Cockpit Chronicles: A slam click layover

The biggest choice I get to make each month when picking a schedule isn’t generally where I’ll fly or what days off I’ll get. Since I’m much closer to the bottom of the seniority list than the top among 767 international co-pilots in Boston, my choice is generally between flying a set schedule (known as a line) or ‘sitting’ on reserve.

If I choose reserve, I’m on call for more days a month, but on many of those days the company doesn’t need me to fly at all. In return, the pay is 10-15% less than flying a full schedule. This difference in pay is enough to cause most pilots to choose to bid a line.

When I’m able to hold a line, I tend to pick up trips and trade around so a normal schedule of, say, three-days on and three-days off might be a complete mess after I add a trip and bunch a few others together.

But nothing has compared to this past week. This is the first time I’ve worked at this company with just one day off in the past 15 days.
This marathon, caused by the cancellation in Paris on the last trip, is legal even though the FAA requires a day off every 7 days. Since the Paris trip has a layover of nearly 30 hours, which qualifies as your day off, it’s possible to schedule these trips back to back as often as you’d like, as long as you don’t exceed any other flight and duty time regulations, such as the maximum hours allowed per day, week and month.

The extra time in Paris was fun, and it’s really hard to complain about yet another day over there, but I was craving a day off, especially after I noticed my wife and kids were starting to forget my name.

“Mommy, there’s someone in the house!” I half expected my youngest daughter to say when I walked through the door.

I was tired and feeling less sociable on this final trip, so for the first time during my “summer of Paris,” I decided that I’d be a ‘slam clicker.’

A slam clicker is someone who, instead of going out with the rest of the crew, decides to slam their hotel door and click over the deadbolt. And since I was running weeks behind on the Cockpit Chronicles, I thought I’d get some sleeping and writing done and take a pass on going out to dinner in the city.

But there was one task I needed to do. I had to find a toy store in the city to pick up something for my two girls, ages 6 and 2. So after the usual nap, I searched online to find a good toy store. I was sure a good gift might help them remember me.

Viola! La Grande Récré, which is a chain of toy stores in Paris was just a 20 minute walk from the hotel. I plotted my course on a map, and headed out the door on a mission.

On the way there, I stopped to watch a scene of road rage between a lady driving a Smart car who rear-ended a gentleman in a Renault at an intersection. A bit of an argument ensued, but it was diffused quickly. The French are rather entertaining when they have these ‘discussions.’ So of course, I had to stay to see if I could understand the dialogue.

The toy store was packed full of brands that I hadn’t heard of, just as I had hoped. I was thrilled to find the perfect present–something that would make me a hero for sure.

Since my oldest daughter loves to dress up, and she loves cats, the Princess Chat (cat) outfit was just the ticket. It was even pink, her favorite color. And it had little cat ears to go with it.

And for the 2-year-old, I bought a type of play-dough that I hadn’t seen before along with some bunny-shaped balloons and a package of colored pencils.

On the way back to the hotel, I picked up a sandwich and a drink at a small cafe near the hotel. Nothing fancy, but the quick meal meant more time to catch up with the blog and still get a good night’s sleep.

The next day, I was the co-pilot flying back to Boston with Captain Doug and the relief pilot, Mark. As is the case on most of Doug’s flights home, we had a complete picnic in the cockpit, forgoing the usual business class meal. The spread included some baguette, cheese, salami and ham. If I don’t stop flying Paris soon, the company is going to have to account for my increased ‘contribution’ to the aircraft’s weight and balance.

Back in Boston, I had an ego-strokingly smooth landing, which I’ve come to learn is invariably followed by a complete ‘thumper’ on the next trip. Occasionally though I’ll get a streak of these nice landings, right up to the point where I’m convinced I’ve got the airplane mastered, only to start a run of mediocre landings that last weeks at a time.

I’m not a golfer, but I would imagine there are similar frustrations between landing a jet and shooting a round of golf.

Finally arriving home just before dinner, I immediately presented the girls with their surprises. Enya was thrilled with the Princess Chat outfit and Meryl had a great time kicking the bunny balloons above her head.

It’s nice to fly to Paris, but by far the best part of the trip is coming home.

So what does a pilot do on their days off? The next morning I took the girls on a day-trip up north to a friend’s fly-in party.

Kelly is a co-pilot on the 767 out of Boston. She and her husband, also a 767 pilot, but for another airline, live on a residential airpark. An airpark is essentially a grass runway surrounded by homes with hangars instead of garages. Inside these hangars the residents keep small planes, often experimental home-built aircraft.

Kelly’s annual party is a great place for me to introduce the girls to flying, and it was a good opportunity for me to give my wife a break from watching the kids.

Enya had a chance to try out the controls in my friend’s Piper Cherokee.

Meryl enjoyed sitting in a friend’s home-built airplane. In fact, it was tough to get her to come out.

Many airline pilots have little interest in hanging out around small planes on their days off. I can’t fault them for wanting to do something else, but I’ve never considered personal flying similar in any way to the flying we do at work.

In fact, the two types of flying are so different that this just might be why more pilots don’t fly small airplanes. It comes down to the lack of familiarity. That, and the fact that it’s becoming more expensive every year.

Maybe it’s important to remember where you came from. For me, it was small airplanes like those at Kelly’s fly-in. It reminds me of a time when I would have killed to fly every day for two weeks straight.

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