Archive for the lavatory Category

Vuelo Loco: Tennyson, Dead Fish and Mexico City.

Posted in air travel, airliner, airlines, airport, faith, fart, flight, flight attendant, flight crew, food, jet, lavatory, layover, life, pilot with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 9, 2011 by Chris Manno

Listen, I’m a fan of Mexico. Really, I am.

What’s not to like about Mexico City? Always looked forward to those downtown layovers–it was part of my job–but they’re scary dangerous. Probably not for the reason you think though.

I mean, sure, there’s plenty of drug violence. And yes, I did have to dodge through four lanes of traffic to evade a scroungy-looking cop trying to shake me down once, but he was either too lazy or too smart to chase me through the insane downtown traffic.

And yes, plenty of people with questionable intent in a city of 20 million, where you could simply disappear, kind of like the city itself  is doing, slowly sinking into its own aquifer. And okay, maybe I did roll the dice in a sense, as an instructor-evaluator taking pilots down to Mexico City every month, showing them the safe way to fly in and out of the mountain bowl.

Well, it’s not even really this “thread-the-needle-through-mountains” approach and usually, through thunderstorm alley that was like playing craps weekly. And it’s not really that I minded the always slick (memo to Mexico City Airport: the rest of the world cleans the reverted rubber off of their runways every year or two, so get a clue) runway with the puddle in the middle that you hit doing about 150 and exit two thousand feet later at about 149.

More, actually, was requiring the qualifying pilot have a beverage and a Cuban at an outdoor cafe on the traffic circle outside the Presidente Hotel. The bar–Karishma–is where a whole crew got mugged one night. They noticed that suddenly the place was empty save the two airline crews enjoying tapas and the generously poured (“Tell me when to stop pouring, Senor”) refreshments there. Then suddenly, watches, rings, wallets–buh-BYE, as we like to say.

So to be on the “safe” side, we sat outside on the traffic circle–maybe more witnesses?–and since it was my idea, I made sure my back was to the building, so the new guy got to sit with his back to the insane traffic, puffing a Cuban (relaxing–but mandatory) and enjoying a refreshment, maybe getting a shoeshine from the roving vendors who’d magically appear, ignoring the demolition derby mere feet away.

Hey, might as well get the full flavor: massive city (did I mention 20 MILLION people?), exotic neighborhoods of jumbled steel and glass elbowing in between with castellated stone architecture, snarled in the clogged highways like the arteries of a fat man. You watch the traffic and muse over your beverage, how the hell do they do this five way intersection without a traffic light?

And then on the side streets of The Polanco, maybe a quieter sidewalk cafe where I actually did much of my doctoral exam study: outside, books piled, good coffee, usually a thunderstorm in the afternoon that made me glad I wasn’t trying to fly a jet in or out at that moment. Out of nowhere, it seemed, in the afternoon towering big-shouldered thunderheads would roll through the mountain pass with raggedy sheets of torrential rain and thunder that echoed through canyons of concrete and steel, the reverberations so fitting to Tennyson’s “Ulysses” marching across the page before me toward the inexorable doom awaiting us all.

Harder to relax at dinner, though, when you were concentrating on the guard dog staring at your plate and whatever you were having for dinner. The armed guard restraining the dog had his eye on you and the plate alternately, and you had to wonder if either or both of them might figure that the dinner and your wallet might tip the scale in favor of mutiny. It was a stand-off in Mexico: the guard and dog making sure banditos didn’t mug you while you ate–but then the silently menacing pair themselves having to resist the hunger and temptation to rebid the transaction in more favorable terms.

And it’s not even the “one-eye-open” sleep in the airport high rise hotel with the un-level floors from the tipped buildings patiently waiting to tremble and topple in the next big quake they know is coming soon.

You wake up the next morning with the feeling of relief: ahh, The Big One they’ve been expecting didn’t happen while you slept, crushing you in tons of rubble that will take about ten years–if ever–to remove.

No, I’m talking about this:

That’ll eat you alive. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

I was heading down to Mexico City for the umpteenth time and my favorite cousin was there with her husband who worked for the U.S. Department of State. “Hey, want to meet for dinner?”

Okay, I already know why not–I’ve been in the airline crew biz a looooong time: relatives don’t get it, you’re not on vacation; time does matter, sleep too.

“Sure, why not?” Because I’m an idiot–and here’s why. We’re going out for Mexican, traditional, right? I mean, we’re in Mexico-friggin-City, right? Enchiladas? Queso? Fajitas?


We’re doing Mexican-Asian fusion, which means I’m eating raw fish in Mexico: salmon carpaccio, pictured above. Delicious. Amazing! Immodium, amen. That didn’t take long.

The fever lasted about a week. The shower nozzle effect (any chance of scheduling a colonoscopy? I’m prepped, just for the hell of it) lasted a couple weeks. Thanks cuz.

Forget banditos. Who cares about high altitude aircraft performance, up-sloping mountainous terrain and treacherous rolling thunderstorms. The real danger’s on the plate.

Yes, I love Mexico City. Just don’t go there unarmed, okay?

Dummy Air: Stupid Is As Stupid Does.

Posted in air travel, airliner, airport, flight, flight attendant, flight crew, jet, lavatory, pilot with tags , , , , , , on January 13, 2011 by Chris Manno

The DC-10 flight engineer was the first to reach the aircraft for pre-flight on a cold, damp Boston morning. Yeah, must be nice to be the captain and First Officer, still in Flight Ops, warm, drinking coffee, chatting with the flight attendants. “Hey, we sent the engineer out to warm up the jet,” they’d say, “he’s supposed to have coffee ready when we get on.”

Same gate, every week, right? Up the steep stairs from the ramp to the jetbridge. Inside, power up the jet. Start the auxiliary power unit for conditioned air to take the chill off of the cabin. Set up the Flight Engineer’s panel, pre-flight the cockpit. Then back outside, flashlight in hand, for the walk-around inspection of the aircraft exterior.

A pause under the tail, slightly aft and to the starboard side–there. No matter what the ramp temperature, in that one spot the air is a balmy seventy-five degrees: that’s where the APU exhaust reaches the ground. Warm jet engine air which strangely, always had the slightest smell of pastries. Wintertime in Chicago or Boston, you’d always see DC-10 engineers spending a significant part of their exterior walk-around in that one spot.

Schlep back up the stairs, punch in the door cipher code; inside to the mid-cabin door. Hmmmmm, waiting till the last minute, I guess the crew is. They’re the ones who will be frantic as 250 people pile aboard and they’re not ready.

Back in the cockpit, set up the nest: pubs out and ready, audio hookup; final cockpit prep. Done.


Where is everyone?

Oh NO: wrong airplane!!! It’s been on this gate every morning all month–but not today!

Frantically re-pack all the engineer pubs and tools. Power the airplane down, beat a hasty exit. Try not to tumble down the steep jetbridge stairs hauling the forty pound flight bag and an equally heavy suitcase. Scurry over to the correct jet–duh, they’re loading cargo on this one, stupid–park the two bags under the nose where you and they can’t be seen from the cockpit.

Quick exterior walk-around, then bound up the inclined steps, into the jetbridge. Squeeze by the boarding passengers, slip into the cockpit. Stow bags ever so quietly. Unpack engineer stuff casually, even though your heart’s still pounding from the Chinese fire drill between jets.

Up front, no one says a word. First Officer is staring off into space. The captain, a very distinguished gentleman of few words, taps his fingers idly on the control yoke.

I breathe a sigh of relief. Pulled it off. All’s well that ends well.

Not so fast.

“Well,” says Bob in the left seat, casting a sly grin my way. “Are there any other jets on the ramp you’d like to pre-flight?”

