Archive for the flight crew Category

Holiday Air Travel: Let the Games Begin.

Posted in air travel, air traveler, airline cartoon, airline passenger, airline pilot, airline pilot blog, flight attendant, flight crew with tags , , , , , on November 18, 2016 by Chris Manno

It’s that time of year again: let’s spend a gazillion bucks on air travel to spend an awkward holiday with people who make you crazy.

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That’s the American way, squandering the mileage awards one  might want to blow on an exotic vacation for tickets to share regret with others who’ve also abandoned fun stuff for family stuff. That’s what holiday travel is all about, and even though you won’t feel better about the commitment later (sorry), the voyage itself will be memorable if only for the diminished expectations and unexpected turmoil. Ready to fly yet?

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Granted, I’m just the guy in the cockpit. I don’t have to smile and make nice at your family gathering (trust me, I have my own challenge waiting) and once we land, I’m turning around and flying back home to my crew base. Meanwhile, for your sake, let me point out the obvious.

First, expect things at the airport to run slower than you planned. So, plan an extra 1.75 in your time factor for scheduling. Meaning, whatever time you allotted for say, security, multiply that by 1.75 and determine how much time you’ll really need. Allowing two hours for check-in and security? Allow three and a half. Worst case, you’re through early but even so, your blood pressure will be lower. Trust me, “those people” travel on the holidays, only on the holidays, and tend to slow the process down in ways you never dreamed.

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Second, know your shiitake (I don’t want to write “shit,” but you need to know your shit) to include flight number and date. Then, just Google your flight to find out the latest gate and time info. You won’t need to line up at a service desk or call a toll free number–just move quickly to your next gate or to the proper baggage claim at your destination. You’ll be way ahead of the crowd.

Third, take care of yourself. Cough up the cash once you’re on the secure side of the airport for calories and water. Yes, they have some of the former and much of the latter, but neither on your schedule. If there’s a delay or, in flight, turbulence (not uncommon), there will be no food for sale or water poured–because I’ll have my crew seated until when and if ever the turbulence allows them to be up and about the cabin safely. So buy some type of carry-aboard food and beverage and forget the sticker shock: as Dear Abby said, “There’s what you spend, then there’s what you spend when you travel.” Do it. Take care of yourself and those in your travel party.

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Finally, bring your patience and remember, this isn’t the dentist’s office–you’re not at the airport and flying here to there for a cocktail party horror story: you knew up front that the airports and airplanes would be crammed full, that winter weather would delay flights, and that flight crews are human and have limits, too.

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Hey, shut up.

Stay cool, be patient; know your shiitake and be calorized and hydrated. The rest is just a matter of time: you’ll get to that crazy family holiday deal and if you take my advice, the trip will be both tolerable and memorable–for the right reasons.

See you at the airport.

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Air Travel and Anarchy

Posted in air travel, air traveler, airline industry, airline passenger, airline pilot, airline pilot blog, flight attendant, flight crew, passenger, pilot, travel with tags , , , , , , on October 27, 2016 by Chris Manno

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“I say let the world go to hell, but I should always have my tea.” –Fyodor Dostoyevsky

Nothing brings out the worst in people like air travel. Sadly, flying has become the crossroads of selfishness and self-righteousness, a road-rage hybrid unmasked, more akin to mob action as a result of being seated together rather than in isolated vehicles, but angry, loose-tempered and looking for a reason to go off just the same. Throw in a fashionable side order of latent outrage at anything individually determined to be offensive and you have the airborne tinderbox that regularly explodes into passenger non-compliance, misconduct, diversion and ultimately, yet another ruined travel experience.

Maybe in days past there was less opportunity to exact compensation for perceived slights. Maybe there’s righteous consumer outrage over the corpcomm buzzword “inconvenience” overlaid on any type of service disaster. Mix the two well, sprinkle with a litigious seasoning and pour into a social media crust, then bake on the internet for less than thirty minutes. We’re serving up outrage–and selfies–get it while it’s hot.

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That tired, sad urban legend-gone-digitally viral cry for attention would be little more than a Spam-ish nuisance except for one elephantine reality: it’s dangerous as hell in flight.

In a world that prizes personal choice, self-importance, sacrosanct self-image, and the all-important digital self-reflection (“That’s us in ____!”), compliance is a dirty word. Problem is, flying is a difficult, at times risky endeavor that relies on discipline and its ugly stepchild, compliance, from the cockpit all way back to the aft lav.

