Cockpit Chronicles: Caracas and New York

Being the only pilot on reserve, I figured I’d be getting a call to fly over the weekend. Sure enough, Camille called on Thursday to tell me I’d be departing at 6:30 the next morning. It was a new sequence that I hadn’t flown yet. They took away our Panama City and Caracas trip and replaced it with a Caracas and New York layovers.

While I wasn’t really itching to fly to Caracas again, the idea of a day in Manhattan sounded like fun. We seem to get N.Y. layovers every year or two for a few months at a time.

John K. was the Captain and he was yet another one of the Boston pilots I enjoy flying with. I know I’m constantly pointing out how nice it is to fly with the Captains I’m paired up with, but I sincerely believe that Boston has the most good-natured group of pilots at the company. I have no scientific proof of that, but I’m sticking with it.

John and I had a great time in Paris a year ago, when he showed me that some bread, cheese and wine at the local grocery store can be the perfect way to enjoy Paris on a summer evening. So I knew we could find something interesting to do in New York.

He gave me the early morning leg down to San Juan, Puerto Rico. The sun was just coming up while we were waiting our turn to takeoff, affording a good opportunity to snap a shot of an airplane crossing the path of the rising sun.

Four hours later we were on approach to Puerto Rico. In the past, when you landed on runway 10 (pronounced “one-zero”) in San Juan, it would feel like you were about to lose a few fillings in your teeth. After a construction period that lasted at least a year, we were ready to give the freshly-restored runway a try. For whatever reason they used the more expensive concrete instead of asphalt on the runway this time and the results were excellent. There’s one less thing I can blame a poor landing on.

When you sign into the computer in operations at the beginning of every trip, it tells you how many hours you have on the type of airplane you’re flying and the number of landings you’ve made. The records indicated I had 2994 hours. I did the math and realized that I’d be reaching 3000 hours just after we took off from Miami on our way to Caracas. I figured I’d note the time and celebrate to myself after we leveled off.

John was explaining to me about the ‘issues’ he had with some beavers that had taken over his pond. He now has an otter that has been feasting on the fish. The image in my mind of an otter clearing out John’s half frozen pond of largemouth bass was all I needed to completely forget about my little milestone until the next day. The only way to properly celebrate the moment would have been to snack on some mixed nuts. I guess I’ll have to wait until 5000 hours now.

John flew the leg into Caracas. We’ve been landing there for the past few months only at night, so it was nice to have a chance to see it in the daytime. But I was a bit surprised at the smog that was coming from a series of smoke stacks along the shoreline. After we landed it took a while to get used to the smoke in the air.

After a quick nap, we met at the hotel pool before eating at the restaurant a few feet away. This is pretty much the only option, as we’re ‘encouraged’ not to leave the hotel. I had my favorite ‘pizza margarita’ and John had a steak. It almost seems like the prices had doubled since the last time we were there. I can’t remember what I paid before, but the pizza and an iced tea were $17.

The next morning I was checking my emails through the painfully slow internet connection when I got a message that my card had been ‘frozen.’ It seems the account was flagged with “unusual activity” just because I used it in Venezuela. I’m sure the fraud department at credit card companies must really wonder about a card that might see use in Panama one day, Venezuela later that night and then Miami or Boston the next day. I frantically tried to log into the banking website, but I could only load a page or two before the browser stopped responding.

Pickup was at 7 a.m, which was an improvement over the 3 a.m. wake-up time the day before. We made it through Miami and landed at LaGuardia by 2 in the afternoon. John made a perfect landing in the howling wind aboard the U.S.S. LaGuardia. (A nickname referring to the short runway surrounded by water just east of Manhattan.)

I had recently seen Nathan Lane on the Jon Stewart Show plugging his latest Broadway comedy, November. For a moment, I pondered the feasibility of flying down to N.Y. from Boston with my wife just to catch this show. I immediately came to my senses when I thought through the logistics involved in even a short outing like that. Not to mention the cost of a New York city hotel.

