How Can an Airliner Land at the Wrong Airport?

Posted in air travel, air traveler, travel with tags , , , , , , , on July 12, 2016 by Chris Manno

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How Can an Airliner Land at the Wrong Airport?

Air travelers are asking, “How can a modern airliner land at the wrong airport?” My answer is simple: very easily.

Let me explain. First, flying a jet is not like driving your car: a typical aircraft approach speed is about three times the velocity of your car at highway speed. In flight, things happen fast; ten miles is more like a block or two in your car.

Throw in obscured visibility, poor lighting, or weather like rain or fog. Now, if you’re looking in the general direction of your destination, covering a mile every 20 seconds, visual references may make two different airports seem virtually identical. That’s partly because runways are typically laid out into the wind, and runways within fifty miles will probably be laid out exactly alike.

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Add to the confusion the fact that small airports have minimal other distinguishing characteristics: a runway, a small, plain box-like terminal. Now add a dose of fatigue for pilots who’ve had a long day or an early sign in, and the chances of a visual sighting of the wrong airport compound.

I’ve spent over 30 years as an airline pilot trying to be sure I don’t fall victim to that conspiracy of commonplace factors that can result in landing at the wrong airport. Here’s how I try to be certain that I don’t. First, every modern jet has a map display that includes the pertinent information for every airport we must fly to. The key is to be sure to identify and activate the desired waypoint on the screen. That is, the runway, the final approach fix — something. Sure, smaller airports may not have an instrument approach, but they always display the correct runway if the pilots select the display.

I’m even more paranoid: for example, flying in and out of Nashville, I worry that I’ll mis-identify Smryna, an airport within a few miles of the Nashville Airport that has a similar runway configuration. So I put Smyrna on the navigation display as a fix: if we’re aimed at that fix, it’s the wrong damn airport.

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There’s little an airline pilot can do about the insidious factors of fatigue, dehydration, limited nutrition, and poor sleep in a hotel. But, there are a few things a pilot can do, like those I mentioned, to stack the odds against landing at the wrong airport. Regardless, there are no foolproof, perfect solutions.

Whenever the news reports an airliner landing at the wrong airport, I redouble my efforts and thank my lucky stars that it’s not me.

Chris Manno has been a pilot at a major airline for 31 years and a captain for 25 years.

The Big 3 Air Travel Hacks

Posted in air travel, air traveler, airline cartoon, airline industry, airline passenger, airline pilot, airline pilot blog, travel tips with tags , , , , , , , , , , on June 24, 2016 by Chris Manno

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The airport today looks like a refugee crisis, with roiling crowds, congested waiting areas, interminable lines and rampant discontent. Regardless, here 3 vital but very simple air travel hacks that can ease your airport experience and set yourself far ahead of the madding crowd.

First, know your flight number(s). Simple enough: write them down, flight number and date.

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Now, any time you need flight information, type your flight number into Google:

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No more searching for a monitor or a customer service rep, and the information Google provides is even more current than the list any agent printed earlier in their shift. Things change — and Google grabs the latest, instantaneous info when you ask: gates, time.

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It’s always a good idea to install the smart phone app for the airline you’re flying, because all of them will push notifications to your phone with any changes to gates and times, and some will even help you rebook in case of delays or cancellation.

But when all else fails, just Google your flight any time on departure day for the most current info — if you know your flight number.

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Next, put all of your valuables in a locked, hand-carried bag before security screening. This includes your wallet, watch, and any jewelry. I cannot understand why anyone leaves such valuables in an open container that may be out of sight as you go through security. The free-for-all after screening as passengers frantically gather their belongings is the perfect set up for someone to grab yours — unless they’re in a locked bag.

There are disclaimers at the security checkpoint stating that screeners are not responsible for your personal belongings, even though they may pull you aside for further screening out of sight of your watch, wallet and other valuables laying un-monitored in an open bin.

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If the security people need to inspect the contents of the bag, fine: after you unlock it, and watch any inspection. The TSA has fired a multitude of their own screeners for stealing from passenger bags — that won’t happen if you’re present when they inspect your valuables.

Finally, do not put anything you own into the seat back pocket in front of you in flight. I’ll never understand why we find wallets, passports, personal electronics and more in seat back pockets, typically well down-line and several flights after a passenger has stowed these items there.

