Cockpit Chronicles: Our easiest trip: the two-day San Juan

I finished the last Paris trip four hours before my wife Linda and the kids would arrive in Boston on a Lufthansa flight from Germany. I debated waiting for them at the airport, but I knew Linda would be especially thrilled if she didn’t have to go to the store on the way home to pick up some milk for her morning tea. So I drove up to New Hampshire, picked up some milk and fresh fruit, dropped off the groceries and my work gear at home and raced back down to Boston.

While the family was away in Germany, I had arranged to have the interior of the house painted as a Mother’s Day surprise for Linda. Part of me wanted to paint it myself, but the entryway has some high walls and pilots just shouldn’t be on ladders. I can’t tell you how many stories I’ve heard of aviators falling off a roof while putting up christmas lights, sliding down a ladder while painting the trim or falling out of a tree while cleaning out dead branches. The fact that pilots are dangerous around ladders makes it much easier for me to get out of some of the ugliest projects.

After picking up everyone at the airport, I couldn’t wait to get them home to see the freshly-painted house. My six-year old ran straight up the stairs to her room while Linda walked in the door. She looked right into the living room, and mentioned just how clean the house looked.I couldn’t believe she didn’t notice the new color. I tried not to smirk while she set down our two-year old girl. It wasn’t until Linda actually walked into the living room that she realized just why the house looked so clean.

“Oh, my gosh!” She gasped, with nearly the same enthusiasm as a participant on one of those home improvement reality TV shows. We lived in this house for eight years before finally getting some color on those walls.

The next morning I mowed the lawn and helped with the kids while Linda unpacked and did load after load of laundry. After four days in a row of flying, I wasn’t looking forward to going back to work after just a day off. But I knew it was the price I had to pay to get the first week of the month off.

Fortunately the two-day San Juan was about the easiest trip I’ve ever flown. Just one leg down to Puerto Rico, layover for 24 hours followed by one leg back. I could catch up on some writing and mess around with my new favorite gadget (more on that later).

The 9:30 a.m. departure time was a welcome change from the 5:45 a.m. Caribbean trips. I’m tempted to bid a month of these trips, but the only drawback is the two-day on and two-day off schedule. Most pilots prefer to fly more hours while they’re on the job, so they can have more days off in between trips.

I flew with Captain Hank who, like me, flew up in Alaska before coming to work here. We last flew together on the 737 in 2001, so it was nice to catch up and talk about some of the people from Alaska that we both know. We tried to outdo each other with wild and exciting tales of our Alaska-flying days, which made the flight go by very quickly. Pilots refer to conversations like this as ‘hangar flying’ but is it really hangar flying if we’re telling the stories in-flight?

The conversation stopped when we came upon a thunderstorm that required a deviation from our planned route of flight. This can be challenging, since we have to first call New York radio, who then relays the information to the Western Atlantic controllers (who I like to imagine are pushing little airplanes around on a table with long pool sticks.)

After getting a hold of N.Y. Radio via the very low-tech HF radio, we waited for a few minutes for them to co-ordinate our 20 nautical mile deviation to the left of course. Because we called more than a hundred miles before the weather ahead, they got back to us in time.

This was how the thunderstorm looked out the window (note the round ball-shaped cloud on the right):

Six minutes later, that round ball reached it’s maximum height and flattened off:

And this was how the radar depicted it. The dashed line is a 20NM offset from our current route. As you can see, we’re moving left toward that line:

There weren’t any bumps from the thunderstorm, since we were 20 miles downwind of it.

We landed just before 1 p.m., a whole 30 minutes ahead of schedule due to some favorable winds. We wasted no time in the cockpit packing up our headsets and approach before heading to the hotel. I had about four days worth of sleep to catch up on. After a much needed nap I thought I’d lay next to the pool and get some reading in with my new favorite gadget, an Amazon Kindle book reader. This lightweight device reads like a book, without the harsh backlighting a computer uses. Books can be downloaded directly into it–usually at a significant discount. All best sellers from the Amazon Kindle store are $9.95. I also subscribe to Time and Newsweek and the latest Reuters news updates for just $1.50 each per month. This a great way to travel lighter–and best of all there’s no charge for the wireless Sprint network connection used for downloading this material.

I found Hank reading outside as well, and it wasn’t long before we started to compare notes on various airlines and the pilots who flew for them out of Anchorage and Fairbanks.

We decided to make our way from the hotel pool to the Mexican restaurant down the road. I always enjoy this restaurant, since the tables are right next to the open ocean where you can watch the surf come crashing in. This time there was a kid out fishing right along the shore in front of our window.

Hank flew the leg home the next day. We passed just by Bermuda and slid right into Boston without any delay. While riding on the employee bus to the parking garage, my cell phone rang.

“Hello First Officer Wien.” Camille, the crew scheduler said, using the sweetest inflection of her British accent. “You’re going to REALLY hate me-it’s ugly!”

“What do you have, Camille?” I asked, holding out hope that her idea of an ugly trip just MIGHT be my idea of the perfect trip.

“I need to take you off of your Paris trip the day after tomorrow and give you a Caracas two-day that leaves tomorrow at 5:30 a.m.” she explained.

Compared to a Paris layover, it was ugly all right. But when they get a hold of you on the phone, the company can pretty much send you anywhere to do anything. At least I’d get paid the extra two hours for the Paris trip, and I’d be flying one day less, but I was really looking forward to having a day and a half off and flying with one of my favorite captains. At least Camille owes me one. Hear that, Camille?

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