Busted. Never did make that mistake again. Well, thankfully I was only a flight engineer for a year.


But fast forward now to my early days as captain, flying with one of my favorite First Officers who had earned the nickname “Deuce,” and now I’ll explain for the not-so-faint-of-heart how he earned that sobriquet. If you’re easily grossed out, consider ourselves done here–onto to more erudite reading; see you next post.

This means "stop," in pilot world.

Okay, you still here? Good.

Well anyway, as with flight attendants and felons, there are no “ex-Marines.” Once Semper Fi, always Semper Fi. That’s why in the ex-military frat I come from, Marines are great to fly with. They just never stop being hard-charging and fearless, which is a quality to be admired on the flight deck.

If we’re picking teams for flights or fights, I’ll go with a Marine pilot first choice any day.

“Deuce” won his nickname from a particular talent he had–are you following yet? Stay with me: “deuce” is the number “2.” Is this beginning to make sense?

Anyway, as is the Marine way, Deuce liked to establish his virility and prowess through what George Costanza referred to as “feats of manly strength.” In Deuce’s case that had to do with a certain bodily function.

The MD80 lav is like a barely sophisticated outhouse. The one item that differentiates it from your average porta-potty is the “splash pan.” That is, a flimsy metal plate on the bottom that opens like a trap door under any, uh, weight of any kind, depositing stuff into the swirling blue pool of degerm.

I know, “eww.” Anyway, my ex-Marine compadre claimed as his feat of strength that he could propel his nastiness hard enough to audibly knock the metal splash plate against the housing. The distinct metallic “whack” was his signature, and from the cockpit, there was no mistaking it.

For him, it was like a carnival game, with his own unique sledge hammer ringing the bell every time.

What can I say? Flying is a serious business, so it’s cool to have a little comic relief between crises. Again, Marines are the best for that. Duece “saved up” daily so he could whack the splash pan audibly, for me in the cockpit and of course, for everyone in First Class. Who da’ man? Deuce.

And yeah, after a month of flying with the Deuce, I did consider challenging him–but only for an instant.

Gawd--this is disgusting.

Gave up that idea real fast. Anyway, fast-forward to the 737, my new, twenty-first century jet. New lav, with a Teflon base and suction that if you were a fat guy sitting on the can in First Class and flushed, you’d get sucked into coach in an instant. No more swirling cesspool stinking up the forward end of the jet. But no more carnival-game splash pan.

I flew with Deuce on the 737. Great reunion–glad you’re on the fleet! Good to fly with you again. But what about that lav? No splash pan.

Deuce shrugged, older and wiser. “Doesn’t matter,” he said, “I had to stop doing the deal on the MD-80 anyway.”

What? Why?

He shrugged and looked away. “Gave myself roids.” Pause. “Huge roids.”

Nuff said. Semper Fi. And like the goofy engineer story, stupid is as stupid does.

See you next week.

Holiday Travel Weirdness: The Jethead Chronicles.

Posted in air travel, airline cartoon, airliner, airlines, airport, airport security, cartoon, flight, flight attendant, flight crew, food, jet, lavatory, layover, passenger, pilot, travel with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on December 16, 2010 by Chris Manno

What is it about holiday season travel that brings out such weirdness? I’m not just talking about the vagrant standing out in front of our favorite Seattle crew hangout with the helpful sign:

He also offered to be my “bodyguard” for $5, but I was with Ben The Dependable Copilot, and Ben’s about 6′ 2″ and weighs in about 220, so I passed. But still.

And even Pike’s Market Place was a little off the game today as well:

So just getting away from the airport doesn’t seem to limit the weirdness this time of year.

Now, at the airport, odd stuff is a given. That’s because odd people still have very little time and so must go by air, I suppose, to share their weirdness with family and friends.

Some folks just don’t get out much, but this being the holiday season, they’re of necessity heading to “somewhere else” and you know what the fastest way is from point “A” to point “B,” right?

Maybe there’s too much of a good thing on either end–eating, drinking, whatever. Problem is, airline crews are kind of stuck in the middle: between wherever “here” and “there” is for the traveling public, our workplace is the waiting room.

I guess folks just make themselves at home, or forget they’re not at home. Either way, our “workplace” is more bizarre than ever during the holidays as a result. The trick is to not only act like you don’t notice (step around the seemingly dead body for whom apparently stretching out on the floor is fine), but to try to act nonchalant when you do–which sometimes is difficult.

The on-board weirdness is predictable, with holiday travelers who are often infrequent flyers. Go ahead, mop the lavatory floor with your socks, Mr. Seldom Travels By Air. I don’t want to even think about it, but I am grateful that at least somebody’s cleaning that outhouse floor, even if the flight attendants are gagging when you do.

Or, go ahead and ask if there’s food on this flight. Has a nice, nostalgic ring to it, especially since there hasn’t been a meal served in coach this century.

I don’t mind for two reasons. One is because no matter how many times airlines, air travel organizations or even travel agents tell you that you need to bring your own food (and water if you want real convenience), you’d rather be surprised.

And second, the cockpit door is locked from the inside, so you can’t see what I’m eating anyway

Whoo-hoo: hot fudge brownies for the crew!

and really, you wouldn’t want to know anyway.  It’s pretty scary up front. Right?

No, honestly, what it is is peaceful. Darling Bride used to come up to the cockpit when we were flying at night and say how it was a cozy cocoon. It is, and I appreciate that–especially compared to what goes on in the back of the plane.

Phoenix glides by 7 miles below.

Gives you time and silence to put things into perspective. When you do, you realize that holiday travel is the best: it’s more than just business or even vacations. It’s families; it’s reunions and gatherings and children. It’s not just air travel, it’s yearlong anticipation of children and adults alike.

Our Chief Pilot–a true leader who voluntarily flies  on every holiday–uses this example to explain: The CEO of Revlon once said, “We don’t sell cosmetics–we sell hope.” Truly, what we do in these holiday travel weeks is just as magic: it’s hope for many, joy for the kids and for the adults who love them.

Come to think of it, weirdness and all, this is a great time of year to be an airline pilot, to fly families and friends to reunions and holiday gatherings.

I’ll be in the air this week–next week too, looking to make somebody’s travel as quick and easy as possible so they to can be with family and friends for the holiday. Really, it’s the least I can do considering they’ll mop up the lav floor without even knowing it.

The TRUTH About Flight Attendants.

Posted in air travel, airline cartoon, airliner, airlines, airport, cartoon, fart, flight, flight attendant, flight crew, flight training, jet, lavatory, passenger, pilot, travel with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 23, 2010 by Chris Manno

You sure you’re ready for the truth?

Still watching “Happy Days” reruns? Or maybe even “Leave it to Beaver” (okay I do, but I already have seen behind the curtain when it comes to Flight Attendants) where June Cleaver vacuums in pearls and heels? If this is you, please click here. Okay, don’t say I didn’t warn you.

First, let’s start with the basics: who IS this person we call Flight Attendant? Where do they come from? Actually, they’re parents and spouses and significant others and sons and daughters. And they come from, well, everywhere.

My friend Melissa and her crew.

The common denominator seems to be the ability to get along with nearly anyone. That, plus the ability to handle children. No, it’s not that they handle children on board in their role as Flight Attendant. Rather, they must deal with a lot of childishness in flight on both sides of the cockpit door. So anyway, many, it seems, have a background in Education: either  as a college degree or as a teacher–or both.

My friend Nanci dealing with one of the children on board.

But that’s just what constitutes a significant number, but by no means, the majority. I once dated a Flight Attendant who had previously been a USDA meat inspector (I got rejected as “Not Prime,” although I’d like to consider myself at least “Average Chuck”), I know several with PhDs, I know one guy who flies for my airline who is an M.D.; the bass player in my band (shoutout to Angela!) is a flight attendant; My Darling Bride (MDB) before she became a “stewardess” was an engineer.