Unfortunately, the all-important “me” is societally- and media-sanctioned, so individual choices are thereby easily disconnected from consequences in the aircraft emergency crew commands as well as in the midair violence wall-papered over in corp-speak as “passenger non-compliance.” That often starts with choices easily blamed these days on those offering the choice rather than those making the choice itself.

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Crewmembers are attacked, other passengers are physically (or worse) assaulted, but the individual acting, “non-complying,” is seldom held responsible for the consequences of an individual choice.  Sadly, it gets so much worse, so much more dangerous.

But I can hear it already: yeah, but I’m me. That’s a two-headed monster–first, the perception that others are the problem and second, that you aren’t one of the “others,” but you are. The command “take nothing with you” in an emergency evacuation is based on the life-and-death certification of the aircraft: 90 seconds, timed with a full load of passengers from evacuation command to everyone safely clear of an aircraft that had no luggage aboard.

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In real life, enough of the “I’m me” others refuse to comply with the command to take nothing with you (“I’m not leaving without my [fill in self-absorbed priority]!”) at the expense of those seated at the far end of the tested, proven, but now destroyed time to escape a burning aircraft. That can and will be fatal, yet the death of some is lower on the hierarchy of self in an “everybody gets a trophy” legacy of some “others.”

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Airline regulatory agencies like the FAA and NTSB do little to actually enforce compliance. Even beyond the glaring headlines attending an aircraft emergency evacuation sabotaged by passenger non-compliance, there’s little that regulators can and will do to eliminate flight risk factors other than to urge passenger “compliance.”

There again, we careen headlong into the absolution of “I’m me.”  The FAA recently recognized the disastrous inflight potential for a lithium ion battery fire in a very commonplace piece of technology. The remedy? Screening? Enforcement? Legal consequences?

Nope. Just, “we told you not to.”

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Granted,  you’re not one of the “others” who’d readily drag their bags along on an emergency evacuation at the risk of other passengers’ lives. You don’t over consume alcohol and disrupt a flight. And you don’t ignore the toothless “prohibition” and bring your very expensive but hazardous phone on board.

But they’re out there, self-justified, media-enriched, societally excused, and dangerous as hell.

Better hope “they” aren’t on “your” flight.

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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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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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JetHead, The Novel: Chapter 2.

Posted in air travel, airline novel, airline pilot, airline pilot blog, airliner, flight attendant, flight crew with tags , , , , , , on April 22, 2016 by Chris Manno

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Have you read Chapter 1? Scroll down and you’ll find it. Here’s Chapter 2.

Chapter 2: Lurch and The Beaver

The spool-up growl of the big Snecma engines building to takeoff power still gave him a shot of adrenalin: such engineering marvels, spinning at thousands upon thousands of RPMs, a thousand degrees, flawlessly, for hours. Lurch toggled the TOGA button on the autothrottles then rode them with a loose hand on top, right up to the N1 setting he’d grudgingly briefed. Digital readouts blossomed and counted up, then held at 91.4, just as planned, then a shove in the pants, forward, turned loose.

“Thrust set, 91.4,” Bob announced confidently. That was required, so Lurch would just have to deal with it. He didn’t seem to like much talk in the cockpit, but Bob took solace in the stream of useful procedural information he could provide regardless. After all, the airline had crammed his head full of fifty thousand little BBs of information in ground school and he was determined to show that all the little brass pellets hadn’t yet–at least while he was on probation–dribbled out of his ears to scatter across the cockpit floor like mercury.

He loved the gathering rush of power and speed, the slight rudder walk as the towering tail slab bit the air and Lurch tapped it a notch left to make the nose wheel clear the kerthumping runway centerline lights. Lurch was a pro, no doubt about it. He’d handled even the worst combination of snow and winds and shit weather with a calm, quiet ease. But what a grouch.

“Gear up,” Lurch growled from the left seat, holding his right hand out, palm up, the signal for the command. Dammit–Bob had missed his “positive rate” call out, mandatory, confirming that the jet was climbing. And Lurch hadn’t waited for it.

