Archive for the layover 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?


Mach Speed Tumbleweed

Posted in air travel, airline delays, airliner, airlines, airport, flight attendant, flight crew, hotels, jet, layover, life, night, passenger, pilot, travel, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 19, 2011 by Chris Manno

A battle rages in silence. You don’t want to get involved–but you are, you realize slowly.

Exactly where is it 5am?

You don’t want to know.

No, I do. The sinking feeling. It’s not home, is it?

Told you you didn’t want to know.

Damn. Reno?

No, that was last night.


The night before.

Palm Beach. Not home. Home got away–again.

How many miles from here to home? Not distance–I get that–flown, I mean? How many more? Flight hours like matchsticks: light ’em off one by one, watch them burn down, then out. Slowly, in the glow, you get it: midway through a four day. Just what you didn’t want to wake to. But do.

So, that was last night: late, always, bone tired too from hotel sleep somewhere else.

That’s here, middle of the night here, before you messed it up. Spartan. Antiseptic. Do not disturb. A trail of clothes from the door to the bed–worry about everything else tomorrow.

Sleep, and it’s that dream again: you can find the gate, find the plane, but there’s no door from the gate to the plane. Which is the way home, of course. No way home–just the waiting place, halls of marked time and any old place.

Gertrude Stein nailed it: “there’s no there there,” in that space between places, the waiting–the island between going and getting there. Or getting home. There’s the irony: for those who make their living going, and carrying others who are on the way too, the idyll would be staying, not going, being home. No door.

So wake up then. Going to need goggles and a snorkel to wade through this one. Not the stuff you’ll think about later–the weather, the jet, the fuel. Rather, another day not home.

Good dog–you’re ready to swim in the deep blue.  People will ask you questions, like “What’s it like to be a trained dog working in the blue every day?” Or maybe they’ll have something equally inane more for each other than for you, like “we’ll let him on” or “we need him” as you try to slip by them going to the office. Funny stuff, right? More likely, though, they have to go to the bathroom; they want to share that with you, assuming you have a constant awareness of toilets and locations, like you do with bailout airfields and low fuel contingencies in flight, right? Funny stuff.

Just put all the pieces back together; everything back into the suitcase like the crammed heap that sprang out twelve hours ago. Kind of like behind the scenes Disney: Mickey puts on his fiberglass head with the permanent smile–then out he goes. Down to the lobby, out to the curb: vantastic! Off to whatever aeropuerto in whatever city.

Just get me to the gig. Snake through the masses herding across the wide-open plains, grazing, mooing; hoofbeats at a shuffle.

The ants go marching out again, hurrah. Step around, mind the Mickey head. Wind your way through; heft the bags, schlep the bags, onward to the gate. Show your ID: yeah, it’s Mickey. Let him on board.

Nothing purtier than precious metal, all eighty tons of her:

She’s your big ol’ dance partner, every song, every leg, and just like you: all about the getting there–but not staying. Folks trundle off, more trundle on; makes no difference. We do our same dance steps, carefully and deliberately without art. Over and over–same old song. You know the words:

We say Mass for the Earth, the litany of escape–then we leave, but everyone still in their pews, seatbelts on and tray tables stowed. Then the aluminum conga line–every-buddy-CON-ga– to the runway. This:

In this:

Into the blue, the higher the better: the sky is denim, comfy as jeans. Good for hanging out, soft, simple, warm, comfortable. The good feel when you put them on.

Unpressed and rumpled–doesn’t matter; a little faded, all the better. That’s cruising, ain’t it? It’s like Saturday against your skin. That’s the jailbreak from the suitcase–off with the polyester, and Mickey’s head; jeans, amen.

Soft and comfy as the sky and nearly as distant: nobody knows you without the Mickey head on, and that’s the best. You’re a ghost, anywhere, everywhere–somewhere where no one knows you, and in the middle of the night you won’t remember where anyway.

You just know what it’s not–home; and where it’s not–HOME. And just close your eyes because soon enough, once again: another passage. Sleep.

