Archive for crewlife

Summer Air Travel 2018: We Have Met The Enemy, And He Is Us.

Posted in air travel humor, air traveler, airline, airline cartoon, airline cartoon book, airline delays, airline industry, airline passenger, airline pilot, airline pilot blog, airliner, airlines, airport, crewlife, flight, flight attendant, flight crew, flight delays, travel, travel tips with tags , , , , , , , , , on July 10, 2018 by Chris Manno

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I stood in the cockpit doorway last night saying goodbye to the deplaning passengers, mostly to support my cabin crew: it doesn’t seem right that the captain should be halfway to the employee parking lot while the flight attendants are still working. So I stay, unless there’s a crew change and the next cockpit crew is waiting to get started on their preflight.

That’s a ridiculous air travel roadblock: you’re the oncoming crew, probably behind schedule, having to wait for the off-going crew to finish fumbling around and get out of the way. “Plane ride’s over,” or “shift change,” I yell loud enough for them to hear in the cockpit. In other words, get your ass in gear and get out of the way.  Some pilots are clueless, gabbing, or worse (sure, we’ll all wait while you use the airplane lav–you sure can’t poop in the terminal) while the oncoming crew cools their heels on a hot jet bridge, waiting for access their job site.

Meanwhile, we have passenger connections to cover down-line, plus more passengers there connecting on our return flight. Ridiculous waste of time changing crews, due to some pilots’ blissful unawareness of others.

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But a crew change was not the case last night–the aircraft was not flying on again that night. A guy walked up the aisle with the other deplaning passengers, but he took a seat in first class and started tapping on his phone. His wife plopped down next to him.

Fine. Except once everyone has deplaned, the crew is done. It’s been a long day and we all want to go home.

His wife looked stressed-out. Finally, she approached me. “He’s trying to get someone from customer service to help him retrieve my gate checked bag before our next flight.”

“Gate checked bags will be transferred to your connecting flight,” I answered automatically. “No worries. It’ll be at baggage claim at your destination.”

“I need my anti-seizure medication.”

Damn.

“Let me see if I can find it.” I hustled downstairs, but it was too late: all of the cargo holds were empty, the bags on their way to connecting flights or baggage claim.

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“They’re usually not that fast unloading a full jet,” I told her. “But there’s nothing left in the cargo holds or on the ramp. Still, I can get you medical help right now if you need it.”

That’s part of the problem: passengers miss the instructions in the sometimes hectic gate checking of a bag: “Take any medications or important documents out of the bag before you check it,” agents recite the litany.

But mistakes get made. More typically, stuff gets left on the aircraft inadvertently. So here’s the point: always keep valuables, important documents and medications in your on-board hand-carried bag. If you don’t carry one–DO.

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Don’t stash ANYTHING in the seatback pocket.

In the terminal, a woman stopped me and started talking to me in Spanish.  I can help in German or English. But I answered with the entirety of my Spanish lexicon, “No habla Espanol.” I do know “Cerveza, por favor” as well, but that didn’t apply.

She looked puzzled, then began to repeat herself in Spanish, only louder. Which still doesn’t work.

I played the odds: I glanced at her boarding pass, then pulled out my cellphone and Googled her flight number. I showed it to her: departure gate and boarding time.

She smiled. “Ah, si.”

Problem solved. Add the lesson “Google for key info in your native language,” to “get your shit together and get off the plane” (add the caveat, “but wait your turn,” see cartoon) and keep all valuables and medications with you as you travel.

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Don’t be “that guy.” Wait your turn.

Finally, traffic management. We have rush hour in the terminal between flights. There’s a bustling flow of people going gate to gate to concessions, services, restrooms, wherever. There’s always been the problem of passengers lurching around the concourse, stopping randomly and bottle-necking traffic.

Add two new impediments: the cellphone talker-texter-Facebooker-Snapchatter-Instagramer-surfer ass-clown willing to walk headlong into others or as bad, shuffle-creep along to manage their messages, posts, texts, porn; whatever.

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For the slow walkers, random stoppers and cellphone nitwits, two words: pull over. Get out of the way, let others get on with their lives as you fumble about your own.

The second pedestrian hazard I see more and more these days–maybe it’s a millennial thing–is those with or without cellphone suddenly putting it into reverse and walking backwards. I say at least twice an airport day–which, like dog years, an “airport day” is about 7 times the hassle of a human day–“this isn’t a good place to walk backwards.” Does that really need to be said?

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So there you have it. If you’re deplaning–passengers or crew–get your stuff together and move efficiently off the aircraft and into the terminal. Once there, have a destination in mind and actually attend only to smoothly navigating the traffic, always in forward gear. If you need information, Mr. Google speaks every language, though I do not. Finally, keep all valuables, like medications and documents with you at all times.