The blessed instant of flight was an illusion, like his first flat spin in an Air Force jet: not that the jet spun but rather, the view did. Heart thumping, he’d been ready, at twenty-thousand feet in the clunky Tweet jet trainer, sucking on an oxygen hose with a mask mashed to his face, cinched up tight in the ejection seat. “You ready?” Death Ray had asked with a droll foreboding, from the right seat. “Yeah,” he’d answered, in a tone that said ‘fuck you, I’d sooner die than show fear in front of you.’ And he’d meant it.

Then Death Ray pulled the nose up, bled off the airspeed and stomped the rudder which induced a flat spin like a plate whirling atop a stick for a juggler, the wingtips sailing round and round and the jet flat plunging from 20,000 feet down to ten, straight down. Anticlimactic, it was; as if they in the cockpit stood still and the Earth and sky and view rotated around them. A moment of elation, not fear; “ain’t nuthin’ to this aviation shit” he’d echo with his flight buds in the bar that night.

So it was with takeoff: Lurch eased the yoke back and the Earth just fell away. Then, he set the pitch to freeze the airspeed and the Boeing rose, following the nose up to about twenty degrees, climbing and accelerating.

Frequencies were changed, tower handed them off to departure, the low sector first, as the litany of cleanup went step by step on the flight deck.

“Clean machine,” Bob said, verifying the wink-out of the green leading edge light, plus the two flap needles flush on zero. He resisted the urge, in deference to Lurch, to say the cabin was pressurizing, the fuel feeding from the center tank. Just tell me what’s wrong, the sourpuss had said, and if nothing is, nothing needs to be said. So he thought it to himself and left it at that.

Passing ten thousand feet, Lurch punched the flight attendant chime letting the cabin crew know they were no longer in “sterile cockpit.” Within a heartbeat, the crew interphone chime rang over Bob’s head.

“It’s for you,” Lurch said, never looking away from the sky ahead, still hand-flying the jet.

Bob grabbed the handset. “This is Bob–”

“Look, Bucko,” that would be Dixie, “Am I gonna have to teach you how to run the air?”

He didn’t know what to say. Dixie’d been flying since he’d been in high school, maybe before. When Lurch had introduced her–they seemed to go way back–she’d laughed and said, “I’m not bringing you a crew meal–I’m just going to take you up to my room and breast feed you.”

He didn’t look that young, at least in his own mind. But Dixie, Lurch and about half the crew force looked to be his parents’ age. Except that one in the back, Kerry? She was a newhire, like him. More his age.

“So turn up the air, Bucko,” brought him back to the problem at hand. He sighed, ready for the abuse that “twenty questions,” now required, would bring down on his head. Seemed like flight attendants couldn’t discuss the temperature with a clear statement of what they wanted. You had to drag it out of them. Did “turn it up” mean hotter or colder?

“Do you want it–”

She cut him off. “Look, I’m going to yank these goddam pantyhose off and put ’em over your head and see how well you breathe.”

Ah, she wants the cabin cooled down. “Okay, I’ll cool it a–”

“No,” she butted in, “You’ll give me full cold and I’ll say when.”

Yes ma’am, he wanted to say but decided not to tangle with the number one flight attendant, especially being acid-tongued Dixie. Why couldn’t sweet, young, blonde Kerry; no, Kelly was her name–why couldn’t she be number one?

“Okay,” he answered, reaching up to twist both cabin temp knobs to the cold side. “Here it comes.” She’d already hung up.

He adjusted the temperature rotary knob to display the cabin temp in both locations.

“Says it’s putting out seventy five degree–”

Lurch raised a hand, still looking ahead. “How long you been married?”

He thought about that. Oh. A “yes dear” moment. But up here, we’re pilots, not compliant hubbys, running state-of-the-art airliners with limits and procedures and know how.  Bob wasn’t buying it.

“Seven years,” Bob answered. “But the cabin temp is–”

“Whatever she says it is,” Lurch finished the sentence for him, turning to offer a rare, if wry smile, though his eyes remained inscrutable behind a pair of sunglasses. Not Aviators like Bob’s, he noted. Lurch didn’t seem to get into the airline pilot persona.

“Look,” Lurch offered, “They’re all back there running around, working, swathed in polyester, sweating. Who cares what a temp probe located God knows where says? Just do it.”

Bob shrugged. “Sure.”

