Cockpit Chronicles: Europe without the jetlag

I know I promised you a tip on how to fly to London from the East Coast without suffering any jetlag, but I suspect this method will be about as useful for most readers as my last post on how to park a 757.

We have a trip out of Boston that is highly coveted by pilots and flight attendants alike. It’s a two day trip that leaves in the morning and gets into London that night. Here’s what makes it so desirable; after arriving in London you can stay up until your normal bedtime as if you were at home since you leave so late the next day. This way you’ll avoid any jetlag. As an added bonus, you’ll get paid for the same number of hours as someone who is doing a three day Europe trip. The only trade off is that you won’t have much time for sightseeing.

Up until the end of last year, the 777 did both the morning and the evening departures to London. But because of some cabin upgrades in the triple seven, one of the London flights would go to the 767 for this winter only. And as luck would have it, it was the morning 2 day trip that went to the smaller Boeing. Since I’m not a very senior pilot in Boston, I knew it would be a miracle to hold any of these. Even with 15 years at the company, I find myself toward the bottom of the co-pilot list for the 757/767.
Through some lucky bidding and trading, I was able to get a couple of London’s onto my schedule. Part of the reason may have been because I would be flying during the NFL playoffs. Obviously, Boston crews have an interest in the post season this year, with the New England Patriots quest for a perfect season on the line. But I’m happy to TiVo the game if it means flying a London trip.

The captain was called out to cover another pilot who was sick. He brought his girlfriend along and they planned to hit the ground running the next morning and see as much of the city as possible. That would make for a very long day for them, but I’d do the same thing if I could have brought my wife.

We pulled up the flight plan in operations and noticed the very strong tailwinds across the North Atlantic of up to 185 mph. Suddenly, it was looking like we just might be able to see at least the second half of the Patriots/San Diego game in a London pub. The flight attendants were already making plans: Meet down in the pub, watch the last of the first game and maybe even part of the second game. So bring on the tailwinds!

It wasn’t long into the flight before we slid into the jetstream and enjoyed 174 knot (200 mph) winds almost directly at our backs. The ride was smooth and the ground speed clicked up to 632 knots (727 mph). There would be two meals served, a breakfast and only a few hours later, a dinner. I thought the meals were especially good this time, but I’m usually happy just to get something to eat. Believe it or not, there’s a site where contributers upload pictures of airline meals and review them if you really want to see how the meal will look for your next trip. Not surprisingly I recognized quite a few of the choices.

As is becoming customary for any European trips, I let a friend in Ireland know what time I’d be passing over her place. Ruthann lives near Galway, and ever since she was a kid, she’s listened to airplanes on VHF and HF receivers, checking in with Shanwick ATC as she’d fall asleep. I met her last year when she asked me to put a picture in her group of Shannon airport photos. She visited us in New Hampshire last fall. So I’ll usually say hello on the radio as we pass overhead, but it’s a one way conversation since she has no way of transmitting on VHF. Ruthann is a huge aviation buff, and she’s talked me into meeting her and her family for a trip to the Duxford Aviation Museum near Cambridge on my next London 3 day trip in a week. Stay tuned for that report.

Just five hours after departing Boston, it was time to review the approach into Heathrow and begin our descent. Moments later, we were told that we could expect to hold at 14,000 feet for 35 minutes over London.

It seems they were in the process of moving the British Airways 777 that had landed short of runway 27L due to a loss of power a few days earlier. It’s never a good idea to speculate on the reasons behind an accident, as the investigators will find the problem and prove most armchair analysts wrong. The AAIB has ruled out one possibility: not enough fuel. Contrary to the initial media speculation, early reports indicated that the airplane had 20,000 pounds of fuel on board upon ‘landing’ which is 2 1/2 hours worth, and investigators have confirmed that now.

We were one of the first airplanes to land on the newly opened runway. Any chance of seeing the first half of the football game was out of the question due to the half hour spent in the holding pattern. We piled on the chartered bus and I text messaged a friend to provide game updates to us for the next hour while we rode into the city. The whole crew placed bets on the score at the half and for the end of the game. After checking into our rooms, everyone came downstairs to the hotel’s “Tavern Pub” (is that name a bit redundant?) to watch Tom Brady flounder a bit. I managed to win the halftime pool and doubled my $5 investment. “Whoo hoo!”

Oh, and New England won.

The next morning it was blowing and raining, and I really didn’t want to go outside. The Museum of Natural History and the Science Museum are just blocks from the hotel, but I just felt like sleeping in as long as I could and then jumping on the computer for a few hours. Exciting, I know. But getting a bunch of rest before the longer flight home is so wonderful. Besides, I’d be coming back next week for a 44 hour layover.

I managed to sleep until noon, which is 7 a.m. back home before getting up and cracking open the computer. I use a roaming service called Boingo and many of the hotels where we stay have agreements with them. Otherwise the fee would have been £20 or $40 for 24 hours of web use. That’s just fleecing. If you travel a lot, Boingo seems to be one of the best ways to get online for ‘net junkies like me.

The tailwind that we enjoyed while flying to England last night was of course on our nose going home. Our flight plan took us as northerly as possible to avoid these winds and kept us relatively low, at 30,000 feet. When the ride became rather bumpy, we elected to go higher to a smoother altitude. We tried FL340 (34,000 feet) and finally settled on FL360 which was smoothest. The airplane burns less fuel at the higher altitudes, but if the wind is stronger up there, then you need to make an educated guess on which altitude will be the most efficient. It often comes down to which altitude is smoother. We put passenger comfort ahead of any fuel savings.

I’m using the photo gallery feature of Gadling (above) so you’ll start to see more pictures from these trips in the future. I like to think of these “Cockpit Chronicles” as a running logbook, but instead of just the dates and times found in a normal logbook, I’ll include a few stories and pictures. Thanks for coming along.

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