Archive for crewlife

Do Pilots and Flight Attendants Hook Up?

Posted in air travel, airline, airline cartoon, airline pilot, airline pilot blog, flight attendant, flight crew, pilot with tags , , , , , , on July 2, 2020 by Chris Manno

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The simple answer is, yes … and no. Here’s the full story.

First crewlife is different from the average work life, for a couple reasons. First, when crews show up “at work,” the first thing they do is scatter to the four winds. No boss, no supervision, no oversight–gone. I always liked that aspect of my job as an airline pilot, especially as a captain: there’s no “boss”–except maybe me as captain–but rather, just a job to do. That job is flying, something we like to do.

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When we as crew are out on the road, most of the logistics that the biz or leisure traveler need to worry about are taken care of: transportation, hotels, airport access. So, in theory, there’s the potential for some social interaction.

In “the good old days,” pilots and flight attendants were “paired” for an entire sequence, meaning, the cockpit crew and the cabin crew were scheduled for the same flights and the same layovers, sometimes for the whole month.  If there was time an opportunity–say, the long Cabo layover, with open bar included in the hotel stay–there could be some partying going on.

We used to say on the Fokker, which had a crew consisting of two pilots and two flight attendants, that every trip was a double-date. In fact, on my F-100 captain checkout trip, I met a flight attendant who I dated for much of the next year.

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The F-100: “Every trip was a double-date.”

That ended when I met another flight attendant on another F-100 trip and in less than two weeks, we decided we should be married. And we have been married for the past twenty-five years. I detail this story, plus many other pretty extreme pilot and flight attendant connections, here.

But truth be told, we’re the exception to the rule. While there are many pilot and flight attendant couples, and many flight attendants married or committed to other flight attendants, and many pilots with the same connections with other pilots, several factors have made those connections less likely.

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First, the crewlife workday ain’t what it used to be: work hours are longer, layovers are shorter, and hotels are of lesser quality and the locations seldom in choice areas any more.

Plus, a few years back, the FAA instituted new crew rest requirements for pilots, but there are no such federally mandated rest requirements for flight attendants–a travesty in itself, but that’s another story. The end result has been that often, pilots and flight attendants stay at different hotels or even if they’re at the same property, the flight attendants are headed back to the airport after a shorter–typically inadequate–rest break.

Flight attendants are worn out from such brutal scheduling with too little rest. That kind of kills the social prospects of any layover situation. But there’s more.

Flight attendants tend to be outgoing, confident, adept at handling any situation, self-assured and practiced in the social arts from calming a passenger storm on board to leading their own lives with confidence and independence.

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Pilots tend more towards the nerdish, narrow-thinking, dogmatic way of seeing the world. It’s kind of the opposite pole of the typical flight attendant personality. Pilots land toward the control-freak end of the personality bell curve and many are insecure with a strong-minded, independent partner.

If a pilot can handle the typical flight attendant confidence and grace–and really, who wouldn’t?–the results can be a lifetime partnership:

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But then, there are also so epic train wrecks, and I detail them both, success and spectacular failure, in vivid, real-life case files in An Airline Pilot’s Life. Read it, and you’ll have a pretty clear picture of what exactly goes on between pilots and flight attendants.

From Amazon Books, Kindle ($5.19) or paperback ($17.99).

Just CLICK HERE.

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Freefall and Pictures

Posted in action-adventure, air travel, airline, airline pilot, airline pilot blog, flight, flight attendant, flight crew, flight training with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on June 23, 2020 by Chris Manno

Maybe you’ve heard of Amazon’s #1 New Release in Commercial Aviation, An Airline Pilot’s Life.  The true story starts with a step into nothingness 2,000 feet above the hard-packed clay of Southwest Virginia. Then, the parachute fails. Here’s the pic–and the story–plus a few more photos from this fast-selling new book.

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Last one into the jump plane, because I’m going to be the first one out. Then, all hell breaks loose.

From An Airline Pilot’s Life:

Chapter 1

Nothing but a furious blue sky above, laced on top with a wispy cirrus deck like a delicate veil. Below, the earth screamed up at nearly terminal velocity and the jump plane was nowhere to be seen. Fine.

“Hop and pop,” it’s called: fling yourself out the open aircraft door two thousand, maybe twenty-five hundred feet above the ground if the jump plane pilot’s feeling generous, then plunge. I only paid for two thousand feet, but I’d hoped for a bit more.

One fist on my helmet, drawn in as my ripcord hand goes for the handle, so as not to flip myself over from the imbalance. Grab, pull, wait.

Nada.

The rumply-fluttery sound of the main chute dragged out by the smaller drogue flapping upward in the slipstream, but no reassuring, nut-crunching harness tug of full deployment. Okay, arch your neck, look up.

Shit.

The sleeve’s still on the main chute and it’s wagging like a big streamer yards above my head. The sleeve covers, reefs, the main chute. Ain’t opening. I shake the risers like a stagecoach driver urging on a team of horses, trying to shake loose the sleeve, to let the main parachute blossom full and wide but no.