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In fact, we were preparing for landing at DFW after leaving Mexico City once when a flight attendant called to say a passenger had found a passport in the seat back pocket. Can you imagine the “oh shiitake” moment someone must be having in Mexican Customs, never mind returning through US Customs? Ditto your credit cards and identification. Can you do without any of these items at your destination?

If you take anything out of your hand carried bag — put it back in when you’re finished with it. This goes for personal electronic devices too: a notebook on the floor under the seat in front of you will slide three or more rows forward on descent and even further on landing with heavy reverse thrust. The “finder” in the forward cabin may or may not return your property. So, if you’re not using an item, keep it stowed in your hand-carried bag, not in the seat back pocket or on the floor.

That’s the big three: know your flight number, use Google or your airline app for current info, and keep your personal belongings stowed and secure through screening and in flight.

Really, that’s just common sense, which seems to be in short supply in all airports and aboard most airliners. Now that you know the big three, pass this along to friends who may not — they, and we all, will have a better trip if you do.

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Drunks on a Plane.

Posted in air travel, air traveler, airline, airline passenger, airline pilot, airline pilot blog, airline safety, airport, flight attendant, flight crew with tags , , , , , , , , , , on June 2, 2016 by Chris Manno

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Drunks on a Plane

By Chris Manno

I’ve been a captain at a major airline for almost 25 years now, and one sad but preventable liability remains unaddressed through all of my thousands of flight hours: drunks on a plane.

When I hear of intoxicated air travelers disrupting a flight, beyond the risk to others aboard, the first thought that comes to my mind is a three-pronged failure by airports, airlines and ultimately, passengers.

The problem is real, and dangerous. Every law enforcement professional will tell you that a domestic or public disturbance is compounded by the involvement of alcohol. Judgement is impaired, self-restraint is diminished and behavior becomes aggressive, often violent.

As in such violent encounters that police are called to manage, the incident itself is basically a flash-fire touched off by an accumulation of stress factors and fueled by alcohol.

And there’s failure number one: if anyone should be aware of the emotional tinderbox that is air travel, it’s airport management who administer the lines, delays, security hassles, baggage problems, diversions, crowding, and even automobile traffic. Yet airports will not give up the cash flow that alcohol sales at the airport supplies.

They witness daily the human pressure cooker of jet lag, sleeplessness, dehydration and uncertain, typically inadequate rest and nourishment that is typical for a passenger mix from time zones far and wide.

That is a total failure of prevention, fueled by equal doses of looking the other way, and a reluctance to give up revenue from alcohol sales at airport bars and restaurants. Airport managers know better, but choose revenue over passenger safety.

Ditto the airlines: they realize that it’s not possible for flight crews and even ground service staff to assess passenger intoxication levels. Typically, crews and agents see enplaning passengers only briefly as they board. Worse, there’s no way for crews in flight to know how the typically high cabin altitude (usually equivalent to the high altitude of Mexico City) will intensify intoxication effects in passengers — nor do many passengers themselves. Add to that the unknown (at least to crews) wild cards of other medications or other behavioral disorders in passengers and selling intoxicants on board seems like an untenable risk.

Any other business serving alcohol could be held criminally or civilly negligent for not having able-bodied staff (read: bouncers) to handle aggressive, intoxicated patrons or worse, for not calling for law enforcement to handle such volatile situations. An airliner in flight has no ability to remove intoxicated passengers, no able-bodied staff to manage such cases and worst of all, no access to law enforcement help when such dangerous incidents play out on board. And yet, they still sell alcohol in flight?

Finally, passengers themselves are a major part of the problem. In 2016, the twin issues of passenger compliance with crew instructions and acceptance of personal responsibility are at an all time low. There’s always someone else to blame — usually the airlines — for transgressive, often violent behavior in flight. Fights break out over an armrest; add alcohol to the volatile mix and the short fuse of temper burns hot.

We’ve heard the tired arguments justifying alcohol sales in airports and on board flights: it’s all about personal freedom, relaxation, choices, and socialization — basically, the dead and buried arguments that smokers used until the nineties to justified that ugly blight in the terminals and in the air. Somehow, smoking in airports and on board went extinct in the last century, and air travelers are none the worse for the loss.

