Archive for the airline pilot Category

The REAL Captain’s Guide: How To Fly That Crap Weather Approach.

Posted in air travel, airline, airline passenger, airline pilot, airline pilot blog, airline safety, fear of flying, flight crew with tags , , , , , , on September 30, 2016 by Chris Manno

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First, let’s define “real” captain. I don’t mean “real” in the sense of physical, tangible, bad-layover-clothes, mouth-breathing captain, although I’ve been one at a major airline for 25 years and counting. You’re “real” as a captain on Day One when you’re turned loose with the rating.

What I mean by “real” is as in, “get real.” That’s because we know there are several things you face as captain with the dogshit weather approach. First, there’s what you’re told. Second, there’s what you know. Finally, there’s where the reality plays out: from the final approach fix inbound at 180 knots across the ground. There’s stuff you need to do to be ready for that.

The first item, “what you’re told,” includes the OpSpec that allows you to do what you’re about to do: fly a big jet with a lot of folks–including your crew–into minimally adequate weather for landing. OpSpec includes a minimalist element (what’s the least we can send you into the most challenging weather?) that allows airlines to earn revenue for what you’re about to do.

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What you’re told also includes the prevailing weather at the time they told you, which is nowhere near the time at which you’ll actually fly the approach. If I sound like a captain who’s had that detail bite him in the ass–it’s because I am.

So, here’s the BTDT viewpoint that goes beyond the classroom and the manuals. Not interested in stuff beyond the books? Don’t need the BTDT captain viewpoint? Please close this blog page now. No harm, no foul. Best of luck.

Okay, still here? The others gone? Good.

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First, your approach starts in the chocks before pushback. No, I don’t mean “be the dork who starts stressing or worse, briefs the approach before engine start.” Rather, I mean be the captain the FO can rely on as soon as you sit down. Stay the hell out of his way as he (or she)  works. Respect–but check–the setup of the cockpit for takeoff. You ain’t perfect, so don’t expect your FO to be, and let him (or her) know YOU can be counted on as a team member to be sure you both do well from the first checklist. That’s what you want later: a collaborative, respectful environment where your FO knows you’re relying on each other step by step. The FO needs to be looking for and free to point out your screwups.

Second, “what you’re told” versus what you know can be tricky. Weather forecast versus delays you’ve seen versus altitude restrictions and the list goes on: variables, unreliables, despite “what you’ve been told.” But what everyone knows is this: fuel equals time. When that sixth sense picks at the back of your brain saying we might could use more fuel–you really do so get it before release. If you’re wrong (trust me, you won’t be–the only time you can have too much fuel is when you’re on fire) then you land with more time options. But if you’re at minimum fuel you’ll have to tear the seat cushion out of your ass after landing because your butt cheeks ate it up like horse’s lips do while you stressed about weather delays.

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Finally, downwind. If you’re flying, relax: you’re not that asshole captain showing how it’s done (okay, you really are) but rather, you’re doing what you know to your core you’re damn good at. So, be humble, be quiet, be methodical, procedurally correct and do exactly what’s called for. Show your FO how you want the approach flown.

FO flying? Even better: relax, back up everything done, think ahead of the jet and while you do, let the FO do the flying exactly as it’s supposed to be done. Getting slightly off track? Guide back to best practices with suggestions, positive affirmations and last resort–LAST RESORT–directive, which sounds like “Let’s go ahead and ____” or “I’m not comfortable with ____.”

Remember, if what you’re told hours ago before takeoff matches what you encounter at the final approach fix, that’s a coincidence. You fly “real” based on what you know, which includes every experience and subsequent intuition derived therefrom–apologize to no one, get the fuel you need and decide for yourself if OpSpec minimums are adequate to meet the challenge facing you in realtime. We don’t fly on paper, on a spreadsheet, or on a chart of minimums page. Remember the horse’s lips/seat cushion metaphors: get fuel, think ahead, respect your FO, believe what you know (school of hard knocks) and fly smart, conservative and REAL.