“Did you fly the MD-80?” Lurch asked. Bob nodded. “Well, those packs go full cold at takeoff power. Not the Boeing. The pilots coming off the 80 always goose the heat out of habit, and always get a call like you just did. If the temp was okay on the ground, it’ll be okay in the air.” He reached up and moved the cockpit–“control cabin,” as only Boeing called it–temp controller a quarter turn to the left. “And the last thing I want on climbout is heat in the cockpit, too.”

Bob nodded, filing that away. The ground school instructor had warned them that if the temp control valve got frozen on the ground, it might remain stuck in the air. But he was gradually learning that there was a great disparity between ground school book knowledge and practical application in flight.

That was all new. The Air Force was all about reciting technical and procedural knowledge from various manuals. You were only better than the next guy if you could say more, memorize more, and show those above you what you knew.

“Guess I’m still in the Air Force squadron mode,” Bob said. “Standardization, orals.”

Lurch punched the “Command A” button.  “Autopilot’s on. Yeah, it takes awhile to move beyond that. But we’re not like that. Especially on this fleet.”

Air traffic control directed them to a new frequency, and the new controller cleared them to their final cruising altitude. Lurch set the altitude and confirmed it verbally with Bob.

“Three nine zero.” Lurch pointed to the altitude set window. “Thirty-nine,” Bob repeated. A wispy cirrus layer slipped under the nose, creating a flickering sun dog. As they climbed, the ground shrank into a carpet of browns and greens, then the higher they went, a tapestry of land and woods veined with spindly roads.

“The Air Force needs all that,” Lurch said. “Very new people flying and fixing complicated aircraft and missions. But the average pilot here has nothing but flight experience, and tons of it.”

Bob had to agree with that. “And even better,” Lurch continued, “We’re not fighting each other for promotion.”

That had been one of the prime reasons Bob had been glad to leave the Air Force. Promotion was one part proven skill, two parts politics and sucking up. In the airline pilot world, promotion was all about seniority, longevity which, by nature normally meant an assload of flight time.

“Takes time,” Lurch offered charitably. “But you’ll learn to ease up.”

Easy for you to say, Bob thought to himself. You’re half retired as it is, flying only turns to either coast, home every night. GOOMSOM, the acronym was scrawled in the kitbag room: “Get Out Of My Seat, Old Man.” Meaning, for old guys like Lurch, retire. Bob allowed himself an inward smile.

Yeah, he was junior and he knew it. Still puppyish about the thrill of flying, and nothing but flying, since he’d left the political ass-kissing contest of Air Force squadron life.

He didn’t even mind being on reserve, though so many of the older guys griped about it. Life was good, whatever he got called to fly by Crew Sked was better than just sitting in the always crowded and usually smelly crash pad. Even this turn with Lurch, as he’d nicknamed him. He’d have a great yarn to spin back at the crash pad and–

The printer hummed and immediately, Lurch had a hand on the printed message and tore it down and off. The old guy stared at it for a moment.

“Fuck.” He handed the message to Bob, who read and then reread the short message.

“Fuck,” Lurch muttered again. Bob laid the flimsy paper on the Comm pedestal. Wow. Things were about to get crazy.

[Note: Chapter 3 is done and will be posted soon]

Airline PAs: Can we talk?

Posted in air travel, air traveler, airline, airline cartoon, airline cartoon book, airline industry, airline passenger, airline pilot, airline pilot blog, flight crew with tags , , , , , , , , , on September 7, 2015 by Chris Manno

About the aircraft PA: let’s talk.

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When you’re an airline captain, you have to figure out how to talk meaningfully and concisely to a hundred or so passengers over the aircraft PA. That virtually one-on-one contact is an excellent opportunity reassure and inform the paying customers as they experience the marquee product: air travel.

Yet so many captains fall short, squandering this excellent marketing opportunity. Here’s what I mean.

Mostly, we’re pilots first and foremost, so we’ve had little training or experience addressing the public. You can almost hear the discomfort from the first PA on taxi-out. Typically, it’s a clumsy version of “Welcome aboard [insert airline] flight [insert number], service to [insert destination]. We are next for departure ….”

Really? Departure? We’re going to takeoff and fly; you’re the pilot, the aviator, not the “departure facilitator,” who will make this happen. “Departure,” “service” and “equipment” (pilots fly jets) are all lame parroting of the agents’ PAs in the terminal. The agents aren’t aviators–are you? Or are you an “equipment operator?”

