Four days ago, I was packing for the next day's early morning departure when I got a call from another pilot begging to trade trips. I had a long layover in New Orleans and he commutes from there. I've commuted four times in my career and hated to deny the guy a night at home, so even though I was looking forward to a night in New Orleans, I agreed to the trade.
I'm still glad I did, but oh my goodness, the early morning departures on that trip were a little too much. I've always been a morning person, often to the detriment of those around me. My parents are quick to recall memories of me as a child, wide awake before 5am...and not quietly either. Apparently, my favorite 5am activity was whistling. My parents take great joy in the fact that my own children have inherited the trait.
I have since outgrown my propensity for early morning living and have learned to appreciate waking after the sunrise. That isn't to say that I don't like to fly in the morning, because I do. I just wish getting up was a little easier.
I love the early morning smooth air. In the summer, the temperature is still pleasant and the thunderstorms haven't yet had a chance to mushroom. I enjoy the brilliant orange color of the sky as the sun peeks up over the horizon. And I absolutely cherish the fact that the proverbial you-know-what has rarely had time to hit the fan when the sun has yet to cast a shadow.
I took these pictures on the second and third mornings of the trip. On day two, we departed Philadelphia, PA at 6:25am. We taxied out to spot 8 where we waited our turn behind the EMB-175 parked in front of us in the picture. Our total taxi time was under ten minutes. Unusual for delay-prone Philly.
Day three was an even earlier morning with a 6am departure out of Atlanta. Let me help you with the math on this...a 6am departure requires a 5am show at the airport. That means we left the hotel at 4:40 and woke up at about 4. Granted, some could get ready faster, but I need time to look this good. Also, since we live in the central time zone, 4am was really 3 body time. Of course, I don't have it as bad as our west coast crews, whose body would think it was 1am on the same trip. Early.
For me, half the battle is getting to sleep early enough to get the rest my body needs. For the trip I'm describing here, I'd need to be asleep by 8pm in order to get the 8 hours of sleep I'm hoping for.
I have a routine that usually works. I almost always work out on a layover, but I exercise early. Do this too close to bedtime and getting to sleep is difficult. I eat a light meal around 4pm and rarely consume alcohol. (That one only applies to early departures:) Then I retire to my room by 6 and start winding down. I close the drapes in an attempt to fool my head into thinking it's later than it really is, take a shower and get in bed as early as I can. Then I read or watch TV until I my eyes get heavy. For me, the next step is key. At the first sign of drowsiness, I turn the light off and go to sleep. I've found that if I power through heavy eyes at any time, falling asleep later in the evening is exceptionally difficult.
Of course, the hotel is almost never quiet at this time of night. So even if I'm able to fall asleep early, someone or something usually disturbs my slumber. Slamming doors and loud TV's are the usual culprit. It isn't easy, but it's important. Studies have shown that driving (or flying) while sleep deprived can be as dangerous as driving under the influence of alcohol.
This last picture was taken at the top of descent into DFW. Two hours into the flight and the sun was just showing interest in the day. If you look closely, you can just see my wingtip in the right side of the picture. (As a side note, the wing tip is quite difficult to see from the cockpit of an MD80 unless you have your face pressed firmly against the cockpit windows.)
So I'm back at home now, recuperating from the last three days. That trip really didn't look so bad on paper, but I'm so tired right now that I actually feel a little sick. My goal for the evening is to find some way to stay awake until my normal bedtime. Like most pilots, I have young children at home, so sleeping in isn't an option. I'll sleep until around 6 and it will feel like a luxury!
Three days off and I'll be back for more.