Sunday, December 30, 2007

I Need a Vacation

My alarm went off at 4 AM. For a few brief moments I had no idea where I was or what city I was in. I hate that feeling but it's pretty common among my airline pilot colleagues. It's especially bad when you have that same feeling after being awake for several hours.....I haven't quite reached that stage in my life yet!!

My FO and I met up in the lobby and we loaded up with two other full crews into a crew shuttle van. As is often the case, one of the flight attendants was late for pick up. We all waited for about five minutes and just as I was about to get out of the van and go call the flight attendant's room, he showed up. He acted as if nothing was wrong and just climbed in the van and took a seat without a word. It was inconsiderate of him but surprisingly it happens with flight attendants almost every trip. Why can't they be on time?? Who knows.

So I have learned to put my frustrations aside and just accept these things. There's nothing gained in getting upset about it. Turns out that he was our number one FA for our first leg from Nashville to DFW. He never even introduced himself to us. I hope that the first class passengers were treated a little better than we were.

Anyhow, today was scheduled for three legs. Nashville to DFW, then up to Dayton, Ohio and back to DFW. We'd be done by 2:30 PM.

All three went smoothly including another ILS approach downs to minimums at Dayton. It's that time of year when we get to hone our instrument flying skills. One last leg to DFW and a good look at the airport from the downwind leg at 11,000 ft.

That is one huge airport!....We taxied in among a bunch of other MD-80's, parked the brakes, ran the checklists, said goodbye and headed home.

Not long after getting home I got a call from crew scheduling advising me that I had been removed from my next trip (without pay) due to my being projected to have over 100 flying hours this month. She also said that I am getting close to having 1000 hours of flying for the year....another FAA maximum that cannot be exceeded.

I've been working way too much. I definitely need a vacation!

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Friday, December 28, 2007

Pour Me a Budweiser

It was day two of this three day trip. I was up early and went outside to catch the "Newark Airport Hotel" shuttle. As soon as I stepped outside I could smell the familiar aroma of hops and barley coming from the Anheuser Busch brewery right across the freeway from the airport. I once flew for this company before hiring on with this airline.....they brew some very tasty beer.

I can remember one time when the company was looking to purchase a new airplane....we all went to test fly it. It was a Mitsubishi Diamond Jet which later became a BeechJet. Anyhow, the sellers inadvertently catered the jet with Miller Beer. Big mistake!! They lost the sale before we even flew it. But I did enjoy the test was a nice jet.

Today was only two legs. Newark to DFW and then on to Nashville, Tennessee. Newark is notorious for ground delays and today was no exception. It is a major hub for Continental Airlines. We pushed back on time and taxied out only to have to get in a huge line for takeoff. It was mostly Continental jets. We were number 20 or so. 45 minutes after pushback, we were finally airborne and climbing up to flight level 320. Smooth skies and in 3.5 hours we were flying an ILS (instrument landing system) approach to runway 35L at DFW with a 300 ft ceiling and gusty northwesterly winds. I managed an acceptable landing...we then taxied a few miles to the west side over to terminal D, packed up our gear and then walked over to terminal A where our next jet awaited.

A full flight over to Nashville then a drive to downtown where our layover hotel is located. The hotel is right next to the old Ryman Auditorium, former home of the Grand Ole Opry. The streets downtown were very busy....the Nashville Predators hockey team was playing at the Gaylord Entertainment Center which is also near our hotel and the scalpers were out in droves. I grabbed a sandwich and called it a day. Tomorrow would be an extra early sign-in again.

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Thursday, December 27, 2007

No Cookies Tonight

So back to work after a short three day break. This trip was to be a relatively easy three day trip. Day one was only one leg from DFW to Newark, New Jersey.

It was Christmas night so you'd think the loads would be light, but the flight was completely full. I was teamed up with one of our female type First Officers. There are well over 400 female pilots at our airline. She is married to a Southwest Airlines pilot. You might think that they'd have plenty of airline business to talk about at home but she said that they rarely discuss airline pilot stuff at home. They must get enough of that at work.