All of the above advice is for your successful air travel, your crew’s efficiency, and everyone’s sanity.

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What’s it like to be an airline captain?

Posted in air travel, air travel humor, air traveler, airline, airline cartoon, airline cartoon book, airline industry, airline passenger, airline pilot, airline pilot blog, airline pilot podcast, airline safety, airliner, airlines, airport, flight, flight attendant, flight crew, FoF, travel, travel tips with tags , , , , , , on June 24, 2018 by Chris Manno

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An university colleague asked me, “What’s it like to be an airline captain?”

I tried to deflect. “Well, it’s probably not what you’d think.”

Still, he deserved an answer, but probably not for the reason you’d think.  Academia and aviation couldn’t be more different, and I owed him an answer for exactly that reason: academia welcomed me, shared generously, helped me attain their highest degree and let me teach on their college campuses.

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By contrast, the pilot world is largely closed, both professionally and intellectually. When a pilot asks me about my doctoral dissertation, I usually lose them at my research hypothesis. So, I typically deflect that question with, “It’s hard to explain,” even though it’s really not.

Some pilots “are” captains, but that’s mostly fluff. They’re the ones who cling to social media names like “Captain [insert first name]” or worse, “Cap’n” anything. I suspect they’re the ones who used to go by nicknames like “Flyer Guy” and have vanity plates like “IFLY” or “AV8R.” I even know one guy whose wife refers to him in conversation as “Captain _____.” Big hat, no cattle, as far as I’m concerned.

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Because for me, “captain” was never so much something to “be” as to actually do. When I have the title, it’s only at work and it translates to “the buck stops here” or in more accurate terms, “I accept full responsibility for everything that happens from push-back to block in.” And I’m not solo, because there is a century of aviation history that put me where I am .

Commercial aviation is a communal effort and an aggregate learning curve. In the United States, Canada, Great Britain, Europe, much of Asia, Australia and New Zealand, there’s been a lifetime of hard lessons, trial and costly error, engineering breakthroughs and thorough oversight. That’s been a costly but profitable flight evolution that is responsible for the safe air travel we all enjoy today.

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When I’m the captain, I’m both the beneficiary and the trustee of that collective aviation experience, engineering, oversight and regulation. That’s what it’s like, if you really want to know: I’m the guy saying slow down when everyone else is saying “let’s hurry up;” I’m the one paid to look four hundred miles ahead when everyone else is looking around us now; I’m the one focused on now when everyone else if four states down the road.

I’m looking for “no” when everyone else says “yes;” I’m saying stop when everyone else says go. The easiest thing in the world is to just let things happen, but the more important responsibility is in making them go exactly as they should–or not at all.

That has little to do with vanity plates, forced “cap’n” nicknames, or even titles, which I leave at the airport when I go home, because I’m done “being” captain till it’s actually time to do it all again. And not until.

So maybe that’s not what you’d think being a captain was like, but now you can see that the real substance is in action, responsibility and accountability rather than in the title.

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The buck stops here.

That’s why in over 26 years as a captain at the world’s largest airline, you’ve never heard me say on the PA, “This is your captain.” Besides the fact that I have a name, “captain” isn’t who I am, it’s what I do, a charge I readily accept. I’m a trustee of all that has gone before me in aviation, engineering, regulation and oversight. A good day as a captain is one where you’ve seen to every detail, taken care of every requirement, and, as we say, “haven’t bent any metal.”

That’s the reality of “what it’s like to be an airline captain,” and that won’t fit on a vanity plate. Nor does it need to.

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Air Travel Delays: “Mechanical Issues”

Posted in air travel, air traveler, aircraft maintenance, airline, airline cartoon, airline delays, airline industry, airline passenger, airline pilot, airline pilot blog, airline safety, airliner, fear of flying, flight, flight attendant, flight crew, flight delays, FoF, passenger with tags , , , , , , , on April 21, 2018 by Chris Manno

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“Mechanical issues” may sound like a catch-all for airline delays or, to anxious flyers, a mysterious, perhaps worrisome possibility. But it’s neither, and here’s why.

First, you have to understand two main concepts: airliners are complex mechanical wonders, and second, their maintenance and operation is very strictly and minutely regulated–and documented. This second point is essential to the aviation regulatory standard upheld by all major airlines, even though such detail must be correctly, diligently accomplished. That takes time. So, let’s walk through the possibilities.