It hadn’t even dawned on me that I might find myself in New York just a few days later. I told John about the play and I could tell he wasn’t so sure about spending the $80 to see this play. I convinced him that we could find a good deal at the TKTS booth in Times Square. He was up for it.

The TKTS booth has temporarily moved to the Marriott at Times Square. Fortunately I looked up the TKTS entry on Wikipedia which mentioned that they only take cash. After convincing my bank in person that I wasn’t an international credit card thief, I was able to take some money out.

Amazingly, ‘November’ is one of the plays that’s available at the booth, even on a Friday night. It payed off to get the booth early, since some of these shows are sold out months in advance, and often the TKTS booth has only leftover or returned tickets. After we picked up our discounted tickets, we went to Johns favorite place to eat–appropriately enough called ‘John’s’.

John’s Pizzeria’ is located in a converted theatre. I couldn’t resist trying out the margarita pizza, even if I had it the night before in Caracas. I didn’t regret a single bite.

We had plenty of time before the play, so what else is there to do in New York city? Visit one of the city’s most famous landmarks; the Apple Store on 5th Avenue of course! John and I played with the super thin and feather light Macbook Air a bit before walking to the theatre on 47th street.

We had no idea if the seats we were given were any good. I figured they’d be ‘obstructed view’ seats or something way in the back. We were rather shocked that they were 11th row orchestra (floor) seats perfectly aligned in the center of the theatre. Not bad for 35% off.

‘November’ is a play about a fictitious U.S. president, played by Nathan Lane, who is universally disliked by the people. He’s not ready to leave after his first term, but he’s completely out of money to continue his campaign. So he manages to blackmail the turkey industry by threatening to pardon every turkey before Thanksgiving unless the industry group coughs up $200 million for his campaign.

The best line of the show: “I’m thinking of a number so high, dogs can’t even hear it.”

We had a lot of laughs and John and I both gave it a solid 8 out of 10. Hopefully I’ll fly some more of these trips to sample some other plays in N.Y.

Leaving the theater, we marveled at the low clouds that looked as if they were caught on the tops of the buildings. I managed to snap this picture on Madison Avenue. We were almost expecting the “Bat Sign” to illuminate on the clouds at any moment.

The next morning those same clouds had reached the ground and fog enveloped the LaGuardia airport. To make matters worse, our airplane was located over at JFK and they were waiting on a reserve captain to get to JFK to ferry the airplane to LaGuardia. We were a bit confused as to why they didn’t call us a bit earlier to do the ferry before flying to Miami and then home to Boston. They probably thought that it would be faster to have a reserve pilot called out to bring the airplane over to us. Unfortunately it didn’t work out that way. We left LGA late and tried to make up as much time getting to Miami, but we landed just as a connecting flight to Belize was departing. This meant that ten of our passengers, including a really nice family that visited us in the cockpit while we were parked at the gate in New York wouldn’t make it to Belize until the next day.

We were in a bit of a hurry in Miami while we changed from one plane to another. We refer to this as the “bag drag.” When I got to the next airplane, I realized that I left my aluminum Sigg water bottle in the previous airplane. I knew we didn’t have time for me to run back to retrieve the bottle, and I was resigned to the fact that I had finally lost it. Amazingly, after we closed the door the agent showed up with the bottle, standing on top of a belt loader to get to my window. While the ground crew was still loading a few last minute bags, our incredibly helpful agent managed to toss me the bottle through the window. But it took two attempts:

Fortunately the bottle is well padded in a neoprene casing. After a quick turn in Miami it was back up to Boston. The whole northeast was covered in fog, and as we approached the Logan airport, there were reports of thunderstorms in the area. These are two conditions that don’t usually occur at the same time. The visibility lifted a bit, and the thunderstorms were well off to the west by the time we arrived. Still, the Logan tower reported a wind shear advisory to us while we were on short final. The major airports have equipment that looks for rapidly shifting winds. An alert means you may see a gust of plus or minus ten knots while landing. As ugly as it sounded, we had no issues getting in and we didn’t see any of the gusts that were advertised. Still, it was nice of them to let us know that the possibility existed. Technology has gone a long way to improve the level of safety in this industry.


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