I offered her the first leg and she gladly accepted. We launched right at sunset, climbed straight up to 33,000 ft, three hours in cruise passing over the cities of Little Rock, Indianapolis, Cleveland and then the descent into a clear Newark. The approach took us up to the north over Teterboro and then a turn to the south for a landing on runway 22L. On final approach I had a nice look at the Empire State Building in Manhattan. The top was lit up in Christmas colors of red & green.

She made a nice landing and we pulled in to the gate for an on time arrival....a rarity for any flight arriving at Newark.

For years our short layover hotel in Newark has been the Doubletree right near the airport. I was looking forward to it since they always give each guest a huge chocolate chip cookie when you check in. They are REALLY good. I was disappointed to find out that we had recently changed hotels and would be at a different one tonight.

I asked one of our flight attendants where we were staying and she just said "at the airport hotel".
I said "I know that but what's it called?".
"Airport hotel", she said again.
Sensing her irritation I said "Okay" and shut up. I'd find out soon enough what it was called.....

Turns out she was right! We were now staying at the Newark Airport Hotel....I guess they couldn't come up with a more original name! In reality, it was the old Doubletree with a new name. No cookies either.

Oh well, at least it was an easy day.

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Monday, December 24, 2007

Tail Me The Answer

Well, we didn't get to see much of Louisville. It was dark when we landed and still dark when we headed outside to catch the crew van back to the airport in the morning. Pick-up time was at 5:45 AM Eastern time....That was 4:45 for our crew that was all Dallas based and operating our bodies on Central time. I didn't get a good nights sleep either....seems that our hotel is situated right underneath final approach to one of the main runways at Louisville. All night long I could hear the UPS freighters arriving. Such is the life of an airline pilot....I would be glad when the day was over.

It was still raining when we taxied out to runway 17R. Our first takeoff attempt took us about 200 ft before I aborted. One of our EPR (engine pressure ratio) gauges was acting up. It's one of the main gauges in determining how much power an engine is developing. We pulled off the runway and ran up the engine a few times and soon the gauge was working fine. So we gave it another try and it worked...we made a successful takeoff bound for DFW.

After landing at DFW we taxied by an American Trans Air Lockheed-1011 TriStar. They were preparing to board a bunch of soldiers and take them to the Middle East. DFW is a big boarding point for military missions like this.

Then it was on down to McAllen, Tx and back to DFW. Full each way. While waiting for our takeoff from McAllen, there was a Navy T-45 Goshawk doing touch and go's. It had flown down from Corpus Christi Naval Air Station. They looked more like carrier landings but maybe that's what the Navy trains for!

So what about the Northwest tails? Look at the photos again....(the white spots are just raindrops caught in the camera flash)

The small triangle is supposed to be a compass pointer. It's supposed to be pointing to the northwest as in "Northwest Airlines". The left photo has the pointer pointing to the northeast. The right one is correct and points to the northwest.

So depending on which side of the plane you are looking at, you will see the compass pointer either pointing northeast or northwest. Maybe they didn't realize the goof up before they painted the entire fleet.

Enjoy the holiday....I'll back back after Christmas.

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Sunday, December 23, 2007

A Tale Of Two Tails

Back at it again today for another two day trip. This time I would be northbound to start off.

DFW to Minneapolis, back to DFW and then on to Louisville, Kentucky for the night.

Christmas is approaching quickly and the planes are all full these days. Today we had a jumpseater in the cockpit with us. He is a pilot with us but currently on military leave and was traveling with his family of four trying to reach Minot, North Dakota. They had started last night in Birmingham, Alabama and had to spend the night at DFW. They were lucky enough to get on the flight to MSP with us but their next hurdle was to try to standby on a Northwest Airlines flight over to Minot. I don't know if they made it or not. He told us that the odds of getting four seats weren't too good and that they might end up driving eight hours to get there from MSP.

Speaking of Northwest Airlines, their most recent paint scheme on their airplanes has a flaw. Look at the photos of these tails and see if you can find it. The answer will be revealed in my next post.

Hmmm, What could it be?

The flight up to MSP was fine and the airport was in good shape despite a recent large snowfall. It was 20 degrees outside. The snowbanks along the runways and taxiways were pretty high. A quick servicing of the plane and we were southbound again for a warmer DFW that was reporting 70 degree temps.

A change of planes, change of terminals, and off to Louisville with another full flight. Takeoff was on runway 35L at DFW behind this American Airlines MD-80.

Louisville is the home of United Parcel Service (UPS). They have an enormous operation at the airport there. But it only gets busy in the middle of the night when all the planes come in, unload, sort packages, load up again, and then take off for points worldwide. Federal Express has the same thing going on but they're located in Memphis.

We landed in a light rain, taxied to the gate, found the crew van, and headed for the hotel. Our hotel was built in 1923 and is located downtown. A beautiful place...the reception area looked like an old bank lobby. That's Eric the FO checking us in.

Dinner with Eric at a small brew pub across the street. He had pizza....buffalo chicken for me. Then back to the hotel for a snooze.

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Friday, December 21, 2007

Adios Mexico

Today would be day two of a two day trip. It's always a good thing to know that you'll end up the day at home instead of at another hotel. The hotel in Mexico City has a rather ominous warning right outside the elevator doors. Better hope there's no earthquakes!!

The smog was extra heavy in Mexico City. You could hardly see the end of the runway. There was also a distinct aroma in the air around the airport. Kind of like a backed up sewer.....Yuk. A full flight once again. We were carrying a bunch of kids today also. Must have been at least 30. Several of them poked their heads in the cockpit for a look at all the lights and stuff. Most kids enjoy coming in but occasionally a kid will get scared and run right out.

Taxi out was behind a Click Airlines Fokker 100. Click is a Mexican discount air carrier. Takeoff was on runway 5R again and about 20 minutes later we were cruising at 33,000 ft heading toward Tampico and then northbound up the coast to Texas.

Before long we were back in US airspace and getting ready for the descent. The arrival today was from the southwest and we got a good look at downtown Ft Worth from 11,000 ft.

DFW was reporting a perfect day...clear and 70 degrees with no wind. We landed on runway 36L, taxied on in, cleared customs, rode the train over to terminal C and set up for a leg over to Memphis and back.

Memphis air traffic was a little busy due to semi-low ceilings. We had to fly an instrument approach down to an 800 ft ceiling. Not a big deal though. One hour and a half later found us westbound again and looking at the Dallas/Ft Worth metroplex at night from 100 miles out. A smooth landing by the FO and the trip was over.

Only one day off now before the next one.

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Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Too Many Cats!!

Back today for a two day trip. Day one was scheduled for three legs....DFW to El Paso, back to DFW and then once again to Mexico City.

I signed in with a few minutes to spare, checked the weather, looked over the maintenance history of our plane, printed out our flight plan and then rode the DFW train over to terminal C where our plane was arriving from Denver.

When I checked in with our gate agent she advised me that we would have five passengers traveling with cats in the cabin. This was going to be interesting! We generally carry larger animals such as medium to large dogs in the forward cargo compartment. It is pressurized and heated so the animals are comfortable. If the animal is small enough, it is allowed to be carried in the cabin in a pet carrier so long as it can fit under the seat.

Every once in a while, I'll see someone carrying a cat on board with them but it's not a common occurrence. And when they do come along, they (the cats) usually get pretty noisy. Sometimes worse than crying babies! Today would be no exception....So when I was told that we'd have five cats today I was pretty surprised. We had a full flight and even as the passengers were boarding I could hear a couple of unhappy cats complaining. We taxied over to the west side and launched for ELP under a beautiful sky. Even with all the noise in the cockpit, I could still hear a cat in the cabin...I think it was in the first class cabin since it was pretty loud. It must have been a miserable flight for the passengers...probably for the cats too!

The rest of the day went smoothly. El Paso was having a nice day and the hills east of the airport were just starting to show some shadows from the upcoming sunset. I made the landing on runway 22 and we had a short wait to cross another runway while a Southwest Boeing 737 took off. Made it to the gate on time and before long we were taxiing back out for takeoff.

Back to DFW with no cats this time, then a night flight to Mexico City and once again we walked over to our hotel. One of the receptionists even recognized me this time.... I guess I'm becoming a regular visitor.

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Saturday, December 15, 2007

Texas Hold 'Em

Back over to the airport again this morning by myself. Our plane was to be the same one we had brought in the night before but it was not yet pulled up to a gate so I had time to stop at the duty free shop for a bottle of tequila. The varieties of tequila at the duty free stores are endless. The tequila industry must be doing quite well in Mexico.

When I arrived to the airplane one of our mechanics advised me that there was an avionics problem. The GPWS (Ground Proximity Warning System) had failed. This system alerts the pilots whenever they get too close to mountains or obstacles as well as alerting them whenever they get too close to the ground and the airplane isn't configured for landing.

Off we went back to DFW. Everything was fine until we reached San Antonio. Then ATC advised us that DFW was not accepting arrivals due to thunderstorms in the vicinity. We knew that there might be weather issues today and extra fuel was on board just in case. So into a holding pattern we went. The photo shows a depiction of our pattern while we were in it.

After nearly an hour of this, we were close to having to divert to San Antonio. But then DFW opened up for business again and it was time to plan for the arrival. The thunderstorms were still in the area and we could see on the radar that they might be a problem. The descent into the DFW area was pretty bumpy and the flight attendants had to be seated earlier than usual. Final approach took us right through a band of heavy showers but the airport itself was doing OK. The photo shows the radar picture along with our approach path.

We made it in OK but had to wait 30 minutes for our gate to open up. The ramp area had been closed earlier due to lightning and all the subsequent flights were being delayed. Soon we were clearing Customs and walking back to the plane for the next two legs. DFW to Salt Lake City and back to DFW.

Takeoff was behind this Korean Airlines Boeing 747 freighter bound for Seoul. Two minutes after takeoff we were in the clear and sunny skies prevailed all the way to Salt Lake City. The arrival into SLC took us over Grand Junction, Provo, and then north up the valley. There had been a recent huge snowfall. Pretty scenic.

The leg back to DFW was smooth. No adverse weather remained in the area so a quick approach and landing, employee bus to the parking lot, 45 minute drive home, and now four days off await.

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Friday, December 14, 2007

Snakes On a Plane? No...Just Bees

Today's flying would be just two legs. Mexico City to DFW and back to MEX. I walked over to the airport alone this time and met up with my FO at the airplane.

We were parked next to a Mexicana Airlines Airbus that was being serviced. As we were running one of our checklists my FO noticed something funny about their wingtip and said "hey look at that!" It was a swarm of bees on the wingtip of the Airbus!!

It was quite a sight....especially on an airport ramp! I didn't know if they were killer bees or not but who cared!
A tanker truck had pulled up and two guys were getting suited up in chemical suits. We thought they were going to spray fuel or something on the swarm but instead they filled a couple of buckets with some kind of fluid and prepared to douse the wingtip.

The two guys discussed the situation for several minutes...we joked that possibly they were deciding who would have to do the job.....maybe they were drawing straws.

Finally the loser climbed on top of the truck and dumped one bucketful on the wingtip. But that didn't get the job done.....the bees just got mad and swarmed furiously....he had to do it a second time!

That seemed to do the trick. I don't know what was in the bucket but I did see several thousand dead bees on the ramp after that. All this time I had my cockpit window open so I could get photos. I hoped that no bees had gotten in and shortly after the show was over I closed it up and soon we were on our way to the runway.

Not too long after reaching cruising altitude I spotted a stowaway in the cockpit! He was a little bit groggy.....maybe it was the new surroundings or just the cabin altitude that had him moving slowly. It didn't matter to us......soon after posing for this photo, he was quietly eliminated. No free ride to the States today!

On a side note....When I first was a flight engineer in my early days here, whenever we would land in Mexico the authorities would come on board and disperse bug spray throughout the entire airplane before anyone could get off!! Everyone hated it....I remember that we would always keep the cockpit door closed and locked and windows open until they were all done. We would always tell them that it was company procedure to not open the door until all our checklists were done even though we had already finished. They finally quit that process sometime in the late 80's.

Anyhow, after all the excitement, the rest of the day was uneventful. One leg up to DFW, then the return back to MEX and over to the airport hotel again by 10 PM.

Nobody got stung.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Bird Brains...I Think We Hit Something!

My suitcase was packed again...this time for a three day trip. It was similar to a Mexico trip from last month. It started off with a departure delay from DFW due to fog in the Dallas area. Our plane was late in arriving from Chicago but we finally got airborne about an hour and a half late with a full load headed for New Orleans.

Shortly after reaching our cruising altitude over Shreveport, a warning light came on. "Forward Cargo Door Open" Inflight, a door light like this is almost always a problem with a switch. The cargo compartment is a pressurized area and if the door had really been open, we would have been losing cabin pressure as well as suitcases and various other things like mail, cargo, pets, etc. That wasn't the case so we pressed on to New Orleans.

On very short final to runway 10 I heard and felt a large thwack on the corner of my windshield. Accompanied by that was a big splotch of blood and guts streaming over my windshield. Seems that we had hit a bird or a giant bug. Luckily the FO was flying and he made the landing. Had it been my leg, I would have had to quickly turn it over to him since I couldn't see enough to make the landing. After parking, the ground crew cleaned up the mess, maintenance checked out the cargo door switch and soon we were headed back to DFW.

The fog at DFW was getting worse so we had to set up for a full instrument approach. Visibility was being reported at 1/4 mile and the ceiling was at 100 ft. The MD-80 has auto-land capability but we only use that when the visibility is extra low. This would be my landing. The captain is required to make the landing any time the visibility is below 3/4 of a mile. The autopilot would be used until I could see the runway and then I would take over and land. As expected, the fog was still hanging around and I didn't even see the runway until we were almost over it. Autopilot off and I made the landing. A slow taxi to the gate, change of planes and then off to Mexico City again.

We were running almost two hours late by now but fortunately Mexico City was reporting good weather and no volcano action. The approach and landing were smooth and luckily we had a gate this time. The terminal was deserted when we arrived but Customs was a little slow. We had to wait for an Air France wide-body crew to clear before us and they were having some issues with their passports. 30 minutes later we cleared and we all walked over to our hotel again just like last time.

Once again, in bed by 2:00 AM

Monday, December 10, 2007

Philadelphia Flyer

Today's mission was another turnaround. This time DFW to Philadelphia and back to DFW.
Once again the east coast was getting their share of lousy weather with low ceilings, rain, snow, and some fog. So extra fuel was in order for the eastbound leg.

The photo shows our plane being fueled. At DFW there are underground fuel tanks. The way big jets are fueled is called "single point refueling". A hose is connected from the fuel tank in the ground to a pumping truck and then from the truck another hose is secured to the bottom of the wing. On the bottom of the wing there is a fueling panel with a large fitting for the hose. The fuel is then pumped in to the airplane's fuel tanks this way. In lieu of underground fuel tanks, a fuel truck is used and the fuel is pumped into the airplane directly from the truck via the same fueling panel. The fueler controls how much fuel is delivered to the plane from the fueling controls on the truck. The photo below is a 757 being fueled at the gate next to ours.

We climbed right on up to 33,000 ft and enjoyed a smooth ride almost the entire leg. Air Traffic Control started us down about 150 miles out of PHL. We were told to expect holding due to high volume at PHL and low ceilings. So we slowed down and prepared for holding. Then came a frequency change and the next controller asked why we were going so slow! So we sped up for him back to normal speed. Then another frequency change and guess what? "Holding instructions.....advise when ready to copy." Okay, back to holding speed and we held for about 10 minutes and then came our clearance to proceed direct to PHL. A good landing, a short taxi but another 10 minute hold for outbound traffic awaited before we could get to our gate. That's pretty much standard procedure at Philadelphia. It's a busy place.

So a quick servicing of the plane and a respectable load of passengers and off to Texas we went. Smooth skies at 34,000 ft. Pasta for dinner this time. Our #1 flight attendant was extra nice this day and she offered us ice cream sundaes! We both gladly accepted.

Not a bad trip today.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Boston Again

Another turnaround was in store for today. DFW to Boston and back. All morning I was wondering if my flight would be canceled due to the weather in Boston. It had been snowing all night and the wind was pretty strong. But no phone call came so I headed for the airport.

Today we were flying one of TWA's former airplanes. It was a later model MD-83. The MD-83 is an MD-80 that has extra fuel capacity. Some of the TWA planes have different avionics packages such as FMS (Flight Management Systems). Most of the MD-80s we fly have GPS (Global Positioning Systems). GPS navigation is extremely accurate. We hardly ever get lost any more! Today we had dual FMS and loads of fuel.

We were planned to fly at very low altitudes today because of forecast turbulence over most of the eastern half of the country. I ran into a fellow pilot friend of mine in operations and he verified that the rides were pretty bad. He had just arrived from Richmond and said that the entire flight back to DFW was choppy.

The loads domestically have fallen off lately right after Thanksgiving but will soon pick up again with Christmas approaching. But our flight to BOS was pretty full. We took off right after an American Airlines Boeing 737 on runway 17R. Initial cruising altitude was only 27,000 ft due to chop above. It was not too bad until passing Little Rock and then we had to descend to 25,000 to get a better ride. The fuel flows were pretty high down at that altitude. Jet engines are much more efficient at higher altitudes. But we were carrying plenty of fuel....enough to reach Boston, divert to Pittsburgh and then divert to Washington if necessary.

Passing Indianapolis, Air Traffic Control advised that the higher altitudes were now fairly smooth so up we went to 33,000 ft. And yes, the ride was good as we pressed on over Cleveland, Jamestown, Albany and Springfield. The descent was through some lower cloud decks that contained some ice so we had to turn on all the anti-icing systems for the approach and landing. One of the wing systems was acting up and giving us some warning lights. The system works by circulating hot air through the leading edges of the wings. The hot air keeps the ice from forming. It was warning us that there was an imbalance in the wing air pressure. One wing sensor was detecting more air pressure than the other. We passed quickly through the icing conditions and turned off the system and set up for the landing. The snow had stopped falling but the winds were gusting over 30 but I managed a pretty good night crosswind landing on the very short runway 27. Several passengers had nice comments about my landing.

My FO tried to persuade me to do the walk around inspection by using the excuse that he had forgotten his jacket. It was well below freezing out and very windy but I wouldn't bite, however I did let him borrow mine. I told him "nice try!"

I had to write up the malfunctioning anti-icing system and the Boston maintenance crew advised us that they couldn't get it repaired any time soon. Fortunately there was another MD-80 available that we could take back to DFW. Departure for DFW was delayed by one hour because of the aircraft switch. But we were only carrying 29 passengers so there weren't that many unhappy people. Four hours enroute to DFW and then I was headed back to the parking lot on the employee bus.

Home by 2 AM.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Don't Go Near The Volcano!

When I got up I looked out my window and could see the sun rising behind the mountains and sure enough, there was Mt Popocatepetl with a small ash cloud rising out of it. The plume was drifting away from the airport and appeared that it would not be a problem. I shot a photo of it through my window.

So I met up again with my FO and like the day before, we walked over to our operations office to get our flight plan, check on the weather, and get the latest reports on the volcano. Our plane had arrived the night before and was all set to go. Flight plan reviewed, crew documents in order, customs forms in hand and off through security we went. We both set off the metal detectors but the inspectors just waved us both through without a second glance. I just hoped that they were a little more thorough with passengers.

I made a quick trip through one of the many duty free shops to buy a small bottle of vanilla. A pint sized bottle only cost $4 No liquor this time. The cabinet is pretty full at home!

We taxied out again to runway 5R with a full load of passengers. 145 including the crew. In addition to the passengers, we were carrying about 1500 pounds of limes and lemons from Mexico to the US.... Muchas margaritas!

Passing 10,000 ft in the climb we broke through the smog and were in the clear. Off to the northeast the volcano was in view. The plume was small by now but still visible. My FO was flying this leg but he had the good view so I took the controls for a minute while he had camera duty. The smog is also clearly visible in the photo.

Two hours later we were back at DFW and clearing Customs again. Then off to Charlotte, North Carolina and back to DFW. While at DFW, it was nice out so I offered to do the preflight walk-around inspection. Normally the co-pilot does this but occasionally you will see a captain doing it. It is just a visual inspection of the aircraft that the pilot makes before taking a plane for a flight. The pilot is checking for anything that is visually wrong with the plane such as missing panels, dents, flat tires, oil leaks, gas leaks, etc.

Off to Charlotte and back and another crew meal. Chicken and pasta again. The menus only get changed about once a month. Same goes for the first class passengers. Many of the frequent fliers get tired of the same meals and end up bringing their own food sometimes. The pilots do the same.

Back from Charlotte by 10:00 PM and back home for one day off.

Be back soon.