CEO of the Cockpit #72: A Perfect Day
How To Handle Normalcy?This was just weird. It was like an episode of the Twilight Zone, only in reverse. We had already flown two legs, with our third and last one for the day just about to push-back, and nothing had gone wrong. We hadn't been delayed in anyway. Starting with an on-time pick-up at the layover hotel by a courteous van driver, we haven't hit so much as a pebble in our metaphorical world today and it was freaking us out more than a little. You can always count on something going wrong during a normal day of any kind -- with airline trip days being no exception. Even our wait for coffee at Starbucks was short and sweet. The gate agent was waiting for us to check our IDs and let us on our airplane. When I got on the airplane and swung my flight bag over my seat to its right side resting place, it didn't bounce or flip over like it normally does. I sat down and -- like every other flying day -- began by getting out my headset (wires not tangled today) and plugging it in. There are two different-sized plugs on any headset: one for the microphone and one for the ear speakers. Today I found the right-sized hole with the right-sized plug on my first try. Next, I check the oxygen mask in its little box and double-check the crew oxygen level by looking at the message on the bottom CRT in the center of the panel. Our oxygen was full. Weird ... While my co-pilot Tom was outside doing the walk-around, I "made all the noises" (GPWS, etc.) on the overhead and ran the fire test down on the console. At first I was a little shocked to notice that there were no MCO (maintenance carry-overs) stickers anywhere in our cockpit or in the ship's logbook. We normally have at least one or two.
A Normal Take Off, Climb And CruiseThe strangeness continued; we had no delays on taxi out and were lined up and taking off without a hitch. No speed restrictions were placed on us for spacing by ATC. After we passed 10,000 feet, our FMS commanded a climb speed just slightly below barber pole, our speed command bugs swung around the dial to indicate that speed and we, for once, didn't have to do a speed intervention, either with the FMS climb page or the speed knob on the glare shield. After a perfect economy climb we were cleared direct to Milford and, except for the occasional call-out of traffic by ATC, the radios were bereft of requests for deviations, controller-initiated slow downs or spacing vectors. "Guard" -- the emergency frequency of 121.5 -- is something we normally monitor on our number two communications radio. It was silent today. Not so much as a peep of a malfunctioning ELT on the ground interrupted the quiet. Speaking of quiet communications, the ACARS was strangely mute today as well. Except for the connecting gate information we always get and print out for the flight attendants to announce in the back, there was no other contact instigated by the company. Not a single drug-test warning, re-route message for a crew member or request for a ride report from the dispatcher.
What Is Going On?The air in the cockpit even smelled cleaner and fresher. What was going on here? Tom had been fairly quiet because I think he sensed the strangeness, too. "Hey," he finally said. "Have you noticed that nothing has been going wrong today? I mean nothing at all? Doesn't that seem a little strange to you?" Tom then went on to describe the perfection of his day so far. An uneventful walk-around, weight-and-balance paperwork that was perfect. There was a kind of smooth flow to his day that hadn't happened to him in years. The flight attendants thought the list of our names he gave them with the little cartoon he always drew on it was "cute" and not "gross" like they usually said. The coffee that they brought up to him was just the right combination of sweet, cream and heat. All engine logs, company reports, and the other minutia that fill a co-pilot's day went smoothly. Even when Tom and I updated our Jepps during cruise, we did so without losing a single sheet or getting a single plate out of sequence.
More Strangeness -- This Time EdibleOh my gawd, the flight attendants want to feed us! I hadn't heard this intercom call for over three years: "Hey fellas, we have extra meals in the back. Would you like the chicken or the beef?" I nearly fell out of my seat. When did we start carrying meals again? What the heck is going on today? I asked for the beef and Tom, still not wanting to tempt food poisoning, ordered the chicken. It is still company policy that both crew members don't eat the same type of meal but hardly anyone remembers the rule. Why did Tom remember that today and after three years without an in-flight meal? Stranger and stranger ... OK -- Prepare yourself and don't be alarmed if the hairs on the back of your neck go up: The meals were good!