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When you board an airliner, preflight checks are ongoing. This is especially true if the aircraft has just arrived from another station (airport). As soon as the flight completion checklists are accomplished, the preflight process begins anew by the crew. To waste no time, this preflight inspection goes on even as arriving passengers deplane and departing passengers board.

The checks ensure that all operating systems on the aircraft are up to the very specific standard set by the aviation regulatory agency that oversees commercial flight operations. In the United States, that’s the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

Every system on that aircraft has an operational standard to determine if the aircraft is airworthy, and the jet does not move until those requirements are satisfied, right down to individual light bulbs.

Let’s look at that example: a light bulb.

If a pilot on an exterior preflight notices say, a landing light that is not working, this fact is immediately recorded in the aircraft logbook and the airline’s maintenance center is notified. The airline maintenance center will refer to the FAA specified “Minimum Equipment List” (MEL) for that particular aircraft.

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Without straying too deeply into the very complex decision tree of the MEL, there are three possible outcomes for the noted discrepancy (a landing light is inoperative). First, the landing light may be replaced, tested and certified by an FAA licensed and approved aircraft maintenance technician.

Second, the item may be specified by the FAA-approved MEL as non-essential for flight under specified conditions. For example, if the aircraft is about to depart for a destination to land in daylight, the MEL may allow the flight to depart, with proper logbook documentation of the exception.

Third, the MEL may allow for a redundant system to compensate for the component. If the inoperative bulb was a wingtip position light, the MEL may allow the flight to operate with the remaining position light–if the aircraft has two and only one is required (that’s why the aircraft designer put two bulbs there in the first place).

This is the same with all aircraft systems: if there are redundant systems approved by the FAA MEL, the flight may be approved for flight with that waiver to use the backup system, once the discrepancy and waiver are properly documented in the aircraft logbook.

Of course, some essential systems have no redundancy. In those cases, prescribed repairs must be made by FAA-certified mechanics (example: a tire at the prescribed wear limit must be replaced). The discrepancy, repair and results must be properly documented before the aircraft moves.

And there are “consumables.” For example, on my flight last night, when we were doing our “Before Landing Checklist,” we noted that the engine oil quantity was at the prescribed “refill” level. That, like all aircraft specifications, is a very conservative number. It’s as if you were driving your car down the highway and noted that you had just above a half a tank of gas.

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You’d turn to your passengers and say, “The MEL says we must always have more than a half a tank of gas, so we’re going to exit the freeway and refuel now.”

In flight, I sent a data-linked message to our technical operations center noting the requirement for oil service before the next flight, which I also wrote in the aircraft’s paper logbook.

Our tech folks coordinated with the mechanics at our destination to have the oil ready and a certified mechanic to perform the refill. That’s quick and easy at one of our hub airports, because we have mechanics on staff there.

At smaller stations, airlines rely of FAA-licensed mechanics approved for contract mechanical work on specified aircraft. Of course, most airlines have access to normal consumables like oil or tires, but no one has every part on every aircraft stocked at every station.

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If the required item is not in stock, it must be brought in, either from nearby (example: an airline’s LAX station may have an item needed for a flight out of Ontario Airport; staff can simply drive the part from Los Angeles International to Ontario). Other parts may be flown in on the next aircraft from the hub to the smaller station.

But either way, before the aircraft flies again, the prescribed maintenance procedure must be accomplished in accordance with FAA regulations and everything must be documented.

Most major airlines have this process streamlined for efficiency, like when I sent the data-linked message to prepare the arrival station for the required oil service. This was accomplished between flights with no delay. The certified mechanic noted the refill quantity and manufacturer’s details in the aircraft logbook as well as in the computerized records maintained at our airline technical headquarters.

But sometimes a procedure may take longer just by the normal time the process requires (changing a tire will take longer than changing a light bulb). Finally, the availability of mechanics at a given hour may add more time to the required procedure.

In all cases, the aircraft records must be meticulously documented, which takes time as well: approvals must be granted, remedial actions certified, and everything recorded both in the aircraft on-board paper logbook as well as the aircraft records at the airline’s technical center.

That takes time.

If the delay is predicted to be too long, we might be assigned another aircraft for the flight, which also takes time: passengers, cargo, baggage, and catering must be transferred to the new aircraft. So, if you’re waiting on board during a maintenance delay, it’s probably because swapping aircraft would take longer, or there isn’t another aircraft available.

To summarize, airliners today are complex machines with multiple parts and systems, all of which have MEL specified operating minimums. Not all replacement items are available system-wide, and and even where mechanics are immediately available, remedial processes can take time.

The “mechanical delay” we experience is due to the airlines’ unwavering adherence to very specific FAA standards.

The good news is, that’s why air travel on major airlines is as reliably safe as it is.

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