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Location: Massachusetts, United States

Thursday, January 03, 2008

New Year's Eve...

The plan sounded perfect.
My captain and I would join another captain with whom I'd flown before, take a cab into D.C. early in the afternoon and pub crawl. We'd visit all my old hangouts from when I had a real job there and get some real food for once. I was very excited about the early finish and the prospect for moderate celebrating. Being out on New Year's Eve would make me feel like I was part of the normal population for a few hours.
I fly weekends and holidays, whether it's the crack of dawn or the dead of night.
Our celebration would happen a few hours ahead of most people here, but it had to be midnight somewhere on the planet when we would raise our glasses to ring in the new year. Moscow maybe?
Airline Life Rule of Thumb Number 1: Never make a plan...
New Year's Eve.
The wake-up call cuts through the soothing silence right on time: 4:45 a.m. I'm tired and have no desire to get up, consider snoozing but know it'll be worse in a few minutes. So I get up. Groggy. I'd give anything for another hour of sleep.
Half an hour later, I'm in my uniform, getting ready to catch the van to the airport. The red light on my cell phone is blinking. Voicemail. It's crew scheduling advising me that our flight to LaGuardia has been canceled. Sweet! Maybe I'll score a few more hours of sleep.
I meet the captain in the hallway. He's received a call from scheduling too. They want us to call them back in a couple of hours to check on the status of our airplane, which is expecting a visit from maintenance.
I crawl back into bed, but can't seem to get back to sleep. An hour later, as I'm finally sinking into a warm and comfortable snooze, my phone rings.
"Could you fly a Nashville turn?"
Ugh.
If I don't, I'm told, another FO on ready reserve in Boston will have to and they might not be able to get him home tonight. It just so happens I know the guy and he's a friend of mine. The scheduler is also one of the nice ones and I feel compelled to help her out. She sounds frazzled and behind her I can hear commotion. The panic of schedulers with more flights than crews.
"Ok. Who's the captain?"
Ugh. Bad news. The one guy I never enjoyed flying with. The one who has a reputation.
"Fine. I'll do it."
I have another hour before my sign-in time but I decide to set off in search of coffee. When I return to my room, for the second time today, I slip into my uniform and prepare to head out to the airport.
Phone rings again.
"Your Nashville turn has been canceled. Do you want to do your original LaGuardia flight?"
I'm baffled. Why are they asking me? What choice do I really have?
"Sure."
I call my captain and he informs me that our update time from maintenance has been pushed back. It appears the mechanics are on their way from one of our hubs. It's now mid-morning and we're hungry, so we meet for a quick breakfast.
During the meal, we speculate on our fate.
We could still be canceled for the day and begin our celebrations early, I propose, enthusiastically. My innocence is only met with a frown from my captain, who has been doing this long enough to know that what suits us will likely be the last thing to happen.
We return to our rooms and I catch up with revisions and force myself to study for my upcoming checkride.
The room phone startles me.
"We should head to the airport."
It's my captain and he sounds impatient and frustrated.
"Scheduling has no idea what's going to happen and neither does dispatch. The tentative departure time is approaching so we should be at the airport."
Of course, nobody even knows whether maintenance has been aboard our broken plane at this point. The departure time is really a "decision time," but as my captain points out, the decision to go could be made precisely at that moment, especially if we're at the hotel. Sod's Law.
For the third time, I throw my uniform on, give the room a final glance to make sure I've left nothing behind and head down the by-now all-too familiar hallway to the elevator.
The doors slide open up to the lobby. My captain is on his cellphone. His face is red with anger.
"One hand isn't talking to the other," he quips.
A cascade of expletives follows.
I understand his frustration. We've now been up for 11 hours and know nothing more than we did when it was still dark outside. We're tired from the previous two days of the trip and this long, agonizing wait. It's impossible to rest when an update is expected at any minute.
A little after 3:30 p.m., the van pulls out of the driveway and we are on our way to the airport, still ignorant to as to what will happen. But I'm still hopeful. Foolish optimist.
Minutes later, we arrive at the gate. The agent is as baffled as we are. But yet another phone call clears some of the uncertainty: we're getting another airplane. Catch is, we have not one single passenger. The JFK flight, however, has no airplane and is in serious danger of departing late with a number of international connections.
"Give them our airplane," we argue, partially out of concern for those passengers, but also in hopes that our day will end right here right now and that we might salvage some of it to celebrate the new year.
No such luck.
At 5:15 p.m., exhausted and frustrated, we pull onto runway 19. We're completely empty and the aircraft lifts off easily as we fly south, then turn left to the northeast toward LaGuardia.
It's a short flight to New York. Upon arriving, we make our way to a hangar, as instructed. The bus picks us up shortly after 6:30 to drive us to the terminal. We're really tired now. It's been 14 hours since we've awoken, but to crew scheduling our duty day began only a few hours ago, making us perfectly legal for the flight back to D.C. and the very short overnight that will ensue.
We pile out of the airplane around 9 p.m., a little over 16 hours after getting up. I'm wiped out. Dispirited with the company's decisions and saddened by the fact that the rest of my New Year's Eve will consist of heading up to the hotel room, my stomach utterly empty, and getting into bed to try and recuperate before tomorrow's early start.
Midnight.
I'm still awake. Outside, fireworks are going off. People are cheering and screaming in the streets. It's a nice night in Washington. The weather is mild. My cellphone chimes. Text messages from friends across the country. All of them probably drunk off their asses. I think of my wife. She's at home. I can't hug her and wish her a happy new year.
I roll over. Hungry. Sad. Exhausted.
Four hours later, the wake-up call tears me from my slumber.
For some it's a new year. For us just another day of this infernal trip.
Happy New Year...

4 Comments:

Blogger Sastre Air said...

Another great post! I wanted to talk with you about AE (email jtsastre@gmail.com). I just applied to them but wasn't sure what they're looking for (hours, etc.). Since graduating from ATP I've been instructing for a local FBO where I live. Thanks again.

Jeremy

4:36 PM  
Anonymous Lisa said...

I'm a new hire at Eagle and just found your stuff :) It is great fun to read about what my life is about to become, well.. besides the reality part. I'll keep pretending it's all flying and fun for now, like we all do. Reality can sink in later. Is 2 weeks really enough time to get to know the jet enough to fly it? It seems so short!

Sastre air - the minimums from those in my interview are pretty much breathing. 450 and 75 was the lowest of those that got a conditional offer. If you are real low time but they like you they may send you to some further training. Read the gouges and you'll be fine.

1:49 PM  
Blogger Sastre Air said...

Thanks Lisa, I appreciate the insight. My time is pretty low right now, and with the weather as bad as it has been here on the west coast, I haven't flown for over a week. But I'll keep AE on the horizon as a possible career and keep building the hours.

4:34 PM  
Blogger Capt. Wilko said...

IOE does go by pretty fast but you'll know the airplane quite well before you even set foot in it. By the end of IOE you'll be comfortable enough. Not to worry.

5:32 PM  

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