Not Bad For A Holiday

Someone asked a few weeks ago about the wisdom of connecting flights in Chicago  during the Christmas holiday. I think I advised to take a more southern route if possible.  At least I hope so.

We weren’t just delayed, we got creamed. The combined effects of  freezing rain, ice pellets, snow, an unscheduled airplane swap, late connecting passengers,  a computer crash, fueling mistake, air traffic control traffic backlog, a medical emergency, and a few thousand holiday travellers with all that stuff added up to a delay of almost five hours on our last flight of the night.  Even before the necessary de-icing of the airplane before take-off.

When we finally arrived on scene at the destination the local weather was in aviation technical terms “dogshit”.  The canine fecal designator for weather is a variable concept and largely dependant on the eqiuipment available and the qualifications of the crew. 

We are well qualified and our equipment, although a bit on the rugged side, is quite effective and  reliable.

Airline operations are required to have minimum visibility available before the approach to the airport can be started. The visibility was very near this minimum value. The precision of our approach monitoring equipment allows this with some additional restrictions.

Computers project the touchdown point of the airplane based on the ground speed and winds.  If the flight path model predicted by the computers using wind data gathered during the approach is projected to be out of bounds the system will trigger an Approach Warning and the approach must be abandoned. 

As in ZOOM, you thought we were landing, but now we ain’t. This is one of those things that we don’t do much and as a result causes stress and fatigue.  It also uses about a ton (really) of fuel.

A decision to use a less precise category of approach mode after being warned off of the first approach is counter-intuitive.  Our problem with the first approach was that the system was freaked out by the winds at about 500 feet. This is what caused the Approach Warning. A lesser crew wouldn’t have noticed this.  If we had been much more tired we would have been a lesser crew.

The less precise approach mode would only allow a descent to 100 feet but with less fussy wind parameters. If the second approach had not been successful a diversion to our alternate airport would have been necessary.

Then, we would have been illegal to fly since our duty day was already more than 14 hours and everybody would have ended up in a city that we could all be dang sure they didn’t want to be in since they didn’t buy a ticket to go there.

My contribution to your happy and safe holiday was a fifteen hour workday and several approaches in weather you had no business trying to drive in.  A thank you or merry Christmas might have been nice, but I understand.

Many in the traveling public  have expressed an entitlement to transportation without delay and we all know that the airlines are graded on performance by the DOT. 

What most people don’t know is that the Airline Employees grade passenger groups also.  Here are this years Holiday Traveller Performance numbers. The number is a  probability for encounter during the workday of Christmas Eve.

People wearing a backpack that  seem to not know that it sticks out behind them…..  19

People in a bad mood because a flight is 20 minutes late departing but still in a bad mood when arriving on time …… 155

People overwhelmed by their own stroller operation…….6 per flight (average)

Number of  surly old ladies insisting that someone had stolen her bag, delaying our departure ten minutes ……. 1

Number of  bags of a different color belonging to surly old ladies that were found in the overhead bin at the next city ……. 1

Number of children that wouldn’t leave the cockpit so I could come in, sit down, and do pilot stuff …….. 4

Number of times my airplane was de-iced during a three day trip …… 14

Inches of ice accumulated on the airplane in about five minutes during descent ….2

How much we were bothered by it …… 0

The number of passengers that reported ice on the wings to the flight attendants … 3

Number of minutes I waited before turning on the wing heat,  just for effect … 5

Percentage of people having a better time than circumstances might have otherwise indicated they should …… 77

Number of  hours we waited on passengers that never showed up because they weren’t coming since the flight had diverted …. 2.5

Number of valued co-workers we chose to hold responsible for this ….. 1

Amount said valued co-worker seemed to really care about the delay ….. 0

Pages of reports required by this and other incidents …. 16

Probability that we did the best we could with what was available …… 88 to 98%

Happy Landings … 12

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9 Responses to “Not Bad For A Holiday”

  1. I like your blog 🙂

    2 inches of ice on the wings is really not a problem?

    • Once an over-powered jet is already flying ice doesn’t pose a big problem in reasonable amounts. Two inches is considered quite a lot in a short time and would be dangerous to a less capable airplane.

      Waiting for a considerable layer to form before melting it results in better cleaning of the wing since the ice will come off in big sheets. If the wing heat is used too soon it is likely that the ice will re-freeze farther back on the wing where there is no protection.

      Ice on the wings for takeoff is a very different story and is always dangerous. Also illegal.

  2. Kate Buker Says:

    Merry Christmas! And, Thank You!

  3. Great post. I asked about the Chicago connection, and am grateful to report it went okay — our inbound and outbound delays matched up, our gates were close together, and we made the door with minutes to spare. I will not try it again.

    The flight attenants I saw this holiday put up with an enormous amount: drunk passengers hitting on them, people refusing to sit or stow their bags (“Why do I have to sit during landing?”), people refusing seat belts, cussing about the delays, etc. As I exited my last flight of the day, one attendant was trying to explain to her colleague that a just-out-of-earshot passenger had been a real asshole; I was happy to be able to back her up on that, at least.

  4. Love your blog, but rest assured, even the most competent people sometimes get confused by strollers…

    I’ve only once landed at a place there was snow and it scared the bejeezus out of me! We poor antipodeans get so little of the stuff we don’t even know how to drive on it, let alone contemplate someone being able to control an aircraft, so well done you and your colleagues.

    They let children in your cockpit? Man, the door always sems to be locked, bolted, hermetically sealed shut and in other ways non-available as I board a flight, that I sometimes wonder if there really is a live crew up there or whether qantas has saved some money by employing robots… I remember as a child being invited to come up the front and see you guys do your thang, but I thought that all went along with being able to knit or do needlework whilst airborne, didn’t it?

  5. luckyjet1 Says:

    A few weeks after the tragic events of 91101 a flight attendent came to the cockpit in flight holding a tiny baby that had been crying. She stayed for a while and asked if we needed anything before I pointed out that she was subject to prosecution on several levels since there is no age limit mentioned in the rules regarding who is allowed in the cockpit and no minimum age for terrorists.

    I thought it was funny. Two hours later someone else brought my tea so I think maybe she didn’t.

    Like most things this is different from one airline to another. It is a company policy issue while parked at the gate, and a Federal issue if the airplane is moving.

  6. Ahh, thank you. I had been wondering…

  7. Not to steal anyone’s soapbox and with a completely different subject. This Morning I do my PDX to CLE hop back to school for the semester. I hope to god that this time I don’t have a line in check in that takes 2hrs and I am the grab-an-agent-express-through-security-door-shut-behind-last passenger on-board.

  8. Yo Daddio, why are comments closed on your current + awesome post? It amazes me that the tops of clouds aren’t one of those wonders of the world that people save their whole life hoping to someday see.

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