July 15, 2010

Just a Typical Trip: Part I

I got up this morning for my first day of six on reserve. My RAP (Reserve Availability Period) starts at 10 am and ends at midnight. This means that I can’t be called until 10 and any assignment I receive must end by midnight...once called I have two hours to get to the airport. Sitting at the computer, I see that crew schedule has been busy overnight assigning a number of trips. Mine is a 3 day trip, sign in at 11:50 am, three legs today, 8 hours of flying, 12 hours on duty and an overnight in Colorado Springs. Tomorrow I’ll get up in the Springs and fly back home then to Orlando for the night…two legs…we’ll be in Orlando around 8pm. Day three is one leg home. I should be home for lunch. Not so bad on paper.

I suppose there are some benefits to sitting reserve, the best of which is that I could potentially sit on reserve the entire month, never touch an airplane and still take home a full paycheck. Pretty good gig if that ever happened. Unfortunately, or fortunately, depending on your perspective, it never does. It’s summer in Texas, thunderstorms rumble through daily and pilots are in short supply, so I max out around 80 to 85 hours every month. The down side to reserve would take pages to explain and I really don‘t have to energy to step up onto that soap box today, so lets just say that reserve kinda sucks and leave it at that.

I leave the house at 10:50, kiss my wife and kids good-by and head out. It’s about a 20 minute drive to the parking lot, but the trip from the parking lot to the terminal can take 10 minutes or 30...no telling which it will be today, so I need to be in the parking lot by 11:20. Traffic is light and I arrive at the lot by 11:15, there’s a bus waiting and by 11:25 I’m walking through security on my way to ops. I stop by operations to check my box and sign in for my trip. Sign in…check. Check trip for revisions…check. Print layover instructions…check. Review flight plan and weather…check. Jepps and manual revisions…check.

The plane is due in at 11:45 and I prefer to meet the inbound crew to get a brief on the condition of the jet, so I hurry off to the gate. When I arrive at the gate, the passengers are deplaning and I check in with the gate agent who checks my ID against the crew list and briefs me on any “specials”…wheel chairs, unaccompanied minors, armed passengers, etc.

After the passengers deplane, I head down the jet-bridge. It’s already 94 degrees in Dallas and the bridge is hot. Thankfully, the inbound crew left the APU running, so the jet is cool and comfortable. I put my bags away and build my nest, that is, I unpack my kit bag and get everything set up the way I like it. Everything out and ready. Everything in place and ready to use.

I do an initial preflight of the cockpit and head out for my walk-around. The ramp is hot and loud and looks a little like an ant mound with people and equipment moving around in what looks like completely random and pointless movements. There are a couple rampers attaching the tow bar to the nose gear and reading the tug for push back. Fuel is being pumped into the right wing. All three cargo doors are open and bags are being unloaded from the last flight. A cleaning crew is walking up the aft stairs to do their magic on the cabin, the lav truck is backing up to the rear access point and catering has already started on the first class galley.

The walk-around yields no issues. This airplane is old and has been used hard. An MD-82 that entered service in 1987. “Ridden hard and hung up wet” as my Dad would say. Tons of little dents and scratches, but they’re all cosmetic and every one is accounted for in the damage log. This aircraft is well cared for and has plenty of life left in it.

Back in the cockpit, I meet the Captain for the first time and we exchange pleasantries and he hands me a printed copy of the flight plan and TPS. The flight plan contains all the information for the flight from take-off to landing. Route, altitude, speeds, weather, destination alternates, etc. Everything we need for the actual fight. The TPS is a departure plan. It contains information about runways, flap settings, power settings, takeoff speeds, engine out acceleration altitudes and planned passenger loads. It also contains information about cargo weights, fuel distribution and expected temperatures at departure time. Everything we need to know to safely takeoff. We enter all this information into the cockpit computers and FMS. Set our speed and altitude bugs and complete all our final cockpit checks as the passenger board the aircraft.
Stay tuned for Part II and the remainder of the trip.


  1. I have a question about the walk around. If you do your inspection and end before the "honey wagon" (as we used to call the lav truck) and fueling truck are finished, do you have to do it again afterwards? When I was working on the line at Gatwick, we were always cautious about checking for leaks from the forward lav drain - in 727 it could cause "blue ice" build up, that could detach in flight, and had sometimes been ingested into the number 3 engine. And baggage doors had been known to get banged up, fuel trucks hit the wings or fuselage after fueling, etc etc. Does the FO make a final check after everything is buttoned up?

  2. That's an excellent question...and you are exactly correct about the "blue ice." There are two access points for the lavs on an MD80 and I'm responsible for checking both for evidence of leaks. However, I typically only do my walk around once. Often, the fueler is still working, cargo doors are still open and sometimes, the lav truck arrives after my inspection is complete. Of course each of these people is trained to close all related doors and access panels, but the Crew Chief responsible for the ground crew is also responsible for checking these doors before he calls us to advise ready for push. Sometimes, I will do another walk around when something unusual is open when I go around the first time...something like the potable water door or an access panel for one of the engines, but generally speaking, I only look once.

  3. I have a question regarding the cockpit preflight inspections. How early do you usually arrive at the aircraft to complete these tasks and once you arrive how long does it take before you are ready to depart. I ask because I watched you preflight video of the MD80 overhead and you breezed through that in 1:20, what other checks do you and the captain have to complete before you can depart. Thanks.

  4. It usually takes about 20-30 minutes to get the jet ready if I'm not getting any help from the Captain. If we were running behind and splitting up some of the jobs, we could easiy be ready in 15 minutes. Regarding the overhead...the first time I did that check in the sim it took 45 minutes. As I learned what I was doing and looking for, I got much faster. Of course, the overhead is just one of many panels that need my attention.

    Thanks for the comment.

  5. So if I understand you correctly, on a normal day where everything is running smoothly you can get your walk around, preflight checks, ect. completed by the time they start boarding passengers. P.S. keep up the blog it is very interesting to read.

  6. That's correct. Keep in mind that the pilots at an airline are not responsible for flight and load planning. There are departments that do this work. We just print off the flight plan and weight and balance plans and check their work. Sometimes the process is faster, like when I have help from the Captain, and other times it takes a little longer. We need that extra time for when things are not going smoothly. This morning, the Captain I was assigned to fly with was coming in from another flight (he was re-assigned to cover my flight) and did not arrive at the jet until 15 minutes prior to departure. I pulled and reviewed the paper work, pre-flighted the jet and prepared the cockpit. The whole process took about 40 minutes. We were ready to go when the Captain arrived.