If airlines, airports and passengers themselves are serious about safer, more secure and less violent flights, alcohol needs to fade into the same extinction that removed smoking from airports and airliners.

Airports, airlines and most passengers are aware of the risk involved in alcohol and air travel. Now it’s a question of who will finally do the right thing for everyone involved and ban alcohol sales in airports and aboard flights.

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Just Fly the Jet and STFU.

Posted in air travel, air traveler, airline passenger, airline pilot, airline pilot blog, Uncategorized with tags , , , , on May 24, 2016 by Chris Manno

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Marketing honcho says inflight announcements “degrade the premium experience for our valued frequent flyers.” So, he implores, you captains: minimize your use of the PA during the flight for their sakes.

But what about my sake? Me, nine years old, breathless as the ground falls away, can’t wait for the seatbelt sign to go off so I can bolt to the lav, flush the toilet and see it gape open to the  blue sky. Wide-eyed, with a tote bag of items I planned to throw out, letting them flutter to Earth as I sailed above.

Or the old folks from “back east,” as they liked to say — the woman traveling with a twine-tied cardboard box of tomato purée in 12 ounce cans “Because,” she confides with disdain, “you just can’t get good tomatoes out west.” She swears we’ll be flying over the Grand Canyon and vows to “get some snaps” when the captain announces it, to prove to her sister that she did.

What about the “not frequent flyers?” The kids who marvel at the God’s-eye view, who brought stuff to drop out the toilet hole to strew across the sky? Who may have a merit badge in map reading he’d like to show off to the stews if he could get maybe a little confirmation of where the hell we are from the cockpit.

And the fuzzy-chinned GI who says he drove this route with his parents as a kid, wants to see it again, think back on those days as he follows his military orders to Bumfuk-wherever, the shithole his duty (done on behalf of all, including the “valued frequent flyers”) muse play out for a few lonely years. Can the captain make a PA when we are in Utah? Just knowing he’s over home, even though bound far from home, is a comfort.

Somebody’s Uncle Charlie needs to see where John Wayne filmed “all the great ones.” Tucumcari, he says; there’s a fake fort nearby. He watched The Duke film a nighttime scene in broad daylight for a spaghetti western, he says, as a kid. Point that out, wouldja?

And the couple who need to know when we cross the Mississippi, for some secret reason that seems to matter a lot, though they won’t say exactly why.  We don’t want to miss that, they say, trying to pick out landmarks between cloud breaks. Somebody who mattered is buried nearby, let us know.

Is the “premium experience” more valuable than the salt-of-the-earth, blood and bone humanity that flies behind — not below, behind — the “premium” cabin? Does the self-importance of being unaware because you don’t care trump the one-up of an elderly sister over her older sister? Does the dancing below the Titanic’s decks disturb the quiet of the stick-up-the-ass aristocracy lounging on the Promenade?

I sure hope so.

“Nice view of Lake Powell and beyond that, Valley of the Gods.” Only takes a second or two, here and there; pardon the recurring suspension of the premium experience as the world turns, the sky burns furious scarlet at the ends of the earth as the day gathers the light and rushes west.

We’ll all come back down to Earth, premium or no, soon enough. Might as well enjoy the view while it lasts. May not seem important to you, but it really is.

— Chris Manno is a captain for a major airline, tried to throw junk out of an airliner’s toilet hole long ago, still marvels at the view from eight miles up.

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Airport Security Screening Illustrated

Posted in air travel, air travel humor, airline cartoon, airline industry, airline passenger, airport security, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , on May 17, 2016 by Chris Manno

If you’re planning your air travel or just stuck in line at the airport, here’s some “enlightenment” to entertain and inform you.

You may have heard reports of atrocious security lines and enraged travelers waiting hours for security screening. Those reports may have a grain of truth to them.

 

Passenger screening, for passenger and screener alike, is both a revered tradition and a pain in the ass. But, with foresight, planning, Xanax, meditation, patience and low self-esteem, you can endure the security gauntlet.

When you arrive at the airport, adjust your thinking to accommodate your situation.

Behind the scenes, the security cast members prepare for their individual performances.

Meanwhile, your baggage will receive special attention by trained professionals.

