Biking the car-less streets of New York City after Hurricane Irene

I’ve suddenly found myself stuck in New York City after my 3-day Rome trip canceled. Watching the news last night, it looked like Manhattan would be without power and struggling even to survive the ‘storm of a lifetime’ on Saturday.

Instead, after Hurricane Irene passed through the city earlier this morning there was an erie calm. As I woke up, I wondered if we were in the eye of the storm.

It turns out, Irene may have some strong winds on the back side, but for now, a little fun could be had by biking through the empty streets of the city.

Here’s what I found at 5th Avenue, Central Park, Times Square, Grand Central Terminal, the U.N. Building the Queensboro (59th Street) Bridge and the East River. Wide open streets and unencumbered riding! A video is the best way for me to describe the morning:


There was a atmosphere in the city today. One biker told me he saw people playing Wiffle Ball in Times Square. Tourists, with nothing else to do, gathered on Broadway, umbrellas in hand, just to look at the streets.


New York is an amazing city, but after a snow storm or situation like we had today, the break in monotonous city life offers a chance look around them and see just how great this place is.

I thought I’d had enough of Irene after experiencing it from the air, but today Irene brought many of us a pleasant surprise, and some time to reflect on how thankful we are that it wasn’t worse.

Cockpit Chronicles: One long date with Hurricane Irene

Plunk, plunk, plunk, went the water as it dripped from the ceiling into a trash can behind me.

“I’d just as soon call it quits here and go to a hotel.” the captain said, looking at the latest weather report for Santo Domingo and the radar picture of hurricane Irene which was just northwest of our destination. All of Puerto Rico, where we were contemplating our decision, had just been through the hurricane and much of the island was without power. In our 200 square foot operations room at the San Juan airport, water was leaking all around the room.

Plunk, plunk, plunk.

We had just flown down from New York heading to Santo Domingo (SDQ) on what was supposed to be a turn-a one day trip, just down and back-but prior to beginning the approach, we were sent a message from our dispatch telling us to divert to San Juan.

Another flight just six minutes ahead of us had just touched down after breaking out of the clouds shortly before the minimum height required to see the runway. They said it was just heavy rain on the approach.

There were four surprised pilots in our cockpit at that moment; the captain and myself, along with the relief co-pilot and a check airman who was giving a line check to the captain. All of us were in agreement that we needed to go to San Juan. Dispatch could have had information that we just weren’t privy to at the moment. The same policy applies (at our company) if any pilot had said ‘go-around’ during the approach, the flying-pilot is required to climb away from the ground and ask questions later. In this case, dispatch is very much part of our team. In this case, we didn’t have time to discuss the particulars with our dispatcher. We had to trust that they had information about the airport, terminal, gate, runway, or some other operational need to get us back to San Juan.

After working our way around the tail end of the hurricane, we were now faced with turning back and flying through the same turbulent weather on our way to San Juan. Fortunately fuel wasn’t a concern, since we had more than four hours available for our 45-minute flight to our alternate airport.

The climb out was just as bumpy as the arrival. Most of the time we were in the clear, but the chop would still be an issue for our passengers, who were probably nervous after we discontinued the approach into Santo Domingo.Approaching San Juan, we were faced with two runways, one of which had ILS approach that was inoperative, and the other had no runway lights. Fortunately it was daylight, but seeing that runway in the heavy rain could be a challenge.

As we intercepted the glide slope at 2,500 feet, which is done by joining a radio beam that goes from the runway threshold out along the centerline at a three degree angle for more than 10 miles, the airplane began to descend on the autopilot. The glideslope then seemed to bump up, causing the airplane to climb when it was supposed to be descending. After it settled down, we were now high, and we weren’t likely going to be able to ‘capture’ the glideslope in a way that would be stable.

As I’ve detailed in a previous Cockpit Chronicles, an approach that is no longer stable must be discontinued. We have a ‘no-fault’ go-around policy at the airline which is designed to remove any chance a pilot would want to continue an approach that doesn’t look right. The captain made the right choice and elected to intercept it again after going around.

“Go-around, leave the flaps at 5, positive rate, gear up.” The captain called out while flying the go-around manually.

“Tower, one-five three-eight is going around,” I told the tower as we climbed through 2,500 feet.

A go-around is a busy moment. And just as you’re going through the litany of calls and performing the actions required, ATC becomes interested in just why you’re going around.

“Roger fifteen thirty-eight, can you turn left to 360 degrees?” they ask, assuming we’re going around because of the weather.

The heading looked fine to me, and I glanced at the captain who was flying. “Sure.” He said busily performing the missed approach.