My frantic attempt to clear the streamer has eaten up precious time, too much time. I’d “cut away,” release my tangled main and go for my reserve chute, but I’ve spent too many valuable seconds trying to clear the tangled main. The reserve chute will need at least five hundred feet to blossom full enough to arrest my plunge. I can see cows below, coming into distinct focus, as the ground rises to meet me. That’s bad.

I’d had no money for flying lessons, paying my own way through college, so that was way out of my budget. But skydiving was a fraction of the cost. Bought a used chute, took a few lessons—just get me into the sky and I’ll find my own way down.

Like right now. The voice of calm logic in my head annoys the panicked side of my brain with the salient fact that well, with a streamer, you won’t achieve terminal velocity because of the tangled chute’s drag, so you’ll only hit the packed dirt at ninety, maybe ninety-five miles an hour.

The mortal side of me, the soft pink flesh and blood humanism that doesn’t want to impact the dirt clod strewn pasture land at ninety miles an hour begins to perceive the red lip of terror, but there’s more to be done. I clutch my reserve chute tight with my left arm, then pull and toss away the reserve ripcord.

Both the relentlessly rational side of me and the human side feeling the growing alarm of near death unite in the methodical, careful last-ditch effort: grab the reserve with both hands and throw it downward as hard as you can. Hope and pray the reserve chute catches air and inflates on the way up rather than tangling with the snagged main chute flapping away above.

I give it a heave downward with all I’ve got. I mash my eyes shut, not wanting to see the results. I’ll know soon enough, whether the chutes tangled together and assured my death within seconds, or if I’d beat the odds and have the reserve chute blossom and displace tangled main. Or not.

The calm, unrelenting voice of reason, always there no matter what, had the last words: you really didn’t have jump out of a perfectly good airplane.

Way to go, dumbass.

Copyright 2020 Chris Manno All Rights Reserved

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The rest of the story? It’s all here:

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For paperback or Kindle, CLICK HERE.

And …. more pictures from the true story.

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USAF Pilot Training in Lubbock Texas. We had a blast–the stories are in the book–and here are the real-life people from the story: me on the left, The Coke standing next to me, and Animal Hauser above us both.

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The Wolfpack, above. That’s me with my flight suit unzipped, Chip leaning on my shoulder, and Animal Hauser leaning in front of me. Lot’s of adventures with this bunch, and the book puts you in the cockpit with us.

Then, I shipped off to Kadena Air Base on the Island of Okinawa as a tanker copilot for two years of flying all over the Pacific, Asia and the Indian Ocean. Below, that’s me and Widetrack, a guy I flew with and shared some pretty wild times–which are also in the book.

Me and Widetrack, waiting on the wing of our jet.

Me and Widetrack, waiting on the wing of our jet.

Those were the early years, my Air Force experience which led me to a career as an airline pilot, which is also covered, putting you in the cockpit of the world’s largest airline. Here’s a sneak peek:

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Animal, Chip, me, and The Coke. The story of our journey from USAF pilot training to captain’s stripes is epic, and the details are what comprises Amazon’s #1 New Release in Commercial Aviation.:

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Kindle ($5.19) or Paperback ($17.99) Just CLICK HERE.

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“Mamas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow up to Be Pilots.”

Posted in air travel, airline, airline cartoon, airline pilot blog, airport, aviation, crewlife, pilot with tags , , , , , on June 18, 2020 by Chris Manno

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I doubt Willie and Waylon couldn’t pass an FAA administered flight crew drug test, and their “mamas” knew that, the song notwithstanding. But what about the rest of us?

Sure, airline pilots realize the challenges and constraints put on them by the profession, including constant flight evaluations, performance monitoring (any other profession data-stream and archive performance for analysis and critique?), invasion of privacy (any other professions require annual disclosure of  physicals, mental health, arrests and convictions?) and recurring random drug and alcohol testing.

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Enter Covid-19. which dwarfs the above career threats we’ve all accepted, endured and tolerated up until now.

Rewind just six months in the U.S airline industry and the picture was much different: the mid-1980s hires, pilots who are now nearing mandatory retirement (another unique airline pilot reality) which would create a massive pilot shortage across the airline industry. “If you get hired today,” the siren song went, “You’ll be a captain in five years.” Massive seniority catapult, the retirements were supposed to be.

Pilots at regionals felt they could be picky about which major airline they hire on with: I have a friend who flew for Comair for over ten years, waiting and adamant about only working for Delta Airlines eventually. After three years at Delta–when he could have gone to several other carriers years earlier–he’s now on the street for at least three years.

Another friend at Emirates reports their pandemic-mandated pilot cuts weren’t done strictly by seniority–rather, management took the opportunity to boot dozens of pilots with attendance records and other personnel issues the airline didn’t want to deal with ever again. Not furloughed–terminated.

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And many snooty pilots shunned the quiet financial dynamos like Spirit, Frontier and JetBlue, holding out for a marquee carrier like United, Delta and American, only to witness their peers who DID hire on with these powerful Low Cost Carriers upgrade to captain and enjoy a job security despite the pilot cuts (some are still hiring pilots) even as the “snooty pilots” are furloughed by their own carriers, with recall nowhere in sight.

