Monday, December 28, 2009

Pass The Peanuts

Very seldom does a cockpit crewmember have to get involved directly with a passenger in order to settle a particular issue.
In all these years at this airline, I can count on one hand the times that I've had to step in and attempt to diffuse a passenger problem.

After 9/11, the interaction between the cockpit crew and the passenger cabin has become even more insulated. If there is any kind of passenger problem inflight, the cabin crew is expected to deal with it and that's that! The cockpit door will not be opened under any circumstance. If it's a security issue, the pilots will defend the cockpit as necessary and continue to fly the airplane. If the particular situation in the cabin cannot be resolved and requires an unscheduled landing, then the pilots will proceed accordingly. If it seems like the cabin crew is left hanging, that is absolutely true. But the objective is to get the airplane safely on the ground as quickly as possible.

Medical situations are the most common form of inflight irregularity. Quite often a passenger will become ill and require immediate medical attention. If the attention they receive inflight doesn't correct or improve their condition, then sometimes an unscheduled landing is called for.

So with all that in mind, whenever there is a possibility of a potential inflight problem, the best course of action would be to deal with it before getting airborne. In other words, REMOVE the potential problem!

That was the case recently when we were just about ready to push back from DFW with a full boat headed for Maui. Five minutes prior to pushback the purser advised that we had a first class passenger that was traveling with his family and that one of his children had a peanut allergy. This passenger was insisting that he had advised the airline when he purchased his ticket of his child's condition, and that he was supposedly told that no peanuts would be served on the flight. The passenger was apparently making a scene.

The purser said that the passenger manifest showed no such information and that he was catered with cocktail nuts for the entire first class cabin. The purser also advised that the passenger was getting unruly and demanding that the cocktail nuts and any peanuts be removed from the aircraft. what? You'd think that the captain would have the authority to make a decision right then and there, but that's no longer the case. At this airline, the captain only gets to make captain-like decisions once the flight is underway. It's ridiculous, but that's how it is. So I just stayed put in my seat for the time being.

So the first thing to do was to call the gate agent down to the plane and get her involved. Big mistake. All she did was infuriate the passenger even more. I know gate agents have an insufferable job and I sympathize, but her people skills were lacking this day. She and the passenger were having a shouting match on the jetbridge.

Next step was to call in a supervisor. No help there either. I could hear the shouting from the cockpit. The supervisor was rudely telling him that he and his family could get off the plane or basically take your seat and "shut up". The passenger was countering that he was a million mile customer and that the airline should do whatever was necessary to protect his child without regard to the rest of the first class passengers. This was going downhill in a hurry!

So by now we were 15 minutes late when the purser asked me if I would talk with this guy and see if I could influence him at all. The beach in Maui was waiting so I gladly accepted the challenge.

For emphasis, I put on my hat and walked out to meet this guy. I introduced myself and explained to him what the options were. I politely told him that I was expecting to operate the flight without any passenger issues and if there were going to be any, that they had to be resolved right then and there. I offered for him and his family to get off the plane and be re-booked or to stay on but with the assurance that if he caused any more problems, that we would be landing somewhere between DFW and the west coast to have him removed. He seemed to understand and was calming down.

It was then that he mentioned that he was traveling with an emergency epinephrine injection just in case his child had an allergic reaction. Seems like he could have mentioned that earlier!! So I asked him "Sir, are we going to have any more problems today?" He quietly said "no" and went back to his seat.

So I don't know if he was just intimidated by having the captain have to come out and talk with him or if he just wanted someone with a little authority to hear him out. Who knows. But the gate agent, supervisor, and purser all commented on how the mans demeanor changed dramatically when I came out to speak with him.

Perhaps it was my charming personality? Or maybe it was just the hat!!

So off we went!

Several times enroute I asked how the peanut family was doing and was told "no problems".

Amazingly, after we landed and everyone was getting off, the peanut guy approached me and apologized (sort of), and even thanked me for a good flight.

I think it was the hat!

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

Friday, December 4, 2009

Third World Operations

Our usual day to day domestic operations are pretty much routine in that we fly from point A to point B, ATC communications are always available, we enjoy radar coverage the entire way, we can expect a full ILS approach at our destination to be available in case it is necessary, and generally the entire leg is pretty easy.

Even most of our international flying is pretty much routine nowadays. Gone are the days of VOR and ADF navigation. Even VLF and Omega type navs are gone. For the most part, the airline world has transitioned to GPS navigation. Sure there are some air carriers that are still operating with older equipment, but the vast majority are using some form of advanced navigation.

Our older 767's and 757's are still using Inertial Reference Systems but the newer ones have been outfitted with satellite based GPS type navs. Both are more than capable.

Then every once in a while we get to fly into a destination that is a real eye opener and we can really appreciate having those advanced navigation systems on board with us.

Today's destination would be Port Au Prince, Haiti.

A two hour late start from Miami meant we would be arriving at PAP just after sunset. The forecast was calling for good weather and winds favoring runway 10 which has an ILS approach. Good!

The climb up to FL 370 was uneventful. 600 miles later and approaching Haitian airspace, we said "goodbye" to Miami Center and gave Port Au Prince Control a call.

No response.

Five more calls and they finally answered. Had they not answered we would have been forced to hold at the boundary of their airspace. Glad they answered since we had a small thunderstorm to contend with right along our route.

While descending, we passed an opposite direction outbound airliner 1000 ft below us and wondered why we weren't advised? A call to Approach Control about that went unanswered.

Without radar coverage we would have to make position reports the entire way in to PAP. The charted approach requires us to fly a DME ARC to intercept the ILS to runway 10. No problem today, we had GPS capability and the "box" tracked it perfectly. Several position reports later we were tracking the ILS inbound as Approach Control handed us off to PAP Tower.

Then Tower advised us that the winds had shifted and to fly the ILS runway 10 approach and circle to land on runway 28. Good thing we had briefed this possibility and were prepared.

"Cleared to land on runway 28, caution for Cessna traffic in the pattern" came the call from Tower in a French Creole accent.

The sun had already set and the high terrain was obscured with smoke and haze. We spotted the runway at about 3 miles out and commenced the circling approach. The FO was flying and flew a right downwind as a left downwind is not permitted due to terrain issues. Keeping the runway in sight was paramount since there was no approach available for runway 28. He did a fine job and greased the 767 in the touchdown zone and we were stopped with room to spare. We never did see that Cessna.

PAP has no parallel taxiways and the runaway is too narrow for an airliner to do a U-turn on so we had to taxi to the end where there is a turn around area for bigger planes. Meanwhile, the runway was closed for any other traffic while we were taxiing. So every time an airliner or any other plane is on the runway, the airport is essentially closed to all other traffic until the runway is cleared. This can lead to some lengthy delays.
So we finally cleared the runway and taxied to our parking spot. No gate, just a parking spot on the ramp.
We parked, set the brakes and once the ground crew had positioned the boarding stairs, the cabin crew opened two cabin doors. Out flooded the passengers onto the ramp with wild abandon! They all knew where to go but it was almost comical to see so many unattended people on an airline ramp with absolutely no security concerns whatsoever!
I would do this same trip two weeks later in daylight conditions and was able to photograph this craziness. It was unbelievable to see all these folks walking across the ramp.You would never see something like this in the States.

No layover here, just a quick refueling and we launched back to Miami and enjoyed smooth skies at 40,000 ft.It's always nice to be back in US airspace and to hear those two words from Air Traffic Control...."radar contact".

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