Cockpit Chronicles: A three-legged turn

I raced to the phone to check the caller ID. It was crew scheduling. Of course I had to answer. As much as I hoped I wouldn’t be called for an Easter trip, I knew it was likely to happen–It’s part of the job when you’re on reserve.

Camille had two trips to offer me, one of which I had to take. The first was a San Francisco two-day trip. It had an early departure from Boston, arriving at SFO before noon. Then after 10 hours of rest during the daytime, the flight would leave at around 10 p.m. and arrive back in Boston at 6 a.m. I felt like a vegetarian listening to the waitress read off the prime rib specials.

“No thanks!” I interrupted. As much as I like San Francisco, I wasn’t interested in a short layover that required you to sleep during the day before flying an all-nighter back home. Not to mention that the layover hotel was at the airport.

The other trip was the usual Caribbean turn, this time to St. Thomas. But instead of simply one leg down and one leg back, they had us going from St. Thomas to San Juan, Puerto Rico before heading home. Apparently, due to some very strong winds and high seas, a fuel tanker couldn’t dock at a number of Caribbean Islands to supply them with fuel. So we would need to continue on to San Juan to make a quick fuel stop.

The 757 can hold 74,500 pounds of fuel — enough to make it there and back — but we wouldn’t have been able to take all the passengers with us if we filled up with round-trip fuel. So the San Juan fuel stop was arranged for all the flights from Boston and New York to the islands that weekend.

I was the relief pilot alongside Captain Mike and FO (first officer or co-pilot) Mark. I was happy to fly with another set of people I enjoyed. A few of the flight attendants were some of my favorites as well–Roz and Rita specifically.
Before going to work, I managed to spend a half hour taking pictures of my two girls (ages 6 and 2) while they were busy finding Easter eggs all over the house. I think they discovered about thirty plastic eggs before I had to head out the door for my quick trip to the sun and back. I was thrilled to at least get to do a little egg hunting with them, though.

After meeting up in operations, I went off to do the exterior preflight inspection–looking over the general condition of the airplane, checking the tire pressures and brake wear indicators and a few other essential items. FO Mark set up the inside by programming the FMS and testing the fire warning horns. Captain Mike printed out the flight plan and picked up some coffee for everyone. He’s that kind of guy.

Since I was just along for the ride when we took off from Boston, I managed to take a few nice shots of the city.

We each had a one-hour break going down to St. Thomas. I managed to rest a bit, but like most people, I’m never really able to completely sleep in the back of an airplane.

The arrival into St. Thomas went smoothly, as did the entire flight. After landing, I sat in the cockpit and marveled at all the different airlines that fly to St. Thomas. So I snapped a few pictures of Delta’s freshly painted 757 and a USAirways 767. A Gulfstream II taxied in and pulled up to the terminal. There were so many corporate jets all over the airport that I didn’t bother taking a picture of the G-II.

A United pilot asked the tower, “who’s the big-wig in the Gulfstream?”

A kind of unusual question, I thought. He must be able to see something from his end of the terminal as they were getting off.

“Can’t tell you.” Said the controller.

Then another pilot jumped in and said, “Obama.”

I figured it was just a joke, maybe a response to the fact that everywhere you turn lately, you’re seeing the presidential candidates stumping for votes. But I found out today that it was, in fact, Barack Obama in the Gulfstream. A strategic vacation during this lull we’re in for a few weeks before the primaries pick up again, I would think. I wouldn’t be surprised if he swings into Puerto Rico to campaign a bit on the way home.

Of course the only airplane I didn’t get a picture of was that Gulfstream.

Note the new versus old Delta color schemes:

Since we had three flights that day, I kindly persuaded Captain Mike to give me the leg to San Juan.

Which led to this:

Actually it was Mike’s idea that I fly to San Juan. He didn’t have to twist my arm for me to say yes, and luckily I didn’t really have to grab him by his tie. A short hop that was flight planned for 27 minutes, where you hardly have to turn on the autopilot is by far the most fun you can have in an airliner.

The flight to San Juan ended up taking 25 minutes and we never climbed higher than 10,000 feet. If it weren’t so cloudy, we would’ve had an amazing view of Puerto Rico.

Because of the added fuel stop, we were running almost an hour late. We had a few passengers that were trying to connect to the London flight out of Boston, so we did our best to call the company and plead for them to hold the flight. The evening London flight has an arrival slot time that needs to be met, so they were very reluctant to hold the flight. We managed to land ten minutes before the London flight left, and I assume the passengers made it to the London flight three gates away. I sure hope so. The flight attendants let them know that they might not arrive in London with their bags because of the tight connection. They were still willing to give it a try.

I’ll be on reserve for April. The chances are slim that they’ll use me again before my days off start this weekend. So until next month…

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