Saturday, February 28, 2009

Puppy Breath

In keeping with the animal theme from my last post, a recent flight from Tulsa, Oklahoma to DFW provided some interesting passenger comments and a few unique photos.

Before takeoff on every single leg, we are provided with what we call a "closeout". That is simply a record of what we are carrying on that particular flight. It includes total fuel, passengers, cargo weight, trim settings, flap settings, takeoff weight, any restricted articles, and live animals. This "closeout" comes to us via our onboard printer after the crew chief, gate agents, and load agents have closed out the flight after we push off the gate. We cannot takeoff without a closeout.

With that being said, we were in the process of being pushed back from the gate at Tulsa when our closeout came over. It said we were carrying 47 live animals!! It's not uncommon for us to carry live animals, in fact it's an everyday thing. But 47 seemed odd. So I asked our tug driver over the interphone what was up. She nonchalantly said we had 47 puppies onboard! She went on to tell us that this is a regular occurrence on the weekends. Apparently there is a puppy mill somewhere near Tulsa that ships out puppies all over the country on a regular basis. Very interesting we thought.

I made a quick call to our crew to advise them about the dogs just in case any passengers were to complain about the barking, and then off we went to DFW. 188 passengers, 5 flight attendants, 2 pilots, and 47 dogs.

Almost all the newer planes these days have automated pressurized cargo compartments so there is no need to worry about carrying live animals in the belly. But that wasn't always the case with older jets. I remember that the 727's had a switch for shutting off pressurization to one of the cargo compartments. It was normally left in the "on" position. But in case there was a pressurization problem with the airplane, the first thing to do was to turn off that switch so as to maintain sufficient pressurization for the main cabin. Unfortunately that would suffocate and freeze any live animals that had the bad luck that day to be in the cargo compartment. We sometimes called that switch the "freeze the dog" switch, or the "pupsicle" switch. Fortunately I never had to use it!Upon arrival at DFW we taxied up to our gate and a rather large crowd of rampers were waiting for us and the dogs. Several small pickup trucks and baggage carts were standing by for the transfer.These dogs weren't just going to Texas, they were being transferred all over the country.

I had to go outside and take a look. I had my earplugs ready!

All these guys seemed pretty well behaved. In fact they were probably better behaved than some of our passengers at times.

Their first airplane ride was a success!
I sure hope they all went to good homes....

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

Friday, February 20, 2009

I Need Some Earplugs

To continue the story, I finally made it to bed in San Juan at 3:30 AM after an interesting evening in Miami with some fuel issues.

At first I thought I was dreaming, but I was slowly roused from my deep sleep
by the sound of a multitude of roosters crowing!

I had stayed at this hotel on previous trips but I was always in a different wing. This time I was on the noisy side. I got up and looked out my window and this is what I saw.

That's right... "Cockfights".... My room was overlooking the Cockfight Club of Puerto Rico! And judging by the noise coming from inside, all the contestants were up and about and ready for their breakfast.I wonder what the place sounds like when there's a fight going on? It's interesting that something like this would never be allowed in the States and you'd be arrested for participating, but in Puerto Rico this is just like any old sporting event.

It was several hours until our next leg and since I was up already I took a walk out to nearby Carolina Beach. At the entrance to the beach I came across this seemingly ferocious little mutt.
He was tied up to a beach chair and apparently all alone. He acted fearless and he must have thought that he was standing guard as he was barking at the top of his lungs!

Next stop would be Miami and then on to Aruba. We arrived to Aruba very late...I hit the sack well after midnight again. The hotel was very nice and located right on Palm Beach.

But once again I was awakened by some unusual noises. It sounded like a bunch of birds squawking. I looked out my window but saw nothing. So I got up and went outside to investigate and then look for some breakfast.This is what I found downstairs by the pool. A bunch of birdcages with exotic birds in them!

All of them were quite vocal!

After breakfast and a workout it was time for a visit to the pool before heading back to the airport.But what's this? Who is that on the rocks?
Well, at least these guys were quiet.

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

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Check Those Fuel Gauges Carefully

I'm still flying the Caribbean skies and enjoying the weather immensely. I haven't had to fly an instrument approach in months. My recurrent training is coming up in a couple of months and I'm sure to be a little rusty.
A recent trip took me down to San Jose, Costa Rica. I hadn't been there in almost 20 years. It sure has grown. AA operates four flights a day in and out of there and they usually are full.

The return leg took us right over Cuba. Years ago we would fly around Cuba so as not to enter their airspace but nowadays we pass right on through it provided we contact Havana Center and receive the appropriate clearance.

The Florida Keys would be up next as the sun was setting. If you look closely you can see the bridges on US #1 connecting some of the keys.The next leg was to be from Miami down to San Juan, Puerto Rico. A one hour delay for maintenance passed by and we finally took off from runway 26L. Passing through 5000 ft I glanced at the fuel panel and noticed that our right wing tank fuel gauge and the fuel totalizer where both blank! The left and center tank gauges were still showing the correct amount but that wasn't good enough. It was the first officer's leg so I had him take over ATC duties and then I pulled out our procedures manual to see what could be done. Well, it turns out that nothing could be done since the specific problem that we were having wasn't even listed.

A night flight over the Caribbean without operable fuel gauges didn't seem like anything we wanted to do nor was I interested in any further troubleshooting or a radio call to our maintenance folks in Tulsa, so I quickly made the decision to return to Miami ASAP. A call to the Purser, a quick PA to the passengers, a call to the company, and then my attention was back to the cockpit as we switched from climb mode over to approach and landing mode.

I told Miami Approach about our situation and they were very helpful and offered any assistance we might need. I asked for the nearest available runway but that was all. It wasn't exactly an emergency so I didn't ask for the rescue equipment but even so, we were given priority handling and our clearance to land came right away. Those guys at ATC are great!

Our Miami approach charts were still out as we had not even had time to put them away yet so we did a quick approach briefing, ran through the landing checklist and before we knew it the FO was clearing the runway and the flight was over. Total time in the air was only 17 minutes.

Approaching the gate I could see a couple of mechanics waiting on the jetbridge for us. And as luck would have it, as soon as we parked at the gate the fuel gauges came back to life. It never fails! But they ended up taking the plane out of service anyhow.

To end the story for now, they finally found us a new plane. We were re-catered, luggage transferred, fueling completed, pre-flight done, angry passengers boarded again and away we went only three hours late. I finally hit the sack in my hotel room at 3:30 AM only to be awakened in just a couple of hours.

Details in my next post.....

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