. “Takes 4,000 pounds of fuel to get to Norfolk,” she offers, thinking of our alternate. We have 12,000 pounds at the moment.”If we don’t land, you put clearance on request to Norfolk and we’ll be there in twenty minutes. The winds are lighter there.”

This ain’t my first rodeo, I know how this goes: I’ll have a couple seconds tops between when we break out of the clouds and she calls “minimums,” which means if we’re not in the slot–on airspeed, fully configured, power stable–we’re going to Norfolk. Also, I know that when the jet’s done bucking around, her nose better be pointing down the runway (that’s what rudder’s for, but there’s not always enough throw) and I’ll need to delicately put the upwind wingtip lower, touching down right main gear first, then left, then the nose. Then stop the beast on what I know is a slick runway.

We break out of the clouds but into heavy rain at 300 feet. I take a “one-Mississippi” breath to size up the picture, kick in the correct rudder, lower the wing, and see if my correction will hold. It does–we can land, if nothing else changes.

This is actually my watch. No nerdy-pilot clunker here.

“Minimums,” Nora calls. “Landing,” I announce. I keep a hair-trigger on the go-around throttle toggles, ready till the last few feet to rocket us back into the air if the bronco starts to get the better of me in this wild ride. One deliberate bump from the heel of my throttle hand and the fuel controls 140 feet behind me will dump a torrent of jet fuel into both burner cans, then we’ll stand it on it’s tail riding 50,000 pounds of thrust, getting the hell out of Dodge.

I wrestle the controls; I win. We touch down softer than I meant to, but with the blustery winds, my main goal is to make it a controlled gear-by-gear touchdown without dragging a wingtip.It’s a smart jet. On touchdown, when a computer senses that the main wheels are turning, the spoilers on top of the wing automatically pop up to kill the wing’s lift and thereby put more weight on the wheels and make our braking more effective.

The spoilers didn’t deploy. That’s because the wheels weren’t spinning: we were hydroplaning at about 145 miles per hour.

As I said, this ain’t my first rodeo. I know that hydroplaning occurs most readily at nine times the square root of the tire pressure. Our main tires are at over 200 psi, so the square root is around 15; multiplied by 9 equals 135 or so. After which, we’ll get traction and braking. Lesson of the day: if your car’s tires are at 36 psi, your hydroplane vulnerability is around 50 mph. Don’t panic! Stay with it, decelerate carefully and you WILL regain traction.

My excellent First Officer called out, “No spoilers” and manually deployed them. I kept the nose straight with aerodynamic controls until the brakes became effective, slowing our sixty-ton sled to taxi speed, skidding nonetheless four or five times more over pooled water from the heavy rain.

We warned the Southwest jet on final ten miles behind us. Then taxiied to the gate.

The jet emptied, the passengers went safely on their way, and I stopped at my favorite barbeque place before turning the jet around and launching back into the rainy gloom.

Just another day at the office. I couldn’t do anything without the teamwork of the fantastic first officers we have.  And you couldn’t get where you’re going in one piece without all of us on both sides of the cockpit door.

Nonetheless, we still hear all too often that airline pilots are overpaid. Click on the video below, and think that over.

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Meet your congress!

Well, at least one famous member. Here’s the “Larry Craig Toilet” in the Minneapolis Airport:

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