Okay, WARNING: don’t EVER call them “stew;” they hate it–even though my own mother, even after 25 years of non-rev travel on my passes still calls me to say, “The stews were so nice.”

Thanks, Mom.

But I can use the term myself because MDB doesn’t listen to me any more and in fact, with Flight Attendants you could say anything you want on the aircraft P.A. and they’ll NEVER KNOW. Seriously–the P.A. is a frequency that they can’t hear–kind of like a reverse dog hearing–so I could announce “I slept with your sister!” on the P.A. and she would simply ask, “what time are we landing?” Because she didn’t hear that P.A. either. But I digress.

Let’s just cut to the chase: here’s what you really want to know. In fact, let’s just go over important facts you NEED to know if you’re going to deal with flight attendants (of course you are, in flight), or date a flight attendant (you THINK you are, but that’s in YOUR dream, not theirs and they don’t get much sleep these days anyway), or maybe even you want to BE one (What, you’re finally off suicide watch, now this? Break the Prozac in half). Anyway, learn THIS:

1. Flight attendants will kick your ass. Seriously, they can and they will if they have to–and trust me, I’ll explain later–you want them to.

Okay, Carolyn's actually one of my Facebook friends and she's very nice. Mostly.

I’m not kidding. If you piss them off, you will pay. It might be be something simple like overfilling your coffee cup purposely so you’ll have to spill it (that was one of MDB’s specialties) or even the patented Flight Attendant “eff you” that is given so subtly and sweetly that you don’t even realize till the cart and flight attendant are three rows back before you think it through and realize, “Hmmmm . . . I think I just got told to go eff myself.”

Not that you don’t deserve it: they’ve asked one hundred people before you the same simple question–“What would you like to drink?” And they’ve answered the what do you have question at least as many times, plus they made a P.A. giving you the answers ahead of time. So, when you in row 32 ask again anyway, they have a soothing, pleasant proximate answer that after a few minutes your brain finally deciphers correctly as, you stupid idiot, YOU SHALL HAVE NOTHING. To which I would add, “you douchebag” but Flight Attendants are more skilled and less vulgar than I am. Bottom line: don’t be an idiot.

2. Flight attendants will share their ass–and they are crafty. We’re all crammed into a long, sealed tube, right?

Let’s face it–you’re in a sardine can for hours on end. In the cockpit, I actually have separate zone-controlled (by me) air conditioning and recirculation. Yes, it is good to be captain. And sure, you have some weird ideas about what goes on beyond that cockpit door, don’t you?

Suffice it to say that we pilots get “the royal treatment.” Now let’s move on.

Back to the long metal tube you’re paying a few bucks to be trapped in rather than face the freeway for days on end getting to whatever destination you’ve coughed up your vacation savings for.

The air in the jet is fine, it’s just the people like you who muck it up with your coughing, sneezing and personal exhaust if you know what I mean and I think you do.

Well, the cabin is their workplace, too.  As long as they’re trapped and required to endure assorted emissions from both of your ends (sometimes you’d have to think that the ones from your south end are more tolerable than the “what do you have?” stuff coming out topside), they deserve a chance to defend themselves. And when you travel, especially as much as we do on a flightcrew, diet is at best a catch as catch can thing. That end result is bad, eventually.

Wet cleanup on aisle six.

And the best defense in this case as in most others is a good offense.

Hence, “crop dusting.” That’s the diabolical plan by which they spray front to back on board so that by the time you get smacked in the face

"My god--air, please . . . !

. . . they’re already halfway to the aft galley and out of sight. You all will blame each other, but there was, you should know, a secret plan:

From the Flight Attendant Manual: "Always cropdust front to back."

There’s nothing you can do about this, by the way, except take small breaths. Deal with it.

Finally, here’s the last and probably most important thing you should know:

3. Flight attendants will save your ass. And that’s what they’re on board for–not just to tell you what beverages are available, not to entertain you, but actually to save your ass in the worst possible moment of your life.

Notice who isn’t walking away from this crashed aircraft alive and well? It’s the Flight Attendants who helped them off and are still on board helping others. That’s what they do. And that’s why you want them to be able to do item #1 above: they need to be able to throw your ass down an escape slide if you can get out of a burning passenger cabin yourself.

They can handle the 90 pound emergency exit door or the even heavier cabin doors. They know the route by feel and by heart to the nearest emergency exit in a smoke-filled cabin–and they’ll take you there. They are ready with first aid and CPR and a defibrillator and a fire extinguisher and oxygen and anything else you or I might need in flight. Not what we “want” in flight, although they take care of all they can–but most importantly, what you need to make it off the plane alive in any circumstance.

That’s the challenge they’ve undertaken on your behalf. That’s what they’ve trained to do, what they’re tested on and certified annually and rigorously through drills, classes and study.

They’re not leaving without you, even if they have to haul your ass out of a burning plane themselves. To me, that’s amazing.

This they do for minimal pay over long hours with little time for food or sleep and with complete disregard for time zones or body clock, because that’s just the nature of the job. I’ve never known a more selfless group, and there isn’t a more versatile group of professionals on the planet. They can hang with anyone, talk to anyone, and they’ll save the life of anyone, in the air or on the ground.

Do I have to spell this out for you? You should respect and appreciate the unique and giving individuals who are the flight attendants on your flight. Or in my case, I appreciate the one who is my partner for life. Or there’ll be an ass-whuppin’ in short order for you and me alike.

Got it? Good–remember it. Think about the big three flight attendant truths I just shared with you the next time you fly.

And be sure, if nothing else, that you know what you’d like to drink BEFORE the cart gets to you. When it does, “please” and “thank you” are mandatory–especially to the professionals who can both kick your ass and save it, and who will do both as necessary.

And THAT is the truth about Flight Attendants.


Actually never met the guy, but you gotta like the way he thinks.

Coming next:

You hear the name, you see the pilot, but who is this person, “the airline captain” in whom you place your trust?

The exclusive, only here. Subscribe.

Steven Slater, Dental Hell and the Death of Civility in Air Travel.

Posted in air travel, airliner, airlines, airport, elderly traveller, flight, flight attendant, flight crew, jet, lavatory, life, passenger, pilot, travel with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 13, 2010 by Chris Manno

The outrageous JetBlue incident last week brings back memories. And they’re not necessarily good.

Used to be when the last squadron jet of the day’s flying reported in on the tower frequency, a very surly Bad Jimmy Williams would step out of his Operations Officer cubicle and without a word, he’d open the padlock on a large refrigerator in the back corner of the Flight Ops lounge, glare at us waiting Lieutenants, then stalk off.

That signaled  that the “Beer Box” (presumably derived from “ice box”) was officially open, which also opened the lounge for an impromptu happy hour and flying story session. After beers all around, we’d discuss the day’s flying and eventually the conversation would meander into all manner of B.S. stories.

Although he wasn’t a pilot, Dr. Love (yes, that was his real name) often would wander over from the Dental Clinic, knowing he could poach a beer or two before heading home. Which was fair, because he lived near us and we drank plenty of his beer whenever possible.

For whatever reason, he felt like he had to add a dental war story to the absurd flying tales being spun and although that was largely irrelevant, one thing he said I’ve never forgotten.

“Well,” he drawled, contemplating his half empty beer can, “I used to be so careful when I was doing dental work on a patient.”

The room fell silent. What the hell could he possibly say next? Please make him say and I’ve only gotten more careful and caring as time goes on, because we all have to go to the Dental Clinic sometime.

“But you know what I learned?” he asked, studying the Budweiser label (there were only a few brands of beer available there on The Rock in the South China Sea). He paused for effect. “I learned, people heal. You don’t have to be so careful.”