“. . . life is a watch or a vision

Between a sleep and a sleep.”

–Algernon Swinburne

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.

Stupid Layover Tricks: Sharks In Death Valley.

Posted in air travel, aircraft maintenance, airline delays, airliner, airlines, airport, flight attendant, flight crew, hotels, jet, layover, life, travel with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on September 3, 2010 by Chris Manno

You know how things make sense when you’re doing them but in hindsight, you have to ask yourself, what was I thinking? Well this is one of those times. Being on the road, flying about 200 days a year, it’s really not surprising that it happened on a layover.

Had a Tuscon layover a couple summers ago. My big plan was to get in a good run early, before it got too scorching hot, then some pool time.

And here’s the thing about layovers: that was my plan, I was looking forward to it, it’s what I told myself ahead of time when I was feeling that “I-don’t-want-to-be-away-from-home” pang before a flight sequence: it’ll be fine, a good run, decent Mexican food for dinner.

Great plan. But a problematic jet engine screwed it up: we departed a couple hours late, which meant a late arrival in Tuscon. Add to that the excessively long time it took to get the hotel van to pick us up and by the time I was ready to run . . .

. . . I was pretty well screwed: the temp was over 100 and climbing as the afternoon wore on. The hell with the temp, I decided–and it really was becoming hellish–I’m not going to be denied my run. The whole layover depended on it! I could start out and if it got too hot, just stop and walk back.

So I set off from the hotel running. Found some back roads with shade and honestly, even at 109 degrees, with the shade, without any humidity and at a slower, more cautious pace, the run was more comfortable than back home in the upper 90-degree range with boiling humidity and scorching sunshine. So on I went, carefully, for twenty minutes through a mostly residential area of town.

After twenty minutes, I took a walking break for a minute to take my heart rate: no real problem. And I felt fine.

So I reversed course, hugging the shade as much as possible, heading for the hotel. Then I got that gnawing feeling–and it wasn’t just the heat–that I wasn’t alone. The whole time it had seemed as if I was running through a ghost town: not a creature, a person or pet in sight. But still, I knew I was being watched. I turned around . . .

Creeping along behind me, maybe fifty yards back, a police cruiser. When I stopped, he did too. I started running again, he started creeping along behind me. Finally, I turned around and walked back to the police car. One cop, and he didn’t get out of the car. The window slid down silently.

“What’s up?” I asked.

He tipped his shades down. “Couple people have called 911,” he answered nonchalantly, “figure you must be crazy.”

He let that sink in. Guess there’d been no signs of life outside, but inside the natives had decided only a mental patient would be out running in the afternoon.

“Well I’m almost done,” I said, pointing at the hotel in the distance. “I’m feeling fine.”

“I can’t stop you,” he said. “But it doesn’t seem like a good idea to me.”

I went back to running at a measured pace, but the cop had been a buzzkill: what if he’s right? If the hidden, 911-dialing residents were right? “We gotta ‘nother dumb tourist down,” he’d say on the radio, staying in the car with the furiously blowing air conditioning, “wet cleanup on aisle six.”

Me, road pizza. That’s how it happens–one minute you’re running, the next your heart explodes in the 109 degree heat. Now came the mind games, like when I’d swim laps between bouys in the Pacific: now and again you’d catch a glimpse of someone on shore, pointing. You just knew they were pointing at you, yelling, “Shark!” Which you couldn’t hear . . . but which you’d certainly feel any minute. Yes, I know Death Valley is not in Arizona; but was the shark thing all over again.

Made it to the hotel and started a walking cooldown. The cop car did a u-turn and vanished into a side street. Disappointed? No CPR, unless it was too hot for that. No roadkill.

Regardless, the thrill was gone, probably for both of us. I grabbed the cool beverage I’d had icing down as I ran . . .

. . . then entertained second thoughts about the run. Okay, maybe you can’t always force things in extreme temperature. Maybe the run could have waited till Boston (hate the traffic!) the next day.

Like so many things you look back on in life–and layovers–you have to wonder: what the heck was I thinking?