By this point, the 226 passengers on board were justifiably nervous. But neither go-around was caused by the weather conditions immediately in front of us, and at this point, we were too busy to give them an update or explanation for our second go-around of the flight.

Coming back for the second time, the captain elected to hand-fly the airplane in case another ‘bump’ of the glideslope occurred. With 100 feet to go before arriving at our decision altitude, the runway came into view. The relief pilot didn’t wait for the captain to call for the windshield wipers and reached up between us to turn them on. With all the fuel on board, we were heavy, and since the runway was likely covered in water, it was important to touch down early and stop quickly. The captain did just that, and as we turned around at the end of the runway to back-taxi to the exit taxiway, I felt spent.

On Cockpit Chronicles, I probably incorrectly give the impression that every flight is easy and routine. That’s the case far more often than not, but there are days where you earn every penny. Before we left on this trip, the captain had been talking about retiring as early as next week, and I have to think this flight made the decision easier.

Plunk, plunk, plunk.

“Captain, do you have an estimate on when you can go? I need to tell the passengers something,” the gate agent said while standing in the doorway of the office.

“Let me talk it over with these guys and I’ll let you know,” said the captain while motioning to his two first officers.

The agent closed the door and went back to the gate.


Our view of Hurricane Irene as it left the Dominican Republic

We talked about the weather in Santo Domingo and what the radar was depicting. SDQ was reporting good ceilings and visibility. The hurricane was a few hundred miles west of the airport, but we’d likely have a similar bumpy ride back. The radar depiction (shown above) looked far uglier than what was outside.

We talked to dispatch over the phone and they said planes were getting in to SDQ. Staying in San Juan would have been difficult anyway as there were likely no hotels available anyway, and the agent told us the power was out in much of the city.

“I’m good to go,” I said, while the relief pilot agreed enthusiastically.

“Ok, I’ll pull up the paperwork,” the captain replied.

Two passengers elected to stay in San Juan probably because of the long and eventful flight getting here and the ominous lightning off in the distance, and I can’t blame them if they were scared. But this was going to be an exceedingly safe flight as far as I was concerned.

The rest of the passengers were boarded again and we pushed back two and a half hours after we arrived. It was my turn to fly and while there were clouds along the route of flight, the ride wasn’t too bumpy. I was relieved to see the lights from the Santo Domingo airport nearly ten miles out.

The outbound passengers were glad to see us, and seemingly happy to get off the island after experiencing the effects of hurricane Irene. Little did they know the same hurricane would be arriving in New York just four days later.

Three pilots are on all flights that are scheduled to exceed 8 hours, and while ours was originally supposed to go over by just five minutes, I was glad to have the relief pilot on board after clocking in a challenging ten hours. The three of us all slept during our breaks in the back (the check airman, deciding that the captain had passed his check ride, elected to go back to New York on a direct flight from San Juan.)

While on my fifty-five minute break, I slipped into a deep dream-something that rarely happens during my crew rest period. But this time I dreamt about an oversized female dispatcher staring at a computer screen while picking up a phone.

And I think her name was Irene.

A postscript:

Unfortunately this isn’t my last rendezvous with hurricane Irene. I was scheduled to fly to Rome Saturday night but that trip from JFK has obviously been cancelled. So now I get to have a closer look at the hurricane, this time while on the ground in New York.

Cockpit Chronicles takes you along on some of Kent’s trips as an international co-pilot on the Boeing 757 and 767 based in New York. Have any questions for Kent? Check out the Cockpit Chronicles Facebook page or follow Kent on Twitter @veryjr.

Come on Irene: Hotel hurricane specials in DC and NYC

hurricane irene - the setaiThe rain is just beginning as Hurricane Irene makes her way up into the mid-Atlantic, but if you look at the grocery stores, you’d think the apocalypse was near. If you lose power or need to evacuate, what better way to ride out the storm than at a luxe hotel with a generator and room service?

One of our DC favorites, the 99-room Relais and Chateaux property The Jefferson, is offering the 30% off Friends and Family rate through the weekend (and more than 800 books in the library to keep you busy). The slightly more cost-effective Grand Hyatt Washington is offering $99 rates through Sunday night.

In New York, find sanctuary at another of our favorites, the luxe Setai Fifth Avenue, where guests will get a $359 rate with code “IRENE” ( a 30%) discount for rooms through Monday. Soothe your frazzled nerves at the Bar on Fifth in the hotel, featuring nightly jazz and a complimentary “Dark and Stormy” cocktail.

Know of any other great deals? Leave them in the comments.

*Update, 3:28 PM. Writer Melanie shared this update on Twitter, saying that there’s a $139 rate through August 30 at The Fairmont Washington DC as well.