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.
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.
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.
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 . . .