Between Flights: Faith and Blood Among Strangers.

Posted in air travel, blind faith, faith, flight, flight attendant, flight crew, hotels, layover with tags , , , , , , , on May 16, 2010 by Chris Manno

After landing late and schlepping downtown to Kansas City Westin, woke up to a beautiful Saturday. A green fountain was my first clue that the huge courtyard between the hotel and the Hallmark Center had been transformed.

Whoa. We’d landed in the middle of Kansas City’s Irish Fest. Not in March–say, St. Patrick’s Day. Rather, in early September. You just never know what opportunity you’re going to find when you travel for the sake of the flight–or in my case, my job–instead of for the destination. Who knew there’d happen to be a huge and seemingly cool event at our doorstep.

My First Officer and I sized up the roped-off plaza: food, beer, bands, and a growing crowd. Way cool. But a $9 entrance fee?

Darn. We only had a few hours till we had to be back in the air. Definitely no beer tasting, and nine bucks for a few hours? My F/O shook his head. Not worth it.

Then I noticed the opportunity tent.

“C’mon,” I said. “We’re volunteers.” He looked at me dubiously. “Let’s go sign in. We can volunteer as well as anyone.” Scam, I’m sure he  was thinking. Well, maybe a little.

“You go ahead,” he said, heading back inside. Shrug. I walked up to the volunteer sign-in table. “Jones,” I said, then waited.

A woman with a huge computer print-out didn’t even look at me, but scanned her list. “Are you the Jones with, uh, with, uh . . .”

“Yes I am.”

Still not looking up, she put a check mark by one of a dozen or so “Joneses” on her list. She handed me an extra large T-Shirt emblazoned with “Volunteer,” and said “Go over there and get your admission wristband.”

In a matter of minutes, I was inside the Irish Fest with a small guidebook (“Where’s the face painting?” Check the book–“Make a left by the stage”) and a couple of hours to browse around.

Although I had volunteer “coupons” for free pizza, I just had to buy one of the steaming brats grilling at various booths. Good music, good food, give a few directions here and there but largely, just enjoy the sunshine in the ever-growing crowd. So what’s the big deal? Opportunity taps you on the shoulder, give a little help, enjoy the big picture.

When I related this all to my F/O at altitude that evening, he seemed a little wistful. “Should’a joined you,” he concluded. And being the smartass that I am, I recall telling him, “That’s the problem with volunteerism these days: nobody wants to help. And you really miss out on a rewarding experience.”

He rolled his eyes. Yeah, quite a stretch. But you take the good and the bad as it comes–this was a windfall.

Fast forward to last Friday, May 14th. This time, fate had plopped us down in Norfolk on a beautiful sunshiny Spring day. We had fourteen hours scheduled off-duty, then would fly one leg back to DFW. Home for Friday night and for me, Saturday morning with Darling Bride and youngest daughter’s academic competition, plus a band session with Night Flight in the afternoon. Perfect plan.

Until fate stepped in to trash everything. Crew Tracking called me a couple hours prior to our departure time: “Sorry captain, but thunderstorms at DFW have forced us to cancel your inbound flight.” Great. Home tomorrow early, maybe?

Catch the tail end of my daughter’s academic competition, and maybe most of the band session? “And I know it sucks,” the Tracker said cautiously, “but we’re going to need your crew to stay there and fly home tomorrow night.”

Thank you, cruel fate. Everyone on the crew had plans and people counting on their arrival home that night, but it is what it is, and you do what you know you have to do.

Now with forty rather than fourteen hours off duty, we developed a contingency plan: free concert at the fountain on the harbor that evening; dinner afterward. Vendors were selling adult beverages in the park. After the first two at five bucks each, we modified the plan: F/O would go for his run then meet us there (great band playing), #2 flight attendant and I would walk a few blocks to a deli and pick up crew beverages to enjoy at the park. Others had brought coolers with drinks; no one seemed to mind.