Note to self: never see Dr. Love at the Dental Clinic. But beyond that, there’s a real point:

Dr. Love deliberately contributes to everyone’s lore of dental hell. Which only perpetuates the problem, reinforcing not only the fear of dentistry, but also escalating spiral of outrageous dental tales.

People only want to tell a story about a “horrible” dental experience. No one wants to tell–or hear–a story about a pain-free, simple dental procedure.

The same is true for air travel nowadays: everyone needs to tell a horror story now at happy hour. Ten hour tarmac delays with no food, crying babies, and overflowing toilets (not physically possible unless there’s actually over fifty gallons of human waste added during the delay) and passengers dying.

That’s the stuff of legends, and perhaps Steven Slater is the new “Dr. Love.”

On the day he snapped, cursing a passenger on the P.A., blowing an escape slide, grabbing a couple beers and sliding off the jet, Slater negated the day’s work of his peers–just like Dr. Love did for his dental clinic and fellow dentists.

Because on that same day, thousands of flight attendants were treated rudely by thoughtless, boorish passengers.

But they didn’t snap. They didn’t blow a slide. And though many likely wanted to, they didn’t curse their passengers, at least not out loud.

Instead, they did their jobs, under trying circumstances with unreasonable passengers and onerously long work days. You didn’t read about the flight attendants who that day–like every day of the year–perform CPR on a passenger in cardiac arrest at 30,000 feet. Nor the ones who helped the very young or very old with the extra attention that they need above and beyond the normal passenger services so that they can get where they need to go safely.

No, the headlines were only about the one flight attendant who blew up–and quit being a flight attendant. Which I say discounts and devalues all those who didn’t. Those remembering Dr. Love’s “healing” philosophy project it onto the thousands of dentists who do care about their patients.

And the thousands of passengers who were treated kindly by their cabin crew nonetheless have their radar scanning for a Steven Slater rogue to spin into a cocktail yarn or a “Good Morning America” interview.

That’s life and moreover, that’s popular culture. Don’t get me wrong; I know thousands of flight attendants nationwide cheered the actions of Slater. But in the fantasy sense of wow, what a great gesture. The public is too often rude, surly, inconsiderate and they get away with it.

Because  in air travel, this:

Has given way to this:

. . . and so this

Has devolved into this:

Funny stuff for tall tales, late night talk show monologues and silly YouTube tribute songs.

But a sad commentary on both popular culture and those who comprise its storytellers and listeners. And even worse, it’s an accurate commentary on both the traveling public and the norms of behavior en route.

Every profession has its Dr. Loves. Unfortunately, the rest of the profession suffers the derisive connotation of the rogue’s actions  regardless of the reality of their work, which pales against the backdrop of popular culture that rewards outrageous behavior.

Not sure what ever happened to Dr. Love or what will become of Flight Attendant Slater. But both are hard to forget, for all the wrong reasons.

Air Travel: How to Fly with Children

Posted in air travel, airline delays, airliner, airlines, airport, flight, flight attendant, flight crew, food, jet, lavatory, parenthood, passenger, pilot, travel, travel tips with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 29, 2010 by Chris Manno

Travel season’s here and it’s time to round up the kids and head for the airport. There are many things you need to know to make your trip with your kids smoother. Here are some important tips based on my 25 years as an airline pilot:

1. Educate beforehand: kids need to visualize what’s going to happen at security before they experience it firsthand. Like their first trip to the dentist, they need to be prepared for an unfamiliar, sometimes uncomfortable environment with a different set of rules from their normal life.

The fact that they can be separated from you by the TSA is scary enough unless they understand the process. Plus, whatever stuffed animal or toy they may carry for personal reassurance is going to have to be scanned separately. Talk it up ahead of time! Make it a game–“you’re going to walk through the arch between mommy and daddy.” There may be a magic wand involved (see above). Teddy’s going to ride the conveyor belt inside a duffle bag (please do–I’ve seen stuffed animals caught in the rollers and shredded to the horror of a little one).

Let your child know that you might be singled out for screening, which can be scary for a child.

If possible, tag team: one parent goes through and waits for the child or children on the secure side. Never send a child through first to wait–if you’re detained for further screening, you will be separated from your unsupervised child.

Hand carried items: this is a problem. You’ll have enough to carry just to support a child’s travel, so try to minimize loose items by making sure all hand-carried bags have some type of closing device to keep items inside. Open containers or bags will inevitably spill their toys, crayons, books and food when jostling through the security screening machine. Backpacks for elementary school aged kids make sense: they can carry them and still have hands free, and backpacks can be closed with drawstrings and zippers.

Make a total count of bags ahead of time–“we have three bags and a stroller”–and make it a game: “Mommy said 4 items.” Count and gather items on the secure side.  Tag everything and tie a colored ribbon or string on each item–kids will help find the color or label you choose, so make it distinctive. If you leave anything behind at the security checkpoint by mistake, chances are slim that you’ll ever see it again. In the chaos of gathering clothing, shoes, bags and kids, it’s important to inventory all for items before leaving the area for your gate.

2. At the gate: get a tag from the agent for your stroller. But before leaving home, get a protective bag for the stroller or car seat. Both Target and Baby’s-R-Us have them for around $20, and you do need one to keep the stroller or car seat clean.

Protect your stroller or car seat.

Also, the bag will keep loose or losable parts together, or at least in one bag–we find loose pieces of stroller trays and accesories all over the ramp and in the cargo compartment of the plane.  Cargo handling is an ungentle, dirty business–the cargo hold is not clean, nor are those other bags smashed in with yours or actually, the hands that handle the gazillion bags a day. Cover your stroller or car seat and keep the dirt and grime out of your infant or toddler’s food chain. Plus, on your return trip, you can stuff a world of used laundry into the bag as well as the seat or stroller.

Should your infant be gnawing on any of this?

Find yourself a spot at the gate that allows your little one(s) some space to expend a little energy. Consult the airport guide to find any kids’ playgrounds, a great idea that’s making its way into more and more airports. Usually, they are corralled off from the main traffic areas, allowing kids to run and play–something that presents a tripping hazard for kids and adults in the regular gate area.

Kid's Zone in the Detroit Airport

Check on-line to see if your airport has one, or just ask an agent or passenger service person. Just keep track of time, and be sure to listen carefully for gate change announcements while you’re there.

3. Food and water: here’s a more in-depth discussion of food while flying, but here are a few hints tailored to parents and kids. First, the MacDonald’s Kid’s meal in the airport?

Maybe–but only in the airport food court. Dragging this messy meal in flimsy containers on board–especially given everything else you have to carry–is a bad idea. There’s really no elbow room on board, which kid’s require to eat like kids do, plus there’s no way to contain the mess or clean it up afterward.

In the above-linked discussion, I make this important point: it’s not about eating on the plane–it’s about not being hungry. If you can’t feed your child right before the flight, be sure to have non-perishable, non-crushable or non-spillable snacks stashed in your hand-carried bag. Don’t count on any in-flight snacks which may not be kid-friendly (Does your toddler like beef jerky? Potted meat?) and are subject to the on-board service schedule and availability: once they’re sold out, that’s it.

Bring snacks and water for everyone. Again, don’t count on the inflight service which may be delayed or in case of turbulence, canceled altogether. Bring what you and your child will need!

4. Sanitation: the aircraft is known to many flight attendants as “The Flying Petrie Dish.” This is another good reason not to bring a meal on board: the aircraft isn’t really clean. Bring hand-sanitizer, plus wipes for your seat’s armrests, tray table and anywhere a small child is likely to touch.

$2.99 at Costco

Save yourself a cold or worse down the road: wipe down the common areas within your child’s reach.

