Cockpit Chronicles: Domestic Duties

I can’t wait for our one European destination to come back to Boston in May. These crack of dawn departures don’t fit my circadian rhythm at all. I’m convinced in fact, that when I retire I may never again see the sun rise.

That said, it’s just so amazing to walk down the jet bridge and out the side door to start the preflight inspection and see the sunrise shining down the polished fuselage just as the light breaks through the horizon. Even after so many years it’s still enough to get you excited to climb once more into the sky, turn left to one-four-zero and pop through a thin cloud layer into the bright sun. For me, this is the best part of the job. Not the layovers or the diminished travel benefits, but the ability to fly an airplane I could never afford, to places I never thought of seeing with other pilots and flight attendants that I enjoy working with.

This morning’s flight down to Chicago was completely full. The captain, Roland, was someone who I hadn’t flown with before and we had two American Eagle pilots in the cockpit jumpseats. The 757 has two seats located just behind the pilots that are used for FAA checkrides or for extra relief pilots who sit there for takeoff and landing. But they’re most often used by pilots who are trying to get to or from work. Often these pilots work for a different airline.

%Gallery-21627%After passing through a series of checks with the gate agents, jumpseating pilots make their way into the cockpit and introduce themselves where the captain will look over their paperwork and I.D.’s. Most of these pilots are apologetic for crowding into our workspace for their flight to or from home, but I actually enjoy having them along. It’s nice to catch up with what’s happening at other companies, and since I’ve used the jumpseat at FedEx and other airlines so many times, I’m happy that we can return the favor.

The two Eagle captains filled us in on some of the details at their airline such as how much time it’s taking to upgrade to captain, where the senior bases are and some interesting rumors.

I’m pretty sure I haven’t flown into Chicago since 2005. Not much has changed, except for the renumbering of a few of the runways. A new east/west runway on the north side of the airport is being built, which meant they’d have to rename the two parallel runways from 27 Left and 27 Right to 27 Left, 27 Right and 28. It’s not nearly as confusing as it sounds.

The weather was clear and calm, which allowed for a relatively quick turnaround of about an hour in Chicago. I didn’t even go into the terminal, since I had just enough time to do another preflight inspection and the cockpit setup tasks. The next leg was to Miami and just like the first one, it was a full flight, with two more jumpseaters.

We have a normal power setting and a maximum power setting that we use for each takeoff. Maximum power is used only when the runway is short, there’s any tailwind or if the winds are shifting significantly. Today, we had a slight tailwind, so a max power takeoff was required. Even with every seat full, the 757 was a rocket–climbing over 6000 feet per minute at a deck angle of 20 degrees and still accelerating.

One of our jumpseaters, Brett, was an Eagle co-pilot and the other was a 737 pilot for us. They were both commuting to work. We enjoyed chatting with Brett who was finishing up his first year at the airline flying the Embraer regional jet. His enthusiasm was infectious and when we found out that he’d be staying at the same hotel in Miami that we were, we insisted he come with us for dinner.

He was genuinely surprised when we covered his meal, but really, who’s going to let a first year Eagle pilot pay? The dinner at Norman’s (a shrimp BLT sandwich) at north Miami Beach was excellent.

Back at the Miami Beach hotel I went to my room and spent a relaxing night writing up a Plane Answers post for Friday. When I’m at home, I usually watch the kids while my wife gets some work done after I’ve been gone for the past few days. So I can only write in the late evenings after everyone’s asleep or during the layovers. Occasionally I can write while deadheading.

The next morning we met the van outside the hotel while it was still dark. Roland and I flew the early morning flight from Miami to San Francisco. Our flight attendants were based in Miami, so we met up with them at the airplane.

My favorite thing about these domestic transcon flights are the beautiful opportunities for pictures above the Rocky Mountains, Bryce Canyon and the Sierra Nevada mountain range. We were kept lower than usual, due to the headwinds that were stronger up above us, so the view turned out to be perfect for a few pictures. Allow me to take you across the country, over New Orleans, Dallas, the Rockies, Bryce Canyon, Utah, Yosemite, and into San Francisco with this gallery:


I’ve never had any intention of writing a blog. I just started out sharing these kind of pictures, and the captions began to grow into blog posts. My English teacher would always say, don’t tell me, SHOW me! Well Mr. Park, here you go–I’ve got my camera right here.

The wind was really howling at the San Francisco airport, up to about 40 m.p.h., but it was pointed down the runway. Of course Roland rolled it onto runway 28 nicely.

Here’s where this trip started to look ugly. We arrived in San Francisco before noon, but we’d be leaving for Boston at 11 p.m. With just a bite to eat, and some well-needed sleep, we’d be flying all night to Boston.

Roland had a favorite restaurant that turned out to to be a bit of a hike, especially with the wind blowing from the bay right at us. I broke one of my self-imposed layover rules and didn’t bring my camera. I had no idea it would be such a scenic walk. The low res iPhone camera was all I could use to give you an idea where we walked.

When we made it back to the hotel three hours later, it wasn’t hard to sleep–even though it was in the middle of the day. It’s unfortunate that we didn’t have more time there, since this was one of the best hotels in our system. More and more hotels are getting flat screen televisions, but this was the first I’ve seen with actual HD content. Not only that, but they included a panel where you can plug in your iPod, computer or mp3 player. Finally a hotel that isn’t clinging to the idea that guests are only interested in outrageously priced ‘on demand’ movies.

I enjoy flying at night. It’s usually smoother, and there’s far less chatter on the radio. After taking off from San Francisco, we were given a direct route to Albany, N.Y. which is the first point on our approach into Boston. This direct routing shaved off twelve miles from our original flight plan. That only amounts to a saving of three minutes but we were happy to take whatever they would give us.

Halfway through our last leg, I agreed with Roland that this trip was really much better than it looked on paper. No one likes to fly the all-nighter trips, but this one really wasn’t that bad. In fact, I prefer this flying over the early morning flights we have to Miami and then to the islands. But I just couldn’t see switching to domestic, since I’d miss the Caribbean and European flying.

Everyone has different priorities though, and that’s one of the benefits of working for such a large company. My brother is also a pilot here, and he prefers domestic flying for the most part. Recently the 777 captain position has become within his reach and he’s seriously considering flying from Chicago to our 777 destinations of Shanghai, New Delhi, Moscow and London. This would be a dream for me since it would at least give me something new to write about and it would also pay more, but Kurt’s really having to think it over. I may just have to jumpseat with him on one of those trips if he decides to take the plunge. Ten years ago I rode with him from Seattle to Tokyo when he was flying as a co-pilot on the MD-11.

I thanked Roland for a great trip as we waited for the bus to the parking lot. I then jumped in my car for the hour-long drive north to New Hampshire. My wife was just getting up with the kids and after a nice welcome home, I went upstairs for some sleep.

I was completely exhausted and delighted to finally fall into my own bed for a much needed rest…

Then crew scheduling called.

They let me know that I’d be needed for another trip in the morning. And of course, it left at o’dark-thirty.

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