Heavy get-out-of-town Friday rush hour was shaping up downtown as we walked the two blocks past the battleship Wisconsin moored near the heart of Norfolk. I heard the unmistakable boom of a traffic accident not ten yards from where we walked.

Under a green light, one car had stopped, and the car behind him had plowed into him from behind. The rear car stood with a crumpled front end in the middle of the intersection. Not a safe place.

I dodged across the traffic and approached the driver’s open window. Probably stunned; let’s get you out of this intersection.

“You okay?”

She was not okay. Maybe no seat belt? Regardless, her forehead was gashed wide open and blood was everywhere. I actually didn’t know anyone could bleed so fast and so much. Open the door.

“Let’s get you out of here,” I said, pressing a cloth she’d found onto her forehead. “Walk with me–I’ll help you.” Through traffic, to the curb. Elizabeth, my #2 flight attendant directed passersby “Call 911.” Several dialed. I laid the woman down on a short brick wall, cradling her head with my arm, holding pressure on her gaping laceration. Not a good thing, I thought silently, to be drenched in the blood of a stranger, but you do what you have to do.

“Help is on the way,” I told her. “You’re going to be okay. We’re going to stay with you till help gets here.”

Elizabeth moved her wrecked car out of the intersection. The wall was near a bus stop and to be frank, a crowd of people waiting for the bus that were of the type who’d make me walk fast and not make eye contact. But not today. “Can someone find a first aid kit?” A man rushed off toward a store.

A tranny-looking woman dialed the victim’s husband’s number on her own phone. A man offered his rolled up shirt as a pad.

An Army nurse walked up and began to take vital signs. I shady-looking guy produced a scrap of paper and I told her, “Push the top button on my watch”–my hands were busy–and she took down the heart rate, her medical history, setting up the ambulance’s arrival.

It seemed like forever crouched on the hot pavement, holding her head, telling her by name that she’d be okay. One police car, then eventually three more arrived.  Don’t move her head. A look at the gash–looked clean to the bone–more pressure. Have to stay this way till the ambulance gets here.

“You’re doing good, Jennifer. Deep breaths.”

At long last–maybe five minutes, but it seemed longer–the ambulance arrived. “You’re not going to like this,” an EMT said, “but we’re going to put a brace on your neck to immobilize it.” On cue, I slid my now red arm out from under her head and let the EMT crew hold pressure.

Jeez–stiff back. Hot pavement. Elizabeth put the woman’s purse on the gurney. “These guys are going to take good care of you,” I told her, squeezing her hand. “You’re going to be fine.”

Off she went; we waited while the police, who’d taken both of our driver’s licenses, finished their reports. Buzzkill.

Finally, the police thanked us and sent us on our way. I used the deli restroom to wash now dried blood off my arm.

“Pinot Grigio or Sauvignon blanc?” I asked. Didn’t really matter to me.

We made our way back to the park. Hooked up with the First Officer. Great band, beautiful night, lots of families and children, many running around in the fountain.

My daughter got third place in her competition; the band played without me. Fate? Opportunity?

You just have to take it as it comes, good or bad. But what I got out of it was twofold. First, the kindness of strangers in that moment of suspense between disaster and official response renews my faith in humanity. And second, I have the knowledge that in a stranger’s moment of hell, there was a calm voice and an arm to rest her head on.

Unlike my Irish Fest volunteer T-shirt, the reality won’t fade with time. And that’s what really matters.

Flightcrew Zoo: Stupid Layover Tricks

Posted in air travel, airline cartoon, airliner, airlines, airport, cartoon, cruise ship, flight attendant, flight crew, hotels, jet, layover, passenger, pilot, travel, travel tips with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on May 3, 2010 by Chris Manno

When you’re shipwrecked with fellow crewmembers, there forms a special bond. Over the years, I’ve shared a few exceptionally memorable times “shipwrecked” on layovers with pilots and flight attendants who have become lifelong friends. Here are a couple of the most memorable stories.

