July 18, 2010

Just a Typical Trip: Part III

Orlando, Florida. This trip started out looking pretty good on paper and was relatively pleasant as long as things were going as smoothly as they did on day one and two. Day three was a different story. My alarm sounded at 6:15 am and by 7, I was exchanging pleasantries on the hotel van with a new crew of flight attendants. Security was a typical annoyance - I try to be a nice guy and not jump to the front of the line unless I’m running behind or the line is ridiculously long, but I always, always, always pick the wrong line. From there we took the train to the boarding terminal and headed for the jet with a quick stop at Starbucks. Our gate was at end of the terminal and to my displeasure, from about half way down the corridor I could see a bucket crane suspending what I assumed was a mechanic above the tail of our jet. Strike one.

Apparently, there was an issue with a sensor in the elevator that had been detected on an inbound flight the night before. There are literally hundreds of mechanical items on an aircraft that are allowed to be broken or not working properly. When something breaks, consult the MEL (Minimum Equipment List). If the item is listed, then it can be deferred…that is, deferred to be repaired later. Unfortunately this item was not listed in the MEL and had to be repaired before we could depart on our way home. Strike two.

The part we needed was a few states away, so the airline hired an air taxi service -- at great expense I might add -- to fly the part in overnight. They received the part just about the time we arrived at the airport and informed us that the repair would take hours. Then, as if nothing could go right, the crane broke down and the mechanics were unable to work. Flight Cancelled. Strike three.

This is one of those hated scenarios for airline crews. We generally travel on one of two different types of passes when deadheading on duty. An A1 pass is for a crewmember who is deadheading to cover a revenue flight and will get you on the flight in front of a paying passenger. If you’ve ever been on an oversold flight and wondered why airline employees were put on the jet before revenue passengers, this might be why. On the other hand, a crewmember deadheading home at the end of a sequence travels on an A3 pass. An A3 pass will get you on in front of airline employees traveling for personal reasons, but will not get you on in front of the paying folks. When our flight cancelled, crew tracking scheduled us to deadhead home as A3s on the next flight to DFW along with 140 paying passengers from our cancelled flight. Is there such thing as strike four?

Our saving grace was the fact that the next flight to DFW was a B757. As a result of our cancellation, the flight was seriously oversold and the standby list was mile long. There would be a long list of people from my flight who would not get seats on this one, but the aircraft was equipped with two jumpseats in the cockpit and enough jumpseats in the cabin to accommodate all the flight attendants. Home run.

We were happy and a little surprised to be heading home. Sometimes, even when a flight cancels, they make the pilots stick around to re-position a jet after it has been repaired or even ferry it to a major maintenance base if it cannot be repaired by local mechanics. Pleased that this was not the case, we all got jumpseat assignments and took our places on our ride home. The 757 has a large comfortable cockpit that easily accepts two pilots and two jumpseaters. They even fed us lunch on the way home.


  1. Terrific series of posts. I appreciated reading about all the little things such as the taxi/ground procedures at DFW and confirming the airspeed at each change of flap setting.

    And the post before that, concerning the fateful career choice years ago, was fascinating too. That is an aspect of the industry that I think is rarely seen by outsiders. My question: If you could redesign or do away with the seniority system, what would you personally choose to replace it with?

  2. Good question that I've been asked and asked my self many times. Here's my cop-out answer. The problem with having a system that does not recognize seniority is that there are just too many pilots at a major airline to utilize a different system. American Airlines at it's largest, employed over 13,000 pilots. Can you imagine the political nightmare of having a merit based system with that many people? I think it's a necessary evil.

  3. There IS no good line for security at Orlando - everything there is very "Mickey Mouse"! Even the line for premium Aadvantage members is slow - I sometimes just use the regular lines because they have more conveyors.

    And I don't know why, but I have the worst luck with flights to DFW being can canceled - twice I have had to overnight (at my expense) in the airport hotel. And many times fight for seats on the last flight out, because I am usually there for a conference, and so many of the rest of my industry are also in the metroplex, and in the same boat going the same way.

    Glad you got home!