December 17, 2007
|CEO of the Cockpit
Dubya had done us a favor this holiday season and officially made all of the Military Operations Areas "cold" during Thanksgiving weekend. What a guy; the MOAs are normally shutdown during holidays anyway, but a political point is a political point.
Because of resting military flight crews and a generous (albeit disingenuous) president, we actually arrived at JFK before schedule and had an extra 20 minutes to change planes for the last leg of the day to Denver International Galactic Jet Port and Upscale Shopping Mall.
My co-pilot George and I spent some quality time wandering around the main terminal, enjoying the repetitious hum and clang that only an overcrowded holiday international terminal can provide. We had just begun to enjoy a delicious repast in the upstairs Burger King when we noticed that our outbound flight's departure time had changed from 1 p.m. to "Ask Agent."
The CEO Looks For A La-Z-Boy
We cut our burger break short and began the long and arduous trek on foot back to our area of gates. This isn't easy in JFK. During the holidays, the crowd is so large and so confused that it gets to look much like that old Star Trek episode where everybody was pressed up against the glass because their planet was so crowded.
We finally worked our way through the angry Russians, turbaned middle easterners, and yowling inhabitants of god knows where to arrive at our concourse, where this pilot immediately began to look for a black lounge chair in a quiet room.
It is a little known fact to our younger pilots that way back during the halcyon days of the 1980s and 1990s, airline pilots had places called "crew lounges" in the operations areas of every station. We could go to these places, sit in comfy lounge chairs and maybe take a nap. Imagine that -- a well-rested pilot!
Times changed after the bankers took over. They realized that even though these rooms were not usable for any other purpose, they had to account for them on some sort of balance sheet somewhere. That is when they came up with the perfect solution -- for them. They simply locked the rooms and wrote them off of their books.
The rooms still exist in most stations. Padlocked and inaccessible, they sometimes still contain the lounge chairs and on rare occasions you can convince any English-speaking ramp workers you are lucky enough to find to open the place up so you can rack up some zees.
I went downstairs and looked in vain for a recliner with my name on it. All I found was the ubiquitous scent of burnt microwave popcorn and the background drone of some football game or other on the fuzzy tube in the corner. Back upstairs, I went to seek out a place where a pilot could nap his way through what looked like was going to be at least a four-hour delay.
The Hub & Spoke System Strikes Again
A bomb scare in Boston was the reason for our enforced incarceration in JFK. Apparently, some nut-job who didn't get the seat he wanted in coach told the rest of the passengers on his flight that he had planted a bomb "somewhere" in the Boston terminal.
This led to a total shutdown of Boston, which led to a total shutdown of our day as we waited for the equipment from there to make up our flight to Denver.
Our flight to Denver would now be at least four hours late, making the airplane's next leg to Portland, Oreg., late as well. This meant that the 63 passengers on the flight to PDX who were planning on connecting to a flight to Honolulu weren't going to connect so much as they were going to miss their flight. This, in turn, would make them all burn a $300/night hotel room on the North Shore that was already paid for.
I don't know a system to replace the hub-and-spoke one we still use, but I hope a smart person comes up with one soon.
The CEO Finds A Likely Roost
Ah, chairs in a corner of an unused gatehouse that was dimly lit and almost deserted. Only another pilot from another delayed flight (this one, I later found out, was to Boston) was snoring under his black trench coat, using his flight bag as a footstool.
He stirred and woke as I sat down a few chairs away from him. It was then that I recognized my friend from back during my Chicago-based days. Wilson was a Crystal Lake, Ill., dweller back when I was a Lake Zurich denizen. We ran into each other a lot in the ORD pilot lounge.
After the usual "How ya doing?" I noticed that Wilson had been working on something. There was a full legal pad by his side filled with scribbles, diagrams and underlined notes. I asked him what he was doing.
The Wilson Poll ...
"I've been writing my memoirs," he said. "I noticed after my Dad died last year that we really didn't know that much about him. I thought I'd jot down some stuff about my life on the airline to leave my kids to look at after I kick in about 40 years."
His work that day consisted of a sort of team roster for the airplanes he had flown so far in his airline career. His list was chronological and began with the first airplane the airline sent us to school on. Looking at it made me wish I had thought of this idea myself. His rundown of the team went like this:
Convair 880: Elvis bought one of these from us and named it after his daughter, Lisa Marie. Faster than a merger rumor. Inventor of the phrase "jet upset" because they kept flipping over and because they were the first jet the old piston captains checked out on. Engineer school included having to trace the path of an air molecule through an engine.
Boeing 727: Three engines, three pilots and three toilets. Noisy as Hell in the cockpit. Landing-gear-horn cutout handle still makes experienced seven-two drivers look backwards every time they pull the throttles back, no matter what airplane they are flying now. Last airliner with an adequate luggage rack for the crew. Baby baffle B, brake lockout deboosters along with "protect essential and download." Now mostly residing in aircraft bone yards and South American jungles.
DC-9: The Cajun Clipper -- a.k.a., The Death Dart. Short nine was a rocket with no slats. DC-9/32 was a good ride and a great trainer for co-pilots. Quiet as a nun's bedroom in the cockpit. EPR probes would ice over on a 90-degree day. Be sure to turn the aux. hydraulic pump on before you extend the slats. Always call for slats and five so the nose doesn't pitch. Great airplane, but terrible layovers. Can carry more airframe ice than you can imagine.
DC-8: Last of the old, four-engine jets that we flew. Built like a brick grit house. Over-designed airframe due to the British Comets crashing. (Nobody knew why, so they designed the DC-8 airframe to withstand anything.) Lollypop handles for hydraulics and pressurization. It had great Bermuda and terrible Shreveport layovers. A bad airplane to try and read a book in -- the cockpit lights were all red. Great airplane for an engineer to take a nap in. If you positioned the engineer seat just right, you could make a bed out of it, the jump seat and the engineer table.
MD-88: The Long Beach Death Tube. A bigger DC-9 with TV sets. Bigger work load for us because of all the computers on board. Layover still sucked like the DC-9 that it replaced.
Boeing 757: The Atari Ferrari. Outstanding climber. Passengers hate it, pilots love it. Flight kit area in the cockpit too small for current brain bags. Puts out more wake turbulence than your average 747.
Boeing 767/200: The Dump Truck. First of the 767s. Pitch control difficult and the computers were iffy. Noisy steel brakes and the entertainment systems never worked right.
Boeing 767/300 and 767ER: Like flying big, comfortable couches. The ER (extended range for international flying) had a different FMS that was a pain in the ass. Both airplanes started out nice but are now dirty and worn-out looking -- kind of like a cross-country bus after a long trip to Tijuana.
Boeing 777: Great airplane, unless you have to ride as a passenger on one. Bedroom above the cockpit. You forget what is on the overhead panel in the flight deck because you never use it. Finally, a big enough ADI to see in turbulence. Everything makes sense on the flight deck. We didn't buy enough of them. Coach seating a nightmare for passengers -- lots of fistfights break out between Shannon and 30W on westbounds. Can't remember how an AIDIRU works, but the 777 has them. Puts in its own rudder when you lose an engine. Has a crew-alert system that sounds a tone to wake you up if you haven't touched anything for a while.
The CEO Catches A Break
George came up just as I finished reading Wilson's roster of aircraft. The bomb scare continued but Flight Control had found us another bird for our trip to Denver and wanted us right now to fly it and our 186 passengers west to their ski vacations.
As we left, Wilson had picked up his pen and begun his chapter on "Great Flight Attendants I Have Known, Besides Your Momma."
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