No matter who they are or where they came from–the military, regionals, corporate, cargo or general aviation–all airline pilots have taken a beating, weathered harsh early flying jobs, invested unimaginable sweat equity, personal sacrifice, and expense, just to call an airline cockpit home. Now this.

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Me and my USAF pilot buds.

Ex-military pilots who maintained an ANG or AFRES connection may be able to get back onto active military service once again, but even that’s with drastically reduced pay and much more demanding flying in terms of time away from home and family, much less the risk involved in military versus civilian flying. Other may be able to make their “side hustle”–if they have one, into a financial lifeboat for the near term.

Yes, pilots laughed at me when I fought my way through 65 on-campus graduate hours to earn a PhD as they enjoyed their boat/motorcycle/airplane/toys, but I’ve been teaching at a university for the past 17 years and just upped my class schedule, mostly for the additional income.

I know several pilots who struggled through law school while flying fulltime and at least now have gainful employment despite the dried-up aviation opportunities. Others have real estate licenses, teaching credentials and I even know one first officer who’s on track with a management training program at a major box store chain. Not what we expected, but smart because it pays the bills.

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But it all comes down to this: if you want to be an airline pilot, beyond the many unreasonable demands of the industry and the government agencies that oversee the licenses required to hold the flight privileges, the fundamentals of personal and financial disaster lurk just below the thin veneer of airline pilot reality: flying is a great career–until the career vanishes.

I’m rooting for the pilots still clinging to their seniority lists despite reduced flight hours and the defacto pay cut that produces. I’m hopeful for the smart pilots who had the foresight to hire on with the Low Cost Carriers who are poised to dominate the airline biz in the post-pandemic years ahead. And I’m empathetic to those pilots who were simply victims of a very capricious airline industry, despite the rosy predictions of only a few months ago.

For everyone else: “Mamas, don’t let your babies grow up to be pilots.”

Get the full, insider airline pilot story:

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Amazon’s #1 New Release in Commercial Aviation! All the insider, in-cockpit drama of a major airline flying life.

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Airline Crew Confidential: The Underground Cartoon Book

Posted in air travel humor, air traveler, airline, airline cartoon, airline cartoon book, airline pilot, airline pilot blog, airport, cartoon, crewlife, flight attendant, flight crew, pilot, travel with tags , , , , , on March 22, 2019 by Chris Manno

There’s an underground cartoon book quietly making the rounds of the airline crew world. Most of what crews see daily appears in this collection which has become sort of a therapy outlet for flight attendants and pilots–which may be why the book registers so well with insiders in the airline crew world.

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If you’re an airline passenger, you probably won’t see the collection, because it sells under the radar at Amazon Books: the title is designed to sidestep non-crewmembers, while airline pilots and flight attendants seem to find the collection a readily-available, quick escape from crewlife reality through a good laugh.

The pilot who drew all the cartoons and produced the underground collection purposely priced it below the cost of a basic Starbucks coffee ($3.99) on Kindle so that his fellow crewmembers could enjoy the cartoons instantly at the lowest price Amazon allows for the Kindle version. The paperback strains to stay under $10 (but it still does!) for over 150 pages of iconoclastic insider humor.

Cartoons are one way airline crews enjoy a little private de-stressing over the typical pressures of crew life outsiders just wouldn’t understand.

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Often, the joke’s on crews themselves in the subtle satire of typical flight crew situations those in the know will understand only too well:

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Often, crew life challenges extend from the air to the ground in ways only a flight attendant could make sense of–but they sure do:

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In the most demanding aspects of crew life, there’s little slack: hours are long, rest scarce, delays and reassignments the rule rather than the exception. Crews handle all that, never letting passengers know of either the stresses they experience, nor the sardonic view of airline life that at least takes a little of the edge off of the relentless demands:

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Since the collection was created and is drawn by an airline pilot who flies at least 90 hours a month, additional cartoons get added regularly as new situations play out from the airline crew perspective:

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So, if you are a crewmember, you know where to find this little underground crewlife collection. It’s drawn by an airline crewmember for airline crewmembers and every newhire flight attendant who flies on my crew gets a copy gratis as a welcome to the crewlife world. If you’re considering crewlife as either an airline pilot or flight attendant, maybe you want to check this out for the insider view BEFORE you commit yourself to life as flight crew.

And if you’re the average airline passenger, maybe you want to see what your crew seems to be laughing about among themselves.  Meanwhile, this little underground crewlife chronicle quietly finds its way into the right hands on flight decks and airline galleys worldwide.

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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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Want to impress your flight crew?

Show them your signed copy–

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New edition–over 100 pages of no-holds-barred insider flight crew and air travel cartoons.

Get your own signed copy: $7.99 + $1 S&H (US only) PayPal or All Credit Cards

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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.

My workspace.

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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Get the insider flight crew view:

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Over a hundred pages of original, wicked, unapologetic air travel cartoons.

Be an airline insider. Get yours from Amazon Books for $7.99.

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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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