Mile High-Jinks

Dave was a fairly senior 777 captain when he took early retirement a few years back. Before he did, when we’d pass in the terminal, besides saying “hi,” one of us would grab the other and say to our first officer, if they were nearby, “He can verify that galley story I told you is true.”

And the story was from twenty-plus years ago when Dave was a DC-10 First Officer and I was the Flight Engineer. We flew all month with the same flight attendants, enjoying long layovers in downtown Chicago. The core group of us–me, Dave, Jennifer, Marianne, Lynne and sometimes Lonnie (whom Marianne admonished for “wearing too much make-up for daytime”) went out every night in Chicago to some club or other night place. Everyone became fast friends and hated to see the end of the month come which would mean no more weekly Chicago long layovers.

To make our last trip memorable, the inherently devilish Marianne dreamed up a plan. During our last leg from Detroit to DFW late one night, I got a call on the flight deck. “There’s something wrong with the P-Lift,” Lonnie said. “Can you come back and have a look?” The “P-Lift” was one of the elevators from the mid-cabin galley to the lower deck galley. Typical that there would be a problem and being the engineer, typical that I’d have to go back and see about fixing it.

“They’re having trouble with the P-Lift,” I told Bob, the leisure suit-wearing captain who ditched us in Chicago every layover to go out with his boyfriend, we suspected, and also to let Dave know I’d be gone. “Be right back.” I grabbed my flashlight, turned on all the fuel boost pumps and headed for the main galley.

“Downstairs,” Lonnie deadpanned, pointing to the P-Lift. Okay, I thought the P-Lift was the problem, but let’s go downstairs. I hopped in, closed the door and pressed the down arrow. The lift lowered me into the darkness below. Hmmm, good thing I brought my flashlight.

Every ORD layover included a stop here after midnight.

The door opened to candlelight in the lower lobe galley. Blankets and pillows covered the floor, and Marianne, Jennifer and Lynne were sprawled out in their nightgowns. “Want to join our slumber party?” Marianne asked, the three of them totally ignoring the 250+ passengers upstairs.

About twenty minutes later, I re-entered the darkened cockpit acting as nonchalant as possible. “Uh, Dave,” I said, “I think you’d better go have a look.” Maybe he knew what was up, but he wasted no time unstrapping and heading back. At least twenty minutes later, Dave returned, grinning. As soon as he did, Bob started to unstrap, maybe thinking it was his turn but Dave very pointedly said “No!” All’s well, he said–no need for you to leave the cockpit. The ladies would have killed us if he’d shown up.

Before Dave retired, our First officers would shake their heads in disbelief at the story but with verification, they could only think back on “the good old days”–such a thing would never happen today.

I still see Marianne now and again, Lonnie too. Lynne quit flying in the 1990s, and Jennifer worked on all of her flight ratings and is no longer a flight attendant but rather, a fairly senior First Officer with us now.

Man The Lifeboats!

Back in the 1990s, we used to have long layovers in Long Beach on the Queen Mary, which had been converted into a floating hotel. We used to convene in the forward lounge which was an art-deco masterpiece. The fun trick was to recruit flight attendants who’d never been to The Queen to have a beverage on the forward veranda of the bar, outside overlooking Long Beach harbor.  The trick in that was the magic hour of 7pm, when they blew the ship’s horn which was located just above the veranda.  More than a few spilled drinks and near heart attacks resulted from the uninitiated experiencing that heart-stopping blast.

My First Officer and I had a good laugh at our flight attendants’ expense on one such trip. One in particular, Rhonda (I still see her now and then) vowed to get even, but we figured it was all in good fun and so thought nothing of it.

That particular layover, The Queen was full and so both he and I had been given adjoining suites instead of the regular crew cabins. Of course, the flight attendants didn’t believe us when we told them. “Here,” my First Officer said to Rhonda, handing her his room key, “see for yourself. I’ll get another key at the desk.” They left us to tour the ship–including his suite–while we opted to stay and watch the NBA playoffs in the lounge.