5. Ears and pressurization: although modern jetliners have automatic cabin pressure controllers with very gradual rates of change during ascent and descent, little ears can be sensitive to the changes anyway. Be sure that your child is not congested due to a cold or such and if so, consider an over the counter children’s decongestant to ensure they can clear their ears. Some parents have had good luck with having their kids drink during descent, which requires swallowing, which helps equalize pressure between the inner and outer ear.

You’ll need to be prepared: bring something to drink in a container. Flight attendants are required to collect all service items in preparation for landing and so will not be offering or serving any beverages.

6. Deplaning: Inventory time! How many bags? Contents–particularly stuffed animals–returned to the bag (check the floor around your seat) and bags closed! Do this on descent–don’t wait till everyone behind you on the plane is trying to deplane! Be ready.

With my youngest on a trip, we once discovered the tragedy of a missing teddy bear after we got home. So now we actually have roll call of all traveling stuffed animals at the hotel and on the plane.

Much easier than having to call the hotel and prepay the shipping for a somewhat threadbare but much needed bear. Trust me. Check seatback pockets thoroughly too for things you or your children might have stashed and forgotten about.

7. Department of “Duh:” Shouldn’t have to say this, but some people don’t seem to even think about this nastiness, so here goes.

Don’t change a diaper at your seat. The aircraft lavs all have pull-down changing tables for that purpose.

And that’s the correct place to handle that matter. Literally, speaking of that “matter” or material, would you want my Uncle Fred to change his diaper on your row?

The only difference in the “matter” is in quantity, not content (well, Uncle Fred likes anchovies, but still). Yes, it’s your cute little one, but it still is what it is and everyone on the plane wants to not share the experience and scent.

Thanks, Uncle Fred.

And seriously: DON’T hand the used diaper to a flight attendant! Or DO NOT plan to have them dispose of it in the meal cart (I know, it’s incredible, but people do). Put the diaper in a barf bag and dispose of it in the lavatory waste bin. Again, no one on the plane–particularly the crew–wants to get involved with anyone else’s bodily waste. Would you?

You want me to take WHAT?

Actually, there are more helpful travel hints for parents traveling with children, but this will do for now. If you only master these items alone, your trip will be smoother and more enjoyable.

Have a great trip–and if you have any other helpful travel tips, send them to me and I’ll add them!

Inflight Survival: Foodishness at 30,000′

Posted in air travel, airline delays, airliner, airlines, airport, flight, flight attendant, flight crew, flight delays, food, jet, lavatory, passenger, travel, travel tips with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 26, 2010 by Chris Manno

First off, let’s get one thing straight: inflight survival’s not about eating in flight–it’s about not being hungry.

If you’ve been off the planet since the mid 1980s, you may not know this, but unless you have been on another planet, you realize that no domestic airline serves food in Coach.

They’ll sell you something that is somewhat “foodish,” but remember what I said: the mission is to not be hungry in flight. If you are, you’ve failed the mission already: you didn’t eat before the flight, and/or you don’t have an efficient stash of caloric emergency input.

My stash emergency stash in my flight bag.

This is all pocket-sized, crush-proof, non-liquid stuff that will go through security without any problems. No, it’s not really “eating;” it’s doing what I remind you is the mission: not being hungry. Forget the idea of “eating” in flight. Well, unless you’re in the cockpit.

But even then, there’s still the same problem passengers have in back: you’re not getting anything to eat until a certain time in the schedule of the flight–not necessarily when you need it. Hence my stash.

And further, at least in the cabin, you’re going to wait also for the remains to be collected of whatever “foodish” thing you’ve paid for.

Here's a $7 United Airlines "buy on board" snack. How's the potted meat dinner working out?

Given that you’re already crammed into about 2.5 cubic feet, do you really want to sit with your trash and wait for the pick-up cart which is waaaaay after the “serving” cart selling the buy on board junk?

So plan to calorize before you board. Yes, this means you’ll have to spend some money in the airport. Reality check: you indicated through your demand for WalMart pricing on an expensive product (your airline seat is not cheap to produce) that you would not pay for the lunch on board that you know have to buy in the terminal–deal with it.

Even that, though, as I said is a hassle to drag on board along with your hand-carried stuff. The containers are flimsy, the food messy, especially when you’re crammed into you middle seat between one who’s coughing and sneezing all over your food, the other drooling over and eying it longingly.

Forget the messy on-board sky picnic in the filthy passenger seat (no, they seldom get more than a quick wipe off, if that, hence the flight attendant nickname for the passenger cabin, “The Flying Petri dish.)

Now, let’s think of the second survival need: water.

Buy it, bring it, drink it. Do we have to go over the serving cart lecture again? How you don’t want to wait while that trundling inchworm creeps up and down the aisle? In survival school, they teach you to drink your water and ration your sweat. That is–stay hydrated. Don’t wait. The aircraft atmosphere is at about 2% humidity which will dry you like a raisin insidiously: when you notice that you’re parched, it’s too late.

Buy the water in the terminal, schlep it on board, drink it pre-emptively. Yes, you may get to spend some quality time in the filthy on-board out house. But you’ll feel better in flight and at your destination.

Let’s recap:

1. Forget about eating on board. If you must, eat the high cal, uncrushable, minimum mess, compact snacks you were either efficient enough to buy ahead of time, or if not, at least you were smart enough to buy at any airport news stand. Don’t bother with the elaborate carryout.

It’ll be a huge mess, which will irritate those passengers crammed in next to you, breathing all over your food. Plus, you’ll have to sit with a pile of garbage till the inchworm cart creeps past your row.

Bring efficient caloric items that will stave off hunger until you get off the plane.

2. Bring water. And drink it pre-emptively. Sure they’ll eventually get to you with the serving cart so you can have your whopping 4 ounces of liquid. But you need more.

Drink it before and during the flight to stay ahead of dyhdration which causes fatigue and headaches, two things you don’t need when you’re traveling, right?

It’s a jungle up there, trust me. But you can make it survivevable if you think ahead, and think rationally: never mind eating in flight. Calorize, hydrate, and survive the trip so that you can enjoy your destination and maybe, find some real food.

Air Travel and the “Kick the Dog” Syndrome.

Posted in air travel, aircraft maintenance, airline cartoon, airline ticket prices, airliner, airlines, airport, cartoon, flight, flight attendant, flight crew, flight delays, jet, lavatory, passenger, pilot, travel, travel tips with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 10, 2010 by Chris Manno

The forward cabin door closed with a kerthunk and its warning light winked out on the overhead panel.

My first officer said, “You know, this is still a pretty good job once the door’s closed.” I nodded and keyed the interphone mike to called the ramp crew chief in the tug below. “Brakes are released, stand by for push clearance.”

He was right, of course: once we close and seal that door we’re on our own, free of “supervision” and the hassles that come with it. Now all decisions rest on the flight deck; each can be handled sensibly, quietly, without abstract criticism and senseless third-party interference.

But when is this not a “pretty good job?” Well, usually any time we’re not on our own–which is when the cabin door is open. Because besides the usual hurdles required to pass through an airport–gates, passengers, baggage, maintenance, cargo, restricted items, law enforcement travelers, fuel, engine service, catering–there’s one major side effect of the financial and managerial failures endemic to the Post-9/11 airline industry:

The “Kick the Dog” syndrome. And unfortunately, everyone gets to be the dog sometime at the airport.

The Urban Dictionary defines “Kick the Dog Syndrome” as “[t]he act of mistreating a peer or someone inferior to you out of frustration because a superior (whom you can’t argue with) has treated you poorly.”

