As many of you know, I run a blog called 'In A Foreign Sky'. This report can be seen in full on my blog with photos and video at http://wp.me/p3hLbD-3W
The Full blog is available at http://inaforeignsky.wordpress.com
I’ve been with my current company for about two years now. I’m based out of largest hub, Chicago O’Hare (ORD). During the summer I generally hold a ‘hard’ line, which means I get to bid on pre-built monthly schedules and thus end up knowing my scheduling about three weeks in advance of the following month. Having a ‘hard’ line also gives me much more flexibility to trade trips, and sometimes even drop them altogether. Unfortunