Thursday, March 27, 2008

A Bad Week For MD-80 Drivers

At AA, we pilots spend the entire month trying to keep our trips intact as much as possible and to end up the month with as many hours flown as possible. That's because we only get paid for the hours we fly. We have no trip guarantee like most other airlines. The general public often seems to be under the impression that airline pilots only work about 40 hours a month! Not so. At AA we work about 80 hours a month. But those are hours actually spent at the controls. So when you see an AA pilot walking through the terminal, at the gate, checking weather online, or even in the bathroom, he or she is not getting paid. We only get paid when the airplane is moving. There is no pay for any of our time spent before a trip, during a layover, or after a trip is over. There is no pay for time spent at hotels, riding airport shuttles, clearing customs and immigrations, flight planning, gate changes, or anything else you can think of. There's no extra pay for flying on holidays or weekends either.
Now I'm not complaining...It would just be nice if people would realize that the airline pilots life is not as most people perceive. It's not all that glamourous. Now it's still a pretty good job most of the time but this last week was a difficult one for the MD-80 line pilots at AA. I'll explain later.

After last weeks thunderstorms in Dallas destroyed my work schedule for the week, I had hoped that the remainder of my month's flying would go smoothly. But then came last Wednesday and the MD-80 groundings.

The week started with a turnaround to Columbus, Ohio and back. That was an easy day with great weather and a good view of Columbus from the downwind to 28L. In the upper left corner you can make out the Ohio State campus.

For years now this old Sud Aviation Caravelle jet has been parked at CMH. It used to be painted in Airborne Express colors and looked pretty good, but it now looks like it will die a slow death on the ramp.

The following day was another easy one. DFW to El Paso and back. No issues that day either.

The next day brought a three day trip. The first day was only one leg from DFW to Detroit. We launched behind this Lufthansa A-340 bound for Frankfurt.

On the morning of day two when we arrived at our gate, we saw that our flight to Chicago and then on to Tulsa had been canceled. What was up?

Our crew tracking folks advised us that we had grounded a bunch of MD-80's for hydraulic pump wiring harness inspections. This sounded bad....and it was. The MD-80 is the backbone of American's fleet. We operate 300 of them. A grounding of any portion of the fleet would be a scheduling nightmare.

We ended up dead-heading back to DFW and spent the night there with the understanding that we would complete the third day as originally planned. But late that night I received word from our scheduling folks that our flights on day three had also been canceled. So my three day trip ended up consisting of only one leg of actual flying and one dead-head leg. So we lost our planned pay for all those legs that were canceled.

Now multiply what happened to us many times over for the hundreds of other MD-80 pilots that had the exact same thing or even worse happen to them this week! We had crews stranded all over the country for several days. Some even got stuck in Mexico and Canada. (However, I don't feel too bad for the crews that got stuck in Los Cabos or Puerto Vallarta).

Typically we can make up for the loss of pay during a given month by volunteering for trips that come available through sick calls, mis-connects, cancellations, weather, or whatever other reason. But in this case, our month is almost over and most of us won't be able to make up the time and will end up with a much smaller paycheck.

And the company will not kick in and pay us for all the time we lost. Unfortunately that's just the nature of our union's and company's relationship these days. It's not a very good relationship but hopefully we can improve on that the next time our union negotiates a contract. Time will tell.

For a look at some more of my photos, please aviate over to Plane & Simple.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

DFW Is Closed For Business??

So we were on day two of a three day trip. Last night was only one leg from DFW to Newark. Easy enough. Still no cookies though.....we had to stay at the Newark Airport Hotel again.

When we left Texas the previous night, all the weather forecasts were calling for a couple of severe thunderstorm days in Dallas for the following two days
. As luck would have it, our day would have us returning from Newark to DFW and then on to Nashville. But after looking at the north Texas radar returns, we both had serious doubts as to whether we would make it to DFW this day. Typically our company does a lot of preemptive canceling of flights whenever severe weather is forecast for a hub. They didn't do that today. Bad decision!

We departed on time with 140 passengers and waited in the usual lineup for takeoff. Number 20 or so.

Looking across the field we spotted the New Jersey Devils Boeing 727 parked near a hangar.

About an hour and a half after takeoff we received an urgent message on our onboard printer from our dispatcher in Ft Worth. "We need you to land NOW in Nashville....DFW is closed due to severe thunderstorms."

So I called him on the radio to advise that we were 5000 lbs overweight for a landing in Nashville and that I'd prefer to go to Memphis. He agreed. So we call
ed the cabin crew to let them know and then I made a PA to the passengers to give them the bad news. I thought I heard some groaning from the cabin!

Diversions don't usually go very well and today was no exception. Our agents in Memphis didn't want to let anyone off the plane. They already had another MD-80 on another gate and two more diverts were inbound. But I wasn't about to make 140 people sit on the plane for who knew how long. That kind of stuff makes for bad headlines. So I had to go over their heads and called the higher ups and soon our passengers were in the terminal enjoying the Memphis airport instead of the back of the MD-80.

Over the next four hours I had numerous phone calls with our dispatcher. The storms at DFW just kept coming in waves. It seems that one of the control towers at DFW had to be evacuated when they spotted a funnel cloud headed their way. Fortunately it never touched down but the delays were growing and growing. American Airlines ended up canceling over 1100 flights this day. What a mess!

We finally got a release from ATC after about five hours in Memphis. We got caught up in a long line of FedEx departures but that was OK. More photos for me!

We didn't lose too many passengers...most all of them got back on board. The hour long flight to DFW ended up taking almost two hours with all the deviations and speed reductions. It was choppy too....we ran out of barfbags!

The airport terminal was a giant mess. It looked like a huge campground. There were cots everywhere. Most all of the airport hotels were full and hundreds of passengers were forced to spend the night in the airport.

We returned the next morning to complete our trip. It was only a turnaround from DFW to Dayton and back. DFW's weather had improved greatly but now Dayton was getting it. We flew an ILS down to minimums in heavy rain. It all worked out nicely and before long I was enjoying a couple of cookies on the way back home.

The arrival back to DFW gave us a nice view of downtown Dallas with Love Field in view.

The Trinity River is normally just a trickle but today you can see it was way over it's banks. Almost 5 inches of rain in one day will do that every time.

It's springtime in Texas.

For a look at some more of my photos, please aviate over to Plane & Simple

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Back On The Line

It was mid January when I last set foot inside a cockpit. It's a good thing we use checklists! It's amazing how much you forget in such a short time period.

I gave my first officer fair warning about my absence from work these past two months. He seemed envious that I had been off for so long. Maybe I shouldn't have mentioned that we went on a cruise while I was off work status! I asked him to keep an eye on me and if I goofed up anything to please speak up. Although I would expect that from anyone I fly with no matter what the situation. I always do the same for my crew mates.

This would be an easy trip to get back in the flying world again. It was only a turnaround from DFW to San Jose and back.

DFW was packed with spring breakers headed for all parts of the globe. It sure doesn't seem as though the demand for air travel has decreased at all considering the state of our economy. All of our available seats were full this day.

Good weather was forecast all along the route. The westbound leg took us over the Texas panhandle, then the four corners region.

Monument Valley was looking very monumental this day.

Lake Powell looked pretty good too.

Then came the Sierra Nevadas and finally an arrival routing over Modesto and a straight in approach to SJC from the south.

The freight guys were taking a break was a Saturday.

We picked up a fresh load of passengers and headed back to DFW. The routing this time would follow the road trip I just took a couple of weeks ago. We flew south towards Edwards AFB then turned east towards the Colorado River, then across northern Arizona, New Mexico, and finally Texas.

By the time we set the brakes back at DFW it was just like old times. I was back on the line once again..... When is my next vacation??

For a look at some more of my photos, please aviate over to Plane & Simple

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Road Trip: Part 3

Our master plan was to make it home to Texas by early evening. Another 900 miles remained from Holbrook. No problem....

We left the WigWam in the rea
r view mirror and headed east.

We couldn't drive across northern Arizona and not see either the Grand Canyon or The Petrified Forest / Painted Desert. We voted on the the latter since we had both seen the Grand Canyon before. Growing up in Arizona I had been there a bunch of times and had even hiked to the bottom and camped there once in high school.

The Petrified Forest is only about 20 miles east of Holbrook. At 7 AM we were the only ones there. It was nice not being stuck behind a long line of cars full of tourists.

Additionally, the colors at sunrise were awesome. The southern end of the park has most of the petrified wood and the northern end has the great views of the Painted Desert.

I got this shot of the Amtrak "Southwest Chief" headed for Albuquerque and points east.

We ended up spending a lot more time in the park than planned but that was OK. The views were worth it.

After the park it was back on I-40 and soon we crossed in to New Mexico.

Lunch was in Albuquerque at Rudys. I highly recommend it.....great BBQ.

Back on I-40 and in a few more hours we hit the Texas state line. You'd think we were almost home right? Nope...Texas is huge. We had six hours to go.

Just before reaching Amarillo we stopped at the Cadillac Ranch. It's right off of I-40. It belongs to a millionaire that has planted 10 old Cadillacs in his field.

They're all planted at the same angle.
They range in age from 1949-1963. There's graffiti all over them...I think it's helping keep the rust at bay.

After this it was back in the Yukon and all that remained was the 5 hour home stretch to the DFW area. The sunset was pretty good as we passed Amarillo.

We pulled in to the driveway just before midnight. It would have been earlier but the last 25 miles was in a rare snowfall that kept our speed way down.

1800 miles in two days, a couple of In-N-Out burgers, some nice scenery, and a stay in a WigWam! What more could you ask for in a road trip?

Thanks for reading....I should be back soon with more of that aviation stuff again.

For a look at some more of my photos, please aviate over to Plane & Simple

Friday, March 7, 2008

Road Trip: Part 2

Now for part 2 of the road trip.

When planning this trip, BD came across an unusual motel she found listed online. It was called the WigWam and it was located in Holbrook, Arizona. Each room was an individual teepee. It sounded interesting so she reserved it and tried to convince me to look forward to it. (I was a little doubtful)

We pulled in to Holbrook right about sunset. The WigWam was located right on historic Rte 66. It looked just as advertised online.
Among it's u
nique points is the fact that there are several old cars parked all over the parking lot and in front of the teepees. They belonged to the original owner. He placed them all over the property. His daughter now runs the motel....she checked us in.It was truly a motel and not a hotel or inn by any means. It was built in the 1940's but has been updated a few times over the years. We asked about an ice machine and she told us to just bring the ice bucket from the teepee up to the office before 9 PM and she would give us some ice. After 9 PM the office is closed and she goes home!

So I brought the bucket back up front....she took it in a back room, I could hear some ice trays cracking and she returned soon with a full bucket.

The teepee was a little claustrophobic with only one small window and quite small but the heater and TV worked and the water was hot in the shower.

However, the carpeting and the sheets on the bed could have easily been from the 1940's. Also the main east / west line for the BNSF railroad was only about 100 yards away. It is a well traveled rail least one train went by every 10-15 minutes all night long! Oh was only $60 for the night.

I wondered what kind of critters would invade this place during the warmer months....scorpions, snakes, etc.

No bugs this night was way too cold.

Morning came and it was time to get up and continue eastbound. Checkout consists of leaving your key in the teepee and locking the door behind you. Very simple.

All in all I can say that it was an experience....just that. Not great but not terrible either.
That square has now been filled. I have now slept in a wigwam...sort of.

I'll save the final leg of this road trip for my next post.

For a look at some more of my photos, please aviate over to Plane & Simple

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Road Trip: Part 1

As I mentioned in my last post, I would probably soon be posting something completely un-aviation related. And this is it.
But the photos are pretty good and most readers can relate to a road trip. So thanks for reading.

My knee surgery last month was the result of a fall down some wet boarding stairs as I was helping an elderly lady off a flight in Mexico. We had parked on the ramp and no jetbridge was available so a set of portable boarding stairs was being used. It had just rained and they were wet... .I slipped and ended up at the base of the stairs with a damaged knee. She didn't fall...just me.

Because it was a work related injury, I was forced to jump through several hoops to get permission to non-rev on my airline while I'm on sick status. It was a hassle getting the associated doctors to send their letters of approval to the workers compensation people at AA but eventually it got done and I had the OK from everyone.

Why was I non-revving?.....For the road trip!

BD, my roommate/girlfriend, has family in Livermore, California. It's not too far from San Jose. There was some antique furniture at her family's home there that she needed to transport to her home in Texas. About the only way to get this stuff home to Texas was to do it ourselves with either a small cargo van or a large SUV. The professional movers wanted a small fortune for this and she didn't trust them with her antiques anyhow. So we went the way of a large SUV and planned for the long drive to Texas.

The flight from DFW to San Jose went right over Northern Arizona. The Grand Canyon was looking pretty good this day.

San Jose was
reporting some fog with low ceilings but our crew today was able to find the airport with no trouble.....They did a nice job.

We rented a fully loaded GMC Yukon for the road trip. It was very nice. At least we would be comfortable on the road.

I can't
go to California without visiting my favorite burger joint in the country. In-N-Out. Darren can attest to their goodness!! I even display their bumper sticker on my flight case at work!
After a day and a half in Livermore getting stuff ready and refueling with In-N-Out burgers, it was time to head for Texas.

We launched from Livermore at 5 AM and headed towards Arizona. The route took us down Interstate 5 through the San Joaquin valley where the thousands of trees and crops were showing off their colors.

Passing Tehachapi
pass we could see the hundreds of windmills on the hills. It's a great place for them...the wind was howling this day.

On past Barstow joining Interstate 40, the Hector (HEC) VOR went by
on our left. Then came Needles, the Colorado River and then the Arizona State line.

Dinner would come in Kingman, Arizona. After a short drive through town and a shot of the old Santa Fe locomotive in a city park, guess what we found? In-N-Out Burger!! I sure wish they would expand to the rest of this country.

After that fine meal we pressed on past Williams, Flagstaff, Winslow and finally after a day of driving, it was time to stop. Our home for the night would be in Holbrook, Arizona.

Our accommodations for the night could be a story all by itself so I'll save it for the next installment. Stay tuned.

For a look at some more of my photos, please aviate over to Plane & Simple