Everyone in the airline and airport biz has been beaten thoroughly and regularly from the top down. Everyone’s reaching the boiling point from drastic pay cuts, stripped retirements, increased work, longer hours and less rewards than ever.

The airport is a combat zone populated with disgruntled airline employees, besieged concession workers and overwrought passengers. As a result, the trickle-down effect of the industry’s harsh austerity causes an inevitable reversal of polarity: surely as a methane gas bubble raced from the ocean floor five miles to the ocean’s surface and blew the hell out of the B.P. oil rig in the Gulf, air travel is right at the flashpoint of anger.

Tremors that indicate something ready to blow, someone on the verge of “kicking the dog?” Here are the classic examples that tell me for someone, I’m the dog:

1. Long day, many legs, bad weather–but it’s finally over. The whole crew’s dead tired, trudging to the hotel pick-up spot.

No hotel van.

We’re on time; same schedule as always. No van. Flight attendants look at me sidelong . . . do something, captain. Too many captains simply don’t, but I’m not one of them. I dial the hotel on my cell phone.

“Hi, the flight crew from 1157 at the airport waiting for pick-up . . .”

Pause. Then whoever answers the phone at the hotel says, “The van should be there.”

Now I’m ready to kick the dog. I know the van should be here–but if it was, would I be calling? Do I really need to know it “should” be here? Are we all just stupid: the van’s really here, we’re just calling the hotel for the hell of it?

Not gonna kick the dog, not gonna kick the dog. “I know that,” you dumbass I say only in my head. “Can you tell me how much longer it’s going to be? We have a short layover and if necessary, we’ll take cabs.”

Pause. “Well, we won’t pay for cabs.”

Note to self: Prozac. Valium. Yoga. Nine Milimeter. Whatever it takes.

2. Quick turn in Las Vegas. Gotta grab some food and get back on board to pre-flight. Hmmm, Burger King is near our gates; I even have exact change. I wait in line.

Finally, my turn. “I’d like a veggie burger with no pickles.”

The guy in the paper hat smirks. “The veggie burger doesn’t have pickles on it.”

So why do you have to say anything, other than “Okay,” then take my money? Don’t kick the dog, don’t kick the dog.

“Well, then put one on it then take it off because I don’t want one.”

Okay, I kind of “nudged” the dog. He deserved it.

3. Checking the destination weather back at the home drome. Chance of thunderstorms both en route at in the terminal area just popped up. Plus, I know from experience that we won’t get our cruise altitude right away due to outbound traffic from another major hub. Better call for more fuel.

A quick cell phone discussion with the airline dispatcher–he agrees and sends the updated release fuel to the station. Then a courtesy call on the radio to the station staff: “We’re going to add another thousand pounds of fuel.” From the station: “Stand by.”

I can feel it coming . . .

Finally, on the station frequency: “The fueler says you don’t need more fuel.”

Sigh. Did I ask the fueler if I need more fuel? Am I confused and can’t read the fuel gages myself and so was checking with him, especially knowing he doesn’t feel like driving back out to add more? No doubt, he’s checked the weather en route and we’ll just go with his judgment on this.

Don’t kick the dog . . . don’t kick the dog . . . “Uh, we’ll need another thousand pounds; he’ll be getting the fuel slip from dispatch any minute. When we get it, we’ll go.”

Just in case the Operations people forgot that we might have requested more fuel, not that I’m unclear on the amount on board. Give them the benefit of the doubt.

Operations: “Well, no one else has asked for more fuel today.”

Who the hell cares what anyone else has done? Who’s responsible for my flight–and who’ll answer for anything that goes wrong in the next thousand miles? Well honestly, I’d tell the FAA inquiry, they said no one else has asked for more fuel so I didn’t.

Before I could kick the dog, my First Officer jumped on the Ops frequency: “Ask the fueler if he’d like to add the thousand here, or drive about five hundred miles down the road and refuel us when we divert.”

Good answer! A kind of “nudge” to the dog.

I could go on, but I won’t. Suffice it to say that once we’re underway, things go more smoothly. But meanwhile, if you’re walking through the terminal, reconsider whether you really need to ask the flightcrew people you pass where the bathroom is (especially when they’re on their cellphones, grabbing a minute between flights to communicate with home), or whether you must ask them the “20-questions” starter, “am I in the right place?”

Just don’t ask or better yet, think before you do. This simple advice might make life smoother for your dog when you get home.

Inflight Insanity: My Top 5 List

Posted in air travel, aircraft maintenance, airline cartoon, airline delays, airliner, airlines, flight, flight attendant, flight crew, flight delays, food, jet, lavatory, travel, travel tips with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 29, 2010 by Chris Manno

Twenty-four years and counting as an airline pilot–the past 19 as captain–have taught me to never say or think “now I’ve seen it all.” Because just when you think you have, something like #1 below happens.

I still expect to have many more years of flying ahead. But I can say that over these flying years so far I’ve seen a lot of almost unbelievably bizarre things that I wouldn’t have thought could ever happen in the airline world had I not seen them myself–even though often, I wished I hadn’t. Here, then, is my list of the top five weirdness, at least so far, and the valuable lessons in each.

5. A short, stocky taciturn man connecting onto our flight south after clearing Customs from Shang Hai boarded our plane early. He headed to the last row, sat down, dropped his tray table and pulled a strange device from his carry-on bag. This calculator-sized gizmo had blinking lights, a few loose wires, and an LCD display that flashed an ever-changing series of numbers. He then draped his jacket over his head and most of the tray table, tenting himself in seemingly intense concentration on the strange device’s number display.

Of course, that freaked out the flight attendants supervising boarding. They called me on the flight deck and reported the whole oddball situation. Sigh. Why couldn’t he be on someone else’s flight? I called operations and requested a Passenger Service agent to investigate what certainly was abnormal passenger behavior.

The guy spoke only Chinese and tried to ignore any requests to deplane. Eventually, law enforcement officers were summoned to ask him a few questions. As he was led off the plane by Passenger Service agents, glaring at everyone and muttering in some Mandarin dialect, I made sure to stand behind the waiting police officers just in case he went Ninja-crazy with some obscure martial arts move from deepest China, ripping out your heart with one hand and showing it to you as you collapse.

Found out at our next stop that investigators–and translators–determined that the man’s strange device was a “random number generator”that he liked to stare at because it “calmed him down” since he was afraid of flying. Lesson here: don’t act like a weirdo-zombie with a strange device during boarding. It freaks out the crew.

4. In flight, I kept hearing a male voice outside the cockpit door. We had an all-female cabin crew on that flight, so I knew it wasn’t one of their voices I heard. I had made the standard P.A. reminding passengers that congregating near the galleys was not allowed. I also heard a muffled female voice sounding urgent in between words from the male voice. The seatbelt sign was on, so no passengers should have been up anyway.

Sigh. Can’t everyone just stay seated when the seatbelt sign is on? Of course not. I called back to the forward flight attendant, asking what was going on. “You wouldn’t believe it if I told you,” she answered, then asked me to make another seatbelt P.A.. That worked–the male voice vanished.

Later, the #1 flight attendant came up to explain why the man was standing outside of the cockpit door and mostly in her galley. “He had just come out of the forward lav and was doing calisthenics of some sort. I asked him what he was doing and he said he’d been feeling gassy, went into the lav to pass gas but couldn’t, so he was trying to work out a big fart.”

Lesson #4: share your gas with your fellow passengers near your seat–not up front. We’re busy flying the plane and breathing is key.

3. During boarding in Puerto Vallarta, a woman with a grating New Jersey accent poked her head into the flight deck and demanded “can you guarantee that there are no peanuts on this plane?”  I thought about it and realized I really can’t guarantee that. We don’t have any peanuts in the catering, but who knows if other passengers may have some with them as a snack? Peanuts are not a prohibited item. “No,” I answered slowly, pretty sure I was correct, “I really can’t guarantee that.”

“Well,” she snapped back, “my son has a severe peanut allergy and if there’s so much as one peanut on this plane, he’ll go into convulsions. So you’d better be sure.” Then she huffed off to the back of the plane where her husband and son were seated.

My first officer looked at me with a raised eyebrow and a sly grin that said what are you going to do, captain?


Sigh. I called Operations on one of the VHF radios and requested a phone patch with the 24-Hour Physician On Duty at Headquarters. After hearing the woman’s story, he made the corporate recommendation: deplane the family. That would be my choice as pilot-in-command as well, because I don’t really want to do an emergency descent and landing on some crude runway in a foreign country with questionable medical help anyway.

I called to the back of the plane and asked the flight attendants to pass along the directive to deplane to the peanut-sensitive family. Within the twenty seconds it would take to stride the 130 feet from the back to of the jet to the front, we suddenly had an irate man with a grating New Jersey accent standing between the First Officer and me.

“We’re not getting off,” he announced, “so you just go about your business.”

I put on my game face. “Well sir, the decision has been made at corporate headquarters. It’s out of my hands–you’ll need to gather your belongings and deplane. We can’t risk your son going into convulsions in flight as your wife warned us.”

“Ignore her,” he said with a wave of his hand. “She doesn’t know what she’s talking about. And we’re not deplaning.” He stomped off.

Sigh. I called Puerto Vallarta Operations and explained that we would need law enforcement to escort some passengers from the flight. “Si, senor,” came the cheery reply,” we will send you some help.”

Good enough. I went back to gazing at the palm-studded landscape, the sunny breeze, the ocean in the distance . . . the dumptruck full of soldiers with semi-automatic rifles pulling up in front of of the aircraft.

Huh? “Looks like the cavalry is here,” my First Officer remarked idly.

I called the Flight Attendants in the back of the plane. “Could you send Mr. Congeniality up front one more time?”

Shortly, the Jersey guy reappeared, looking annoyed. “You can’t make us get off. I know my rights.”

“Well, if you look out there,” I pointed to the twenty-some soldiers fidgeting in the hot sun, now line abreast with their weapons unslung in front of the camouflaged dumptruck. “Those folks there are going to help you off the plane if you don’t go on your own.”

He stomped off with mild cursing; shortly the whole family deplaned with Mr. Congeniality muttering threats about “rights” and “lawsuits.” The soldiers looked disappointed as they climbed back into the truck. No guerilla assault today.

Lesson #3: get your story straight before you board. And try to avoid phraseology like, “you can’t make me.”

2. Flying with my favorite flight attendant of all time as #1 flight attendant. We’re inbound to DFW from somewhere up north, and about an hour from landing, The Gorgeous One calls me on the flight deck.

“Just so you know,” she tells me, “we have a guy in First Class saying he needs oxygen, he’s having trouble breathing, and he’s already had three heart attacks.”

Sigh. So close to home, and yet so far away; imagine the paperwork in this. But no one ever dies in flight, I tell myself–they’re just incapacitated. Much less paperwork that way.

The Most Beautiful Flight Attendant of All Time finds a nurse on board who takes the guy’s vital signs while I query the navigation data base for the closest airport with at least a 5,000 foot runway: Tulsa.

The First Officer starts the divert procedures without me having to say anything. The nurse reports that the guy is having chest pains, too. The corporate Doctor-on-Call concurs: land the plane, get the guy some help. I tell Darling Bride we’ll be on the deck in fifteen minutes. Sorry hon–your day just got longer, but I know you want to get him on the ground before he needs the jumper cables.

Like clockwork, we secure the necessary clearances and point the nose towards Tulsa. Medical help on the ground is standing by, ready to whisk Mr. Cardio off the plane and to a medical center. Good deal? Nope.

The passenger doesn’t want to land in Tulsa. Maybe the thought of dying in Oklahoma–living there would be awful enough–is too much for him to contemplate. Whatever–he’s now livid. That’s not helping his heart rate any.

We land safely and taxi right to a gate were an ambulance waits.

Medics strap him to a gurney and wheel him off the plane, protesting all the way, yelling about the pilot’s (that’s me) incompetence. Well, there’s certainly that, plus the thousands of dollars the divert cost, never mind the inconvenience to the hundred or so other passengers with normally operating central circulatory pumps who would likely miss their connections in DFW as a result of the immediate action to save his life. And to save me the paperwork, but regardless: buh-BYE.

Lesson #4: no good deed goes unpunished. Nonetheless, if you’re going to have cardiac problems, we’re going to try to save your life. So have your heart attack quietly if your downline connection is that important.

And the Number One bizarro experience, at least most recently:

1. We’d pre-boarded a thirty-something individual who had mobility issues. A travel aide whose sole purpose was to attend to this passenger’s needs also boarded. Once they were comfortably settled and we were about to start general boarding, a mechanic announced that a necessary system check would cause a delay. So we stopped boarding, figuring the passengers would prefer the more spacious terminal for their delay. But the pre-boarded folks remained in the cabin.

After about twenty minutes, the passenger sent the travel aide into the terminal to fetch some junk food.

I saw the travel aide leave the jet bridge because I was at the gate counter on the phone with dispatch, coordinating a new flight release.

Then I noticed on the computer screen I was viewing that the crew list had changed: the number one flight attendant position was vacant.

Huh? I’d only been off the plane for a matter of minutes.

My First Officer filled me in when I returned to the cockpit: as soon as the travel aide left, the individual decided a trip to the lav was an urgent necessity. Which couldn’t happen without the travel aide.

So the number one flight attendant, being somewhat of a saint with perhaps a touch of insanity, agreed to help, holding a styrofoam coffee cup for the still seated passenger.

THREE TIMES. And apparently, on the last “cupful,” through some anomaly of aim, trajectory or hydraulics, our flight attendant ended up hosed down.

And so we ended up with a replacement flight attendant.  There’s no “sigh” with this one–just “ewwwwww,” plus see also lesson #4: “no good deed goes unpunished.”

And here’s lesson #5: just when you think you’ve seen it all–watch out. I just don’t say those words any more, and now you know why.


Airline Pilot: A Day in the Life

Posted in air travel, airline cartoon, airline delays, airline ticket prices, airliner, airlines, airport, flight crew, flight delays, food, hotels, jet, lavatory, layover, life, passenger, pilot, travel, travel tips with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 5, 2010 by Chris Manno

You’re going to fly the big jet today, right? Well, they won’t pay you if you don’t, so better get ready. Let’s start with Task One: closet chaos.

Whatever you pull out of there you’re only going to wear for a couple hours because you have to drag on the polyester uniform and go to work shortly. Worth breaking out a pressed shirt for such a short time? No, but you don’t want to look like a scrounge in the only free part of the day before heading for the airport, right?

Speaking of “pressed,” what about uniform shirts? Gulp–another trip to the cleaners in uniform pants and an undershirt to pick up the uniform shirts you blot out of your mind on days off? Damn, one more thing you should have done yesterday.

That’s the typical “days off” syndrome in the flying career field: once you’re home, you get to ram-dump all work considerations till “Go to Work Day” sneaks up on you again. Bet you’re going to discover on your layover a bunch of junk is missing from your suitcase that you wish you had, and which you meant to replace, but like the dry cleaned uniform polyester hell–out of sight, out of mind.

Anyway, since you have a few hours before flying and a few things you planned to do–okay, sort of said you would but now don’t feel like it but somebody’s expecting you to do it–what’s the plan?

Be diligent? Be productive before the rest of the day is eaten up with flying and work stuff? Nah!

Want to listen? Did this in four tracks. Too much fun.

Screwing off in The Man Cave seems much more important than chipping away at The Drudgery List. Hey, you’re going to be at work for the next 48 hours, right? You deserve a little time with the toys. That income tax return isn’t going anywhere and it’s not even April yet.

You’re going to look and sound great at the next gig this month, right? Anyway, don’t lose track of time:

Your flight leaves at 4:10pm, so you need to be there at 3:10, with medium traffic you need an hour and ten and add another fifteen for construction on 35 and . . .

. . .  YOU’RE LATE!

Too bad you spent so much time screwing around. Oh well. Throw the change of clothes for two days into the suitcase–everything else is still in there and never leaves the smelly bag, along with coffee packets, receipts you don’t want floating around so maids can steal your identity, free stuff you don’t need like “Crest” toothpaste in Spanish from Mexico City and a delivery menu from Ming Wok in Queens–and drag on the polyester uniform. Toss the suitcase and the kitbag into the trunk–look, there’s your hat! It lives in the trunk–and head for the employee lot.

The freeway’s a transition zone, both to and from the airport. Starched shirt too tight going in, your mind on the weather halfway across the country, at the home drome–you don’t really care how bad, just that your inbound jet isn’t late–plans for the weekend, but first you have to get through this trip. You pay attention to the sky on the way in: which direction is the prevailing wind? That’ll determine our take-off direction. Taking off south, but going north means a longer day. You wonder if anyone else pays much attention to the sky when they drive to work, other than noting if it’s blue or cloudy or whatever. The scalloped cloud bottoms look bumpy; you make a note to tell the flight attendants to stay seated after take-off.

Am I the only one running late?

From the employee lot to the terminal wastes a ton of time on the lumbering bus. Time, like the hour before pushback, you don’t get paid for but have to be there. Add that to your 12-hour work day, which will seem endless after midnight body-time when you’re still a couple hours from landing.

Now that’s a welcome sight: tons of aluminum, fueled and ready, waiting for you to kick the tires and light the fires–let’s go fly jets. Pull a bunch of paper out of the computer, including the flight plan, the special notices, technical stuff, aircraft speeds for take-off, a bunch more stuff you really don’t care about but the lawyers want to be able to say “we told you so.”

When the length of the flight plan paper equals the length of the aircraft, you're set to go.

Great. Fold this junk, which is the fine art of Airigami (derived from the word “Origami,” like “Oregano,” which is the Italian art of pizza folding) and stow it out of the way on the flight deck (picture coming up later).

Head for the office:

Meet your happy First Officer–you’re going to be locked into the aerial broom closet together for a few days, so you want everything to go smoothly. Does he look happy?

Well that’s not a bad sign, really. Anyway, let’s get on with the preflight. Stash your suitcase in back, your kitbag in the sidewell next to your seat and sit your fat ass down.

See? Everyone does it.

Time to preflight the aircraft. The First Officer goes outside to check the exterior. You make sure the departure and route of flight is set up in the navigation system. That’s the thing that’ll get you off course and in trouble if the points and route are not correct.

Well, Mr. President, look what your example has done to the youth of America.

Now you’re surrounded by a beehive: passengers boarding, catering trucks arriving and pulling old food carts off, shoving new ones on; the ground crew throwing bags on and readying the plane for pushback, the agent exhorting the passengers to sit down on the P.A., the flight attendants orchestrating the boarding melee, directing bag-stowage and seating and–here’s your job right now as captain:

Just let me know when it's time to start engines.

Actually, you’re ready. You’ve done the checklist and all of your preflight items. Passengers?

It’s the herd mentality, at least as far as the gate agent goes. “Get along, lil’ doggies . . . we gotta slam the door to show the D.O.T. that we’re an efficient airline–whether you’re on board or not.”

So, how's your trip going so far?

But you’re strapped in up front, let’s shoot the juice to the moose and turn it loose. Pushback, taxi, join the line waiting for take-off.

Heading north. Looks like an hour and a half enroute; smooth so far, turn off the seatbelt sign. Watch the sun arc low in the western sky.

Thunderstorms out west, chopping up the sunset.

Land, taxi in and the gate chaos recurs: passengers deplaning, catering, ground crew cleaning the airplane, passengers boarding; your task?

Gut bomb!

It’s the Sonic Chili Cheese Dog! The indigestion alone will keep you awake going to the west coast. That’s not all bad.

That ought to keep you going for a while. And this.

Now back to work. The jet’s just about boarded and ready. More paperwork.

Okay, let’s get this beast back into the air and head for DFW. Still have to make it to the west coast tonight. Another preflight checklist litany; pushback, taxi out, takeoff.

That’s a long sunset, isn’t it? Anyway, racing south to do the turn-around dance again with 140 more passengers waiting to go to the west coast. Same deal for you: the copilot’s outside walking around the jet, making sure all the pieces are still there. You’re in the terminal, checking the weather on the coast, your planned arrival fuel, the route of flight, the weather enroute and the actual flight plan route. Looks good? Sign it electronically, get back to your cubicle:

And the last bank of flights is now pushing back. Join join the aluminum conga line to the west side of the airport, waiting your turn to launch. A steady stream of wingtip strobe lights arc off to the west like fireflies. You start your clock, add full power, barrel down the runway then lift off and join the stream of winking lights headed west.

Leveled off at your initial cruise altitude, at this hour with less air traffic, Fort Worth Center is giving big-ass shortcuts: you’re cleared all the way to northern Utah, direct.  Fuel’s flowing correctly, engines motoring, cabin pressure holding, both electrical generators keeping our little island in the sky warm and lighted and on course.

Now the challenge? Stay alert. When Darling Bride used to fly with you, she’d come up front and marvel at what a warm, cozy little cocoon the cockpit is: the red glow of instrumentation, the purr of instrument cooling air and the view out front–looking straight ahead, it’s as if you aren’t even moving, but rather just afloat 7 miles up over the pin lights of cities below.

You can’t help wondering what’s going on down there, in the homes; the trail of headlights on the freeway, the arteries that spider to all points of the compass. The time goes slowly.

There’s the clock you started when you added take-off power. The bottom number is the elapsed time; another hour and a half to go.

This is not easy: you have to be alert and sharp for the descent and landing–18 hours after you’ve awakened, 9 hours since reporting for duty. Never mind “tired”–you’re moving across the ground at nearly 500 miles per hour. Get out the arrival procedure and get the waypoints and crossing restrictions set in your mind:

Actually, as arrivals go, this one isn’t too complicated, fortunately. Brief up the approach and get ready for runway roulette with Seattle Approach: they won’t tell you which of the five approaches you’re flying until about two minutes before you’re expected to do it. And never mind the radar monitor in Approach Control or Seattle Tower ready to nail you (big, festive fine and/or license action) for any deviation from course, altitude, speed or heading, or the 140 critics waking up in back–you are your biggest challnege: YOU want it done perfectly. Every single time in the past 17,000 flying hours, and those ahead.

Nothing to see outside anyway, because the ceiling is only about a hundred feet off of the runway. Gives you a good two to five seconds at about 160 miles per hour to make sure you’re lined up properly for landing . No problem.

There’s what matters: folks getting off the plane. Safely. Happy. They have no idea–nor should they. You do your work, fly right; it’s what you do.

“That’s a wrap,” you say, as the last passengers trail up the jetbridge and the crew gathers for the trek to the hotel. You’re the last one off the jet, by design. You lock the flight deck door, call the layover hotel for crew pick-up.

The clock’s started: in twelve hours, it all begins again; this time, to the other coast: New York City. Safely, and as smoothly as it is possible for you to make it. No problem–that’s just what you do.

Stay tuned: coming soon–Day 2.


My Investigative Report: Omaha’s silent tragedy.


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