Children should be made fully aware of what transpires at the security checkpoint well ahead of time so that they may better prepare for psychotherapy later in life.

Parents of teens might want to prepare for important life lessons to be examined at the airport.

 

Be sure to allow extra time to accommodate unforeseen security requirements.

 

Anticipate a rigorous physical screening, and try to think positive: there’s no co-pay involved in any exam.

Be clear about any special needs you may have at the screening checkpoint.

 

Know what’s expected of you so that you don’t incur additional screening.

 

Try to relax and enjoy your time in the screening area.

Be sure to simply smile as wide as possible if you are selected for extra screening.

Finally, once you’ve successfully transited security screening with a bare modicum of self-esteem intact, keep in mind one hint that might help you next year: be sure to read the fine print.

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The No-Drama Airline Cockpit

Posted in air travel, air traveler, airline, airline cartoon, airline industry, airline passenger, airline pilot, airline pilot blog, airliner, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 13, 2016 by Chris Manno

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The No-Drama Airline Cockpit

Set aside the Hollywood depictions of airline pilots in the cockpit struggling with emergencies, as well as the over-hyped tales from the passenger cabin of chaos and panic that hijack social media after any inflight incident.

Here’s what goes on with my heart rate and blood pressure in the cockpit when malfunctions threaten my flight: nada.

I tried to muster some adrenaline the last time — not that long ago, actually — that a jet engine quit on climb-out from an airport.

Nada. Business as usual: there’s a procedure for that. Have landed many jets, many times, minus an engine, even on fire.

Take it a step further: even if the other engine quits, there’s a procedure for that, I’ve practiced it and have 150% confidence that I’ll land the jet safely even with no engines. Again, no heart rate challenge, just a list of things to be done correctly, smoothly, and in no hurry — rushing increases the possibility of an error.

And I have 150% confidence in my copilot colleagues (I’ve been a captain for 25 of my 31 years at a major airline) who are just as thoroughly trained, tested and prepared as I am no matter what happens in flight.

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So I really don’t give a damn what befalls us — we’ll be just fine.

Whenever trouble starts, I think back on the advice of an old fighter pilot who wisely told me, “You just take a minute to breathe deep and say, ‘Can you believe this sonofabitch is still flying?’” before you take any action.

This advice goes way back with me. Before I was an airline pilot, I had my share of near disasters as an Air Force pilot: fire, explosion, typhoons, lightning strikes — the list goes on.

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Before that, in college, I couldn’t afford flying lessons, but skydiving was a fraction of the cost after I bought my own parachute, slightly used, but still. That got me into the sky pretty cheap and pretty often.

Perhaps that was the key inoculation for for me. I’d ration out my jump budget on weekends: one jump in the morning, one in the afternoon, each day.

One Sunday morning, tumbling through about 1,500 feet, I yanked the ripcord and out came a tangled mess — a streamer, as it’s called.

I did what I could, snapping the risers like the reins to a horse, trying to shake open the snarl. No dice.

Looking down, plunging at terminal velocity, say, 100 mph, I began to be able to distinguish individual cows in the pasture below where I’d impact in seconds if I didn’t get my reserve chute opened.

Even in that wild plummet, I knew that there was a very good chance that my reserve would simply tangle with the streamer above, and that would be the end of my life.

And there it was: I could panic and die — or hold my shit together and maybe live.

I distinctly recall the paradoxical thought in that moment that I’d rather die than panic, and that set me free.

I carefully, deliberately pulled the reserve ripcord but held the bundle closed, then with both hands — still dropping like a rock — I gathered the silk and threw it downward as hard as I could, as I’d been taught, to give it the best chance to blossom and knock the streamer aside rather than twist up with it.

I walked away with just bruises from a hard landing. And I crawled back into that jump plane and tumbled out again and again.

It’s been that way ever since: whatever disaster unfolds, I have no time for useless reactions, only disciplined responses, reasoning, and smart action.

And I’m just an average airline pilot, a carbon copy of most others. Which is why the average airline cockpit, come what may, will have none of the urban legend-drama, just calm, quiet, deliberate action.

That’s the way I like it in flight: quiet, disciplined, low bullshit and high performance. Leave the drama to others outside the cockpit, on the ground, in Hollywood or romance novels.