Some of my four-stripe colleagues allege that the circumspect term “departure” is more calming for passengers, but I ask to what end, when the next thing that happens is the roar of fifty-thousand pounds of jet thrust and a headlong hurtle down the runway. Did you fool anybody, for a minute or two?
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And the first part: passengers know their destination–or if they don’t, maybe you shouldn’t tell them. Do they care about the flight number? Worst of all, “service?” As in “check under the hood, the washer fluid’s low?” Scratch the whole thing and get back to fundamentals.
On taxi out, I say the required, “Flight attendants, prepare for takeoff.” By the book, it is what it is. On climbout, I say, “Good afternoon (or whatever it is; I don’t do early mornings without a court order) and welcome aboard, this is Captain Manno.”

Not ever, “This is your captain speaking.” Because I have a name, and it’s not “Your Captain.” Would it seem awkward if your dentist said, “This is your dentist speaking?” Your teacher? On TV, airline captains don’t have a name, because it’s fake. Real life, real name.

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The other awkward introduction on the PA is the blurted, “From the cockpit,” usually preceded by “ah,” as in “Ahhhhh, from the cockpit, folks …” Maybe I could see, “from the cockpit crew,” but that’s as disjointed as “from your dentist” or even a sermon that started out, “Ah, from the pulpit, folks …”

Probably I’m a cynic, but the used car salesman-ish, “A very pleasant good day” rankles as a PA intro. Just give me the facts and I’ll decide what kind of day it is, okay?

Enroute, the pilot jargon is clumsy: “We’re at three-nine-oh, going to four-one-oh.” Just spit it out: “We’re climbing to forty-one thousand feet.” So it goes without saying that you needn’t use the slang of “wheels up time” (really? Hope we’re off the ground) or even “ground stop;” passengers start forming their own expectation of how long until take-off (not departure–we already left the gate) which may vary from the simple facts you could have cited: “We estimate that we’ll be airborne in approximately _____ minutes, although that may change. We’ll keep you informed.”

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And then I set a timer for 15 minutes, then make an update PA even if I have no new info. Just the basic contact, “We’re estimating ____more minutes, thanks for your patience, we’ll keep you posted.”

But god forbid, neither humor or sarcasm is smart, although some try. The problem is, anything that’s “funny” to one person is guaranteed to anger or offend one of the other 170 on board, especially when they’re under travel stress and unhappy about the inevitable delays, the crowding, the discomfort. I know that when I deadhead or fly on my days off that delays screw me into the ceiling–“comedy,” or any attempt, is just one more annoyance on top of many. So just stick to the facts, in a calm voice, and be sure to make regular contact.

When I’m in the passenger cabin listening to a PA, I’m the “Wizard of Ahhhs,” counting: after the third “ah,” passengers might wonder if you’re all there–and you’re probably not. If you are trying to listen to the air traffic control frequency and the emergency radio frequency as you make a PA, you’ll sound like the harried mom with a toddler squawking, the TV on, while trying to talk on the phone.
Give the route of flight in layman’s terms: “Pocket City” is aviation speak for Evansville, Indiana, where billiards are made, but will that mean anything to passengers? And please don’t end with the withering “and on into the ______ airport;” the double preposition will cause an aneurysm in anyone over fifty, plus it makes you sound like Gomer Pyle. Toggle down all the other audio channels and just give the facts, concisely, consistently and without ahhhhs.

My standard PA goes like this: “We’re heading just about due [east, west, whatever] and we’ll pass over _____, _______, ________, and _______ where we’ll begin our descent into _______ airport, where the skies are partly cloudy [I always say that, covers everything] and the temperature is [I make up something, what it think it should be–who’s checking?]. We’re estimating our touchdown at _______ [correct time zone] and we’ll have you to the gate a few minutes after that. We’re glad to have you on board, for now we invite you to relax and enjoy the flight.”

That’s it–no ahhhs, my name instead of my job title (your captain), no cutesy (we had a goofball who blew a train whistle on the PA and said, “Allllll aboarrrd!”) stuff and no comedy attempts that will eventually boomerang.
The captive audience is listening and it’s a tough house: they’re crammed into their seats, often jetlagged, tired, hungry and impatient with delays and just the general hassle that is air travel today. You’re not playing a movie role, recasting your remembrance of Hollywood depictions. Make it clear, concise and soft spoken. With any luck, they won’t remember you or anything you said the next day.
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