A couple hours later, the game ended and we headed below decks, me to my suite and my F/O to the front desk to get another key. We had fifteen hours before we had to fly again and so I was looking forward to at least ten hours of good sleep.

As soon as I unlocked my door, I heard water running. Not a good sign, especially on a ship, I decided. At the same moment–maybe I was a little slow from a couple cold beverages–I noticed that I was standing in an inch of water that was beginning to slosh. Again, the beverage-effect: WE’RE SINKING! I grabbed the phone and called the front desk . . . to the lifeboats! She’s going down! “Uh,” I stammered, “I need a plumber pretty quick here.”

A few minutes later, I had both a plumber and hotel security in my cabin. The plumber removed the towels stuffed in the sink and tub and had turned off the water. Hotel Security began to grill me. “Why did you flood your room?” Rhonda. “What?” I tried to act indignant. “Why would I douche out my own room?” The F/O’s key, the adjoining room. She’d gotten her revenge.

Eventually, the Security Agent decided that he couldn’t prove that I’d flooded my cabin, but as punishment, I was given a virtual broom closet of a cabin–the ship was booked full and I believe it actually had been a broom closet at one point–and so I slept with one eye open looking for the ghost that legend has it prowls the old ship’s quarters.

Even now when I cross paths with Rhonda in the airport or even on a flight she smiles slyly; I smile, too. Thankfully, she stopped saying “you deserved it” about ten years back, although she never actually admitted to the deed nonetheless.


Airline Passengers: Are YOU “That Guy?”

Posted in air travel, airline cartoon, airline delays, airline ticket prices, airliner, airlines, airport, flight, flight attendant, flight crew, hotels, layover, life, passenger, pilot, travel, travel tips with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 31, 2010 by Chris Manno

You know “that guy,” the one passenger, man or woman, who is annoying bordering on obnoxious–but is the only one who doesn’t recognize what a pain they are.

There’s always “that guy” at some point in the day’s thousand or so miles in the air. Typically, 350 to 450 passengers over the multiple flight legs board and deplane and in between, one or more reveal themselves as “that guy.”

Who’s he? Let me introduce you.

First, there’s the mangled lingo guy. Going to make conversation in the argot of the crew, right? What “runs” are you doing? That’s my favorite, although don’t forget the close cousin, what’s your route?

Both tired questions conjure the image of Ralph Kramden for me. Except that the average bus driver never aimed a 75 ton pile of pig iron ripping along at 200 miles per hour at a concrete slab he couldn’t see until a matter of second before the wheels finally touched the ground, nor navigated the same beast 7 miles up at 500 miles per hour.

There’s Ralphie’s “Main Street to 4th” run, and there’s my flight sequence, which is usually 3 legs somewhere to somewhere, then a hotel.

I don’t have a “run” or a “route,” because after 24 years, I really don’t care about most destinations anyway. Rather, like most flight crew members who’ve been around a while, I’m all about whatever flight sequence–2 or 3 days–requires the least amount of time away from home.

Destination? Who cares, although I do try to fly south in the winter, vice versa in the summer (all birds do that, right?) to lessen the weather hassles in and out of the airport. But as far as the “glam” spots? Puerto Vallarta, Cabo, Miami, New York? Who cares? I’d rather be at home with my family.

Part of that is the “been there, done that” effect of hundreds of “runs” (JUST KIDDING–it’s “trips”), part of it is the weariness of the suitcase life, being on the road and NOT having your place, your stuff and most importantly–your time. Because it’s not your time, it’s a work schedule.

Once in Puerto Vallarta, the hotel ran out of standard rooms and put me (“El Capitan,” they said) in the Presidential Suite. Two problems with that:

1. I spent the night sleeping with one eye open, just knowing a band of drug cartel banditos would eventually kick the door in, kidnap me mistakenly (“No, I’m just a lowly crewmember, not a gazillionaire who could afford this outrageous luxury and by the way–check out the grand piano in the living room!”) and then mail home my chopped-off ear with a ransom note, although Darling Bride would probably request a larger appendage as confirmation and the airline would deny even knowing me. Not good rest there.

2. The luxury suite just reminds me that I’m NOT on vacation, I’m not here with my family enjoying beach time or happy hour or the scarf-till-you-barf “Can I Get Immodium With That” buffet. I have to get up early and get my butt back into the polyester and get to work. Just stick me in a broom closet for my lavish nine and a half hours at sea level.

Besides that, I usually don’t even check where I’m going until the night prior and up until then, I’m probably trying to trade my trip for any open trip requiring a captain that has less time away and less work involved. So we really don’t have “runs” or “routes” anyway, and I’ll trade any trip for Tulsa-Omaha if it gets me home quicker and less painfully.

The next “that guy?” He’s “Mr. I Have Frequent Flyer Status.” He–or she, often–differs from the real frequent flyer who is characterized by the efficiency with which he boards, stows his things, sits down, says “please” and “thank you” and doesn’t make a nuisance of himself.

I'm a "Triple-Axel" elite!

By contrast, those who are impressed by their mileage category or the goofy distinctions airlines dreamed up to make them feel important (“I’m a premium/zirconium/gold circle/fat cat/lead pipe/triple Axel status holder . . .”) run headlong into those who are simply trying to do a good job for everyone, despite the marketing opiate of mileage status.

"Ain't I got status!"

This person is likely to remark to me at some point, “Bet I have more time in ‘these babies’ than you do.” Doubtful, unless you’re in the air more than 900 hours a year and even then, actually flying “these babies” requires more than napping in back in a filthy seat between snoring mothers with squalling lap kids–but better you than me.

Finally, the least obnoxious but often the most disturbing:

We know why you fly: it's cheaper than Greyhound and Amtrak has a dress code.

Unlike the “Status Dork,” these folks don’t mean to be annoying and often, don’t have the experience to not be that way. Never mind the little things like asking if there’s a toaster or microwave in the galley (“Sure–right by fridge and the sink”) or using the lav in only socks or less (“Ewww, but thanks for mopping the floor!”), it’s the stopping dead in the middle of a moving terminal throng, or never knowing their own travel details:

“Is this my gate?” “Give me a hint: where are you going? And god forbid, what’s your flight number?”

It’s just the unfamiliarity with the environment–like me in the dentist’s office or the American Girl Store–

That's NOT me--I took the picture.

it’s the circumstances that make normal people (the “beast” playing with dolls) do silly-looking things they wouldn’t otherwise do, especially if they knew how it made them look. Get the picture?

So if you don’t fly often, it’s not your fault, BUT GET A CLUE:

Dress appropriately. This ain’t a garage sale or a day at the beach. In my Air Force flying, we were told to–and I did–consider the effects of fire on your flying garb. And so we wore Nomex fire-retardent flight suits and even gloves though often it was pretty hot in the cockpit, with cotton underneath, mindful of the melting-onto-bare-flesh effect of artificial fibers when jet fuel burns.

Okay, you don’t need to be that paranoid, but is the T-shirt, cut-offs and flip flops thing going to work for you on your way home from O’Hare in January, never mind if you make an unexpected stop?

Besides, every type of clothing doesn’t look good on every type of body, so just because you’re traveling to an unfamiliar destination doesn’t mean you’ll necessarily look good in whatever they wear there.

When you get home with your Bolivian halter top or bead-laced hair, in the context of a normal day–you’re going to ask yourself “why the hell did anyone think this looked good?” Trust me: we’re asking that as you walk through the airport and onto the plane.

Nix the wife beater shirt, the ripped garage-cleaning wardrobe, the beach wear. Just dress decently and act that way, too. Know where you’re going and on which flight. Say please and thank you where appropriate, and try not to be too impressed with your mileage status or how many hours you have “in these babies.” Things will work out better that way.

And you won’t be “that guy.”


Click here to listen to my interview along with the P.R. Director of Air Tran Airlines and the regular panel of Airplane Geeks discussing pending airline legislation, The Passenger Bill of Rights, the replacement of Air Force One, and many passenger-related airline issues.


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