Fires, failures, windshear, weather — whatever, if you’re in the back of the jet, now you know up front the crew is taking a deep breath and saying, “Can you believe this sonofabitch is still flying?”

Try it yourself — it works. Dull as it sounds, it’s really the wisest choice.  ✈️ Chris Manno

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JetHead, the Novel: Chapter 3

Posted in air travel, airline novel, airline pilot, airline pilot blog, Uncategorized on May 7, 2016 by Chris Manno

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Chapters 1 and 2 are posted below. Here’s chapter 3:

Beaver held up the waxy paper message. “Want me to pass this back to Dixie?”

“Hell no,” Taylor snapped, a little more stridently than he meant to. “She’d poke your eyes out for that.”

No sense stirring up a hornets nest, at least not right now. They still had another two hours to fly. Keep things peaceful, then ease the bad news to the rest of the crew. He glanced down at the message. Fuck.

Monument Valley slid below the nose, a furious brick-red in the late noon sun, creased with ice-blue Lake Powell meandering south and west. This was a peaceful, rugged expanse, sacred, really, for a thousand years as Valley of the Gods. Taylor never tired of this place, the view, and the privilege of gliding eight miles above it, especially in what was an exceptionally glassy-smooth blue sky. He looked forward to the day that he and Darling Bride would drive their way across this stretch, maybe to the north rim of The Big Ditch. Road trip, the busman’s holiday. No airports, no security hassles or frantic crowds or chaotic boarding–just the two of them, at meandering, roadway speed rather than eight tenths of the speed of sound. No schedule, no demands–they even brought their own Keurig when they did their backroad safaris. The cabin chime killed the dream. He grabbed the handset from the pedestal console.

“Front desk.”

“Mark?” That was Barry’s voice from the cabin.

“Yup.”

“Have you heard anything from DFW?”

Taylor let that hang in the air, but it was no use. “‘Fraid so, Barry,” he answered after a moment. Tornadoes, baseball-sized hail, airport closed. Northeast of Dallas, the report said. He lived well southwest of the airport, so at least there wasn’t that worry.

“Passengers are saying there’s been some severe weather.” Damned inflight Internet–passengers knew any bad news instantaneously. Used to be, they asked for ball game scores in flight. Now, you make a PA with scores and instantly the flight attendants are on the interphone, saying, shut up, the passengers are watching the game live.

“Yeah, Barry. We’re kinda screwed.”

They went way back, Barry, Taylor and Missuz Taylor, having flown together often “back in the day.” Once Barry had asked The Missuz, “Would it rock Mark’s world if he found out I’m gay?” She’d just laughed–as if anyone didn’t know. They were both fond of Barry, one of the best friends a person could hope to have.

“I was afraid of that.” Airport closed? Cancelled return flight. Shipwrecked in Seattle. “Is Bill on reserve?” Meaning, the copilot.

“Bob,” Taylor said, although over beers he’d have told Barry, The Beaver. Bill, Bob, typical pilot names, flight attendants saw pilots mostly as carbon copies. The interchangeable pilot man, Taylor always said: dress alike, talk alike, boring as hell, mostly. “Yeah, he’s on reserve.”

“So is Kelly,” Barry said. “But this is going to cost the rest of us.”

Barry understood. The Seattle turn was a big, eight-and-a-half hour bite at the ninety hour total most crew flew every month. With delays and overfly, that made for a ten day month. Now, they’d get minimum pay for today–five hours–and minimum for tomorrow. So ten hours in two days instead of eight and a half, maybe nine, in one? The month was getting longer, and who knew what Crew Tracking would cook up for them tomorrow, given the wreck the schedule would be in after all the cancellations. Reserve crews, like Kelly and The Beav, were just along for the ride. But for lineholders, particularly turnaround holders, this sucked.

Taylor was the type who went to his car after a trip and immediately upon getting in, never thought about the job at all, until it was time to go again. He knew many pilots whose identity was inextricably linked to his title–one guy’s wife referred to him as “Captain Mason” in casual conversation–but that wasn’t him. So maybe; no, definitely, he’d be missing essential layover survival gear in the Rollaboard he’d seldom opened.

