Cockpit Chronicles: Miami Closed? You’re pulling my leg!

Occasionally international pilots at our company will fly domestic trips, and a Miami turn I had on my schedule last week is a good example of that. Fly down and an hour later, come back to Boston. When you live somewhat close to the airport, these trips are a great way to avoid being away from home so much.

It would also give me a chance to fly with a domestic captain, Frank, who I had never flown with before. This can be good or bad, since you have no idea what kind of personality you’ll be sitting next to for the next 7 hours. Most captains I’ve flown with can be grouped into five different personalities:

The quiet type - who manages a few words an hour.

The thinker- who engages you with conversation about the industry or politics and keeps you pondering the future, asking questions like, “Do you think people are genetically predisposed to favor monarchies over democracies?”

The grump- who can’t come up with anything positive to say about the day.

The comedian- who keeps you smiling for the entire trip.

Or

The control freak- who makes sure that his method of flying becomes YOUR method of flying.

Fortunately in our base we have very few grumps or control freaks. I’m not sure if that ratio holds up at the other bases or not.

For this one-day trip to Miami, I really lucked out. Captain Frank is a comedian. There wasn’t anything subtle about his sense of humor, as this example shows:

Often a captain will turn to ask at some point in the preflight what leg a co-pilot prefers. That is to say, which leg of a flight would they wold like to fly the aircraft while the other pilot talks on the radio. Once this is decided at the beginning of a trip, we usually trade off the flying duties for the rest of the legs. The decision as to who starts off is really up to the captain — as is the choice of meals — but if the he has no preference he may defer the choice to the co-pilot. Frank’s method of asking this question is by pulling out a plastic leg from what I presume was a very chubby doll and saying, “Whose leg is this?” with a puzzled look.

I couldn’t think of a better way to start off a trip than this. It tends to break the ice and makes for a fun day. And a fun day we had.

Halfway into the flight, I was coming back to the cockpit after using the restroom when Frank announced, “The Miami Airport is closed.”

“Yeah, Right.” That Frank is pretty funny, I thought.

“No, it really is. It’s completely fogged in,” he said, pointing to the ATIS (the current airport weather report) that we can print up inflight.

Sure enough, Miami was socked in. The second picture above shows the visibility in feet at the touchdown, midfield and roll out areas on each runway. We commented on how rare of an event this was, since neither of us had actually seen fog in Miami in our careers. It’s so rare, in fact, that the Miami airport doesn’t have an approach system called a CAT III ILS which would allow us to land by using the airplane’s autopilot down to visibilities as low as 500 feet.

So we had to enter yet another holding pattern just abeam Fort Lauderdale while we waited for the fog to clear. Fortunately we had plenty of fuel and we could literally see the FLL airport next to us, which was clear.

We did some quick calculations to figure that we could hold for more than 50 minutes given our current fuel before we would be burning into the reserve needed to go to our furthest alternate airport, fly the approach and still have 45 minutes to play with.

The next calculation was if this extra flight time was going to cause me to exceed 30 hours of flight time in 7 days, which would cause me to lose the three day London trip scheduled the next day. I might have been able to find another trip to pick up, but I had already made plans for the long layover in England. It took just a little bit of adding to discover that I wasn’t going to lose any flying the next day.

The Miami airport opened up after thirty minutes. By the time it was our turn to land, the fog had completely lifted and we were sure that passengers would question the reason for the late arrival. While that wasn’t the case, we did have a couple of people complain, one even saying, “I refuse to say thanks since you got us here late.”

I couldn’t help thinking that we could have certainly got him on the ground on time, only it would have been at the Fort Lauderdale airport.

After this trip, I’ve added Frank to my list of captains that I’ll go out of my way to fly with. Thanks, Frank, for making the day such a pleasure. And thanks to the passengers who understand that we don’t really have much control over the weather.

Cockpit Chronicles takes you along on each of Kent’s trips as a co-pilot on the Boeing 757 and 767 out of Boston.