Then, from Final Approach Fix to touchdown or go-around, you’re smart, confident, safe, and real. No one can ask you for more and as captain, you cannot do anything less, nor accept anything but the best you can do, by leading, coaching and most of all, being real.

Fly safe, compadres.

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Air Travel: What You SHOULD Worry About.

Posted in air travel, air traveler, airline delays, airline industry, airline passenger, airline pilot, airline pilot blog, airline safety, airliner, airlines, airport, blog, cartoon, flight attendant, flight crew, flight delays, passenger, pilot with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 18, 2016 by Chris Manno

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There’s seldom a day that passes without some type of media headline regarding an air “scare.” But the news stories are mostly about minor hassles such as a divert or a passenger disturbance, maybe even turbulence injuries for the unwary passengers who won’t keep their seatbelts fastened.

Whatever. Most of what’s reported as a “scare” isn’t worth a second thought. That said, there are things you should worry about. Here’s my Top 5 list:

  1. Fatigue: Your crew has been browbeaten into the longest flight duty period allowed with the shortest rest period possible. That’s due to effective lobbying by the airline industry hellbent on reducing crew costs–at all costs. Rest periods have been shaved to the bare minimum for pilots, and there’s no rest minimum stipulated by the FAA for the cabin crews responsible for your safety in an emergency. The airline industry has  relentlessly and successfully lobbied the FAA and congress to resist any rest requirements for flight attendants. So, they have none, often working a 12 hour day with only 8-9 hours off for sleep, food, and getting to and from work. That’s a bad idea, cost-driven, that makes little sense.
  2. Unrealistic Flight Schedules: Airlines have stretched the planning of flights to use the minimum number of aircraft on multiple, interlocking segments, often planning a single jet for 5 or more flights in a single day. The unspoken prerequisite for such an operation is an unavoidable fact that airline planners know–but ignore. That is, system variables such as aircraft maintenance, weather, Air Traffic Control and airport delays are the rule, not the exception. So, if your flight is three segments into that jet’s day, the chances of your arriving on time is reduced significantly. There’s not a certain probability that one of those delay factors will occur in an aircraft’s day–it’s guaranteed.
  3. Pay Restrictions: Overtime pay is taboo among airline planners, despite the havoc wrought by such a restriction. For example, if your aircraft has a maintenance problem requiring a mechanic to repair a system or component within an hour of maintenance shift change time, that repair will wait at least that final hour has expired just to be started. Why? Because no licensed mechanic can do half of the work, then have the work finished by an oncoming mechanic who must put his license on the line for work he didn’t do. The answer is, overtime for the mechanic required to work beyond a scheduled shift to complete work that will let you depart on time. That choice has been made: the answer is, no overtime.
  4. Oversales: That’s a direct result of restricted capacity, meaning, airlines have trimmed schedules and thus seats available to the bare minimum required–but they’ve sold more seats than they have in stock. Rain check? That works in a retail operation selling “things,” but not for a business selling transportation. How does that work for the time-constrained passenger with a business meeting scheduled or a resort already paid for?
  5. Manning: Every student taking Business-101 will tell you that personnel management dictates some overlapping duties if personnel costs are to be contained: you must answer your coworker’s phone if they’re out sick. That doesn’t work in the cockpit, or the cabin. And yet, crew manning has been pared to the bone, requiring a “perfect operation” (see #2 above) which airline planners all know never happens.  So, pilots with mandatory maximum duty hours run up against FAA mandated limits and very often there are no spare pilots–because hiring and paying pilots is a cost item airline planners minimize regardless of the price to be paid in delayed or cancelled flights. That price is paid by passengers and as often, by crews.

Those are my Big Five, the only “scary” things that you are likely to see in air travel. They don’t make the news, probably because they aren’t “news,” but rather, just the sad result of spreadsheet dollar-driven choices already made before you even get to the airport.

Have a good flight.

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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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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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