Many; most of his seniority peers were flying the heavy metal to Europe, Asia and South America. But that was its own kind of beating, with at least one all-night leg, two for Deep South to Buenos Aires and the like. That aged a pilot fast but worse, it meant fourteen to sixteen days away from home. For Taylor, it was all about home and family, and maybe not getting older any faster than he already was. “You don’t use power tools after a trip,” one old squadron bud explained to him the mind-numbing jet lag that went with the body clock flip flop.

A goddam layover. He began to think of all the important stuff he should have put into his overnight bag, meant to put in and would now wish he had. But leaving the airport, all thoughts of the job vanished.

“It’s Kelly’s birthday,” Barry said. “Twenty-four. Guess she’ll have to celebrate it in Seattle.”

“Could be so much worse. Think Des Moines.”

Barry laughed. “I’m not saying a word to Dixie. That’s your job.”

Get your head back in the game, Taylor admonished himself. A glance at a fuel flow gauge showed what a half hour burn would be; double it, divide into time remaining, see how that matches the planned arrival fuel–or doesn’t. It’s a living algorithm playing in his head the entire flight. A good visual sweep will land experienced eyes on exactly what’s wrong, too. You just have to keep looking, letting the fuel algorithm and the visual sweep run in the background.

“I can ask for direct Coaldale,” Beaver suggested, holding the hand mic at the ready. We’ll never get that, Taylor knew from experience, not mid-afternoon with Area 51 and the Nellis military airspace hot with restricted activity. Beaver just didn’t have the big picture yet, and the air traffic controller would wonder why we were even wasting our time and his asking.

“Sure,” Taylor said. Why not? Let him learn. When he was an FO, Taylor hated overbearing captains. No harm in Beav asking, plus, as a captain it’s smart to only say “no” when absolutely necessary. In fact, he seldom said “no” but rather, “I’m not comfortable with that or “that’s probably not a good idea.” Like the old guys he flew FO for did and the subtle hint was enough to steer the crew without being heavy-handed. Give the FO some breathing room.

“Unable,” the air traffic controller snapped as soon as the Beaver requested the shortcut. Taylor yawned, feigned indifference.

“Well I don’t know why,” Taylor lied, “we can’t go over the top of their restricted airspace at 40,000 feet.” But he did know, he’d punched through the top of military airspace in afterburner, just screwing around. Nose up to the vertical, let ‘er fly. That’d get you up through 50,000 feet, asshole puckered about flameouts on the tail slide. The sky went to real dark blue, that high up.
Beautiful, it was.

“You wanna go back?” Taylor asked, changing the subject. A good halfway point, although on a normal turn, they’d be almost halfway home. Now, halfway to god knows where. Stop being such a pussy, he told himself.

“I’m good,” Beav piped up immediately. Seriously? Everything has to be about big balls, hacking the mission, never have to take a leak? Your urologist, Taylor figured, will be waiting for you in a few years, billing for the cumulative damage. If you don’t die of deep vein thrombosis first. The airline lost a few every year from that, sitting on their ass for too many long flight hours.

Beav made a dramatic grab for his quick-don O2 mask.

“It’ll be a minute,” Taylor said. “They’ll have to set this up.” A cart, someone to wait in the cockpit–bathroom monitor–to open the door afterward. God help Beav if Dixie was roped into babysitting him during Taylor’s absence. Please, sweet baby Jesus, let me get out of here without him briefing me–

“I’ve got the radios, the aircraft, autopilot-autothrottle on …”

Too late. The cabin chime.

“Taylor,” he stated, hoping maybe the call would silence the Beav.

“Feeding main tanks,” Beaver continued. When did you become such an assbag, Taylor asked himself. You get on the van, go to the hotel ….

“We’re ready, Mav.” That was Dixie being cute with a Top Gun reference. You check in, shuck the polyester, drag on some Levis …

“Going direct Wilson Creek,” Beav continued his recitation.

Fuck. He’s probably going to want to go have a beer wherever they’re shipwrecked tonight. How did the Skipper do it, always having Gilligan dogging his heels? He flashed back to his own DC-10 engineer days, turning on all the fuel boost pumps, announcing to the grizzled old captain hunched in the left seat, “All pumps on, stepping back.” A hand wave, probably annoyed. He finally got it.

“And the cabin pressure is good,” Beav confirmed. I just want to piss, Taylor thought silently. We really don’t need a change of command ceremony for that.