The CEO Hand Flies -- During CruiseI just couldn't help myself. Things were going so good that at cruise I did something I can't remember doing for years. I clicked off the autopilot and hand flew for an hour. I don't know why I did it. When Tom reports this to the other co-pilots, I'm sure to get a reputation as a nut-ball, but I just felt so good that I wanted to fly the airplane for a while and not simply manage its systems. Most airliners that have flown for any length of time are a little bent. Since they get flown three or four times a day through all kinds of weather and to all kinds of pot-holed runways, it is to be expected that the airframe is a little crooked here and there. Ship number 124, which we were flying today, was no spring chicken. It was a 767-300 that had been around for a number of years. How come it wasn't bent? When I clicked of the autopilot I didn't have to put in any kind of trim input at all. With any other airliner, you always have to put in a touch of rudder trim or something. You hardly ever use the aileron trim on airliners; if it is flying crooked, we normally use the rudder trim. Today the airplane flew straight and true through the air like it had just rolled out of the factory. Little inputs from me on the controls kept the airplane on course and on altitude and there wasn't as much as a ripple in the air today. It was glassy smooth. So smooth, in fact, that I almost forgot to turn on the seatbelt sign during our smooth and uneventful descent to SEA. Mount Ranier slid by in quiet, snow-capped beauty, and without so much as a slow-down from Approach we landed normally and taxied, unimpeded, to our gate, which was actually open and not blocked by ground support equipment.
Mr. Nice GuyI stood in the door and said goodbye to the people, which is something else that hasn't been done by me in about three years. Normally, I'm still in the cockpit writing up a maintenance problem (none today) haggling over a crew re-route with the schedulers (no re-routes today) or picking up the junk that fell out of my flight bag when I tried to yank it out of its spot. Heck, I felt so good about things that I wore my jacket and captain's hat as I said buh-bye to the people. They, in turn, had nothing snide to say about the flight and a few passengers complimented our airline and crew as they got off.
[Editor's Note: AVweb Readers -- How does this story end? Read the following three conclusions and let us know which one you prefer.]
AnesthesiaI was just coming out of my happy state in the recovery room. Fresh cola in one hand and an IV drip sticking out of the other, my mental fog had cleared just enough to hear from the attending physician that my colonoscopy was clear of polyps and that my poop chute was cancer-free; at least until the next video tour. I had happy, warm and glowing feeling from my memory of the successful flight. It was drug-induced, but nevertheless real to me, for a few more happy moments. As the drugs wore off and I dressed in preparation for heading home, I had to chuckle at the irony of the whole experience. Like many other instances in the past 10 years of airline flying, just when I thought things seemed to be going the best, I found out the system was sticking something unpleasant up my outflow valve.
ImaginationIt was a neck cramp that finally woke me. We no longer have lounge chairs for our pilots at any of our bases, so I had to sit out this latest two-hour ground stop sitting in a hard, folding chair in the baggage handler's break room. They had come back in from the ramp. It was thundering again, which meant they had to evacuate the tarmac for the safer and lightning-free confines of the vending-machine room next to the Station Manager's office. The thunder also meant a continuation of today's ground stop. In their various languages, the ground crew sounded happy and content. I was content, too, until I woke up. My neck was now as sore as Rosie O'Donnell at a Dubya Bush birthday party and my brain was reeling from a dream that seemed all too genuine just a few short moments ago. It was impossible to go back to sleep and catch up on that fleeting dream of the perfect airline flying day. Oh well ... it is time for this captain to get up, buy that eighth cup of coffee of the day, and try to figure out with my co-pilot if we really are legal for an eight-hour layover after a 13-hour duty day during an "abnormal op" kind of day.
IncredulityYou may think that a perfect airline flight is an imaginary creature or a dream. I had come to believe that too, but I'm telling you the truth about this particular flight. It was just one of those strange days. Maybe it was sunspot activity or something. Our day got even weirder when the agent came onboard to tell us the strangest company news I had heard in many years: We had actually made a profit that quarter. I'm going to the hotel and lie down for a while.
Click here to tell us which ending you prefer: Anesthesia, Imagination, or Incredulity.
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