He slid his seat back along the rails. “Awright. Want anything from the back?” Coffee? A Valium? Anything to calm you down? “Smiling Jack” Jackson, a DC-10 captain from back in his FO days used to ask, “Can I get you a tissue, a sanitary napkin?” And Taylor would laugh. He didn’t think Beav would get it.

“Be right back.” Taylor stepped out of the cockpit, and Holly slipped in to take his place.

——–

Bob smelled her before he saw her out of the corner of his eye, slipping past Lurch as he stepped out of the cockpit. She smelled good: hair stuff? Cologne? Whatever it was, she smelled amazingly good. And she seemed not to even notice him.

“What a view,” she annunciated each word, staring out the forward cockpit windows.

Could he take off the oxygen mask? Regs said when a pilot was alone on the flight deck, above 25,000 feet–

“Where are we,” she breathed, still rapt, her eyes looking down on the rugged sunlit stonescape of northern Idaho.

Lurch was in the can, so who’d know? He whipped off the mask. “The Green River is the only River in the west that flows north,” the words stuttered out of his mouth and he immediately wanted them back. Idiot! What a stupid thing to say!

She turned to him, amused. “What?”

“So,” he tried to recover. “You’re Based in New York?” Stupid! Stupid! Of course, it says so right on the crew list.

“Yeah,” she answered, turning back to the grand view slipping silently under the nose. Dixie’s voice whispered in his head, “Is your wife a flight attendant?” As they’d all met, then boarded, she’d asked that.

Holly sat down behind the empty captain’s seat. “And you guys are Dallas.”

How did she mean that? Dallas crews were known to be arrogant, not very popular in the crew world. Or maybe, she was just letting him off the hook, following his lame conversational lead. Damn she smelled good. Why didn’t his wife smell like that, the question formed itself and immediately, daggers of duty and guilt began to take form over his head. “Well if your first wife isn’t,” Dixie’s echo in his head continued, “Your second wife will be!”

“I’m on reserve,” she offered. “Had birthday plans in the city tonight, but …”

He nodded. “I’m on reserve too. Can’t make any plans either.”

“Well if we’re really laying over in Seattle,” she chirped, “You can help me celebrate my birthday.”

“Okay,” he answered too quickly, he knew. So lame. And what was is it, this huge contrast between flight attendants and what–military wives? Couldn’t military or more accurately, ex-military wives like his be so lively and stylish and at ease in all situations and oh god, the daggers of guilt again suspended over his head by the merest thread.

She looked at him, as if seeing him for the first time. Then she turned back to the rugged tapestry scrolling by below, taking on the slanted shadows of late afternoon.

“Okay,” she echoed, but idly, it seemed to him. He’d have to make an impression somehow, maybe in Seattle. “I’ve never laid over downtown in Seattle.”

He hadn’t either. “I have,” the words spilled out of his mouth. Well, in the military he’d stayed at McChord AFB in Tacoma. They rented a car and drove around Seattle.

“Good,” she said, still staring out the window where the view seemed to stretch to the very curve of the Earth. “You can play tour guide.”

———

Taylor stepped out of the cockpit, pushing the door securely closed as as Holly stepped in. Dixie stood in the galley, hands on hips. “Let me guess.”

He held up a hand. “If you don’t say it, maybe it won’t be true.”

No crew connections, according to the message. Dead in the water in Seattle.

The jet rumbled through a washboard of turbulence, the floor swayed. Dixie poured a cup of coffee, black, without spilling a drop. Taylor wondered if she could pour on the ground, without the deck pitching as it did in flight.

“We did this turn yesterday,” Dixie said, handing him the coffee. “Got home two hours late.”

He laughed. “At least you got home. Now you get to chaperone Holly at Chucky Cheese in Seattle.”

“Not a chance in hell,” she said without a nanosecond of hesitation. “Flying high time, I don’t think I’ve gotten more than five hours of sleep in six months. I’ll be slam-clicking as soon as I can.”

“Don’t look at me,” Taylor said. “They’re on their own.”

Slam click: step into your hotel room, slam the door behind you, click the lock. Dixie, maybe. Taylor, should be. But they both knew that was a lie.

Next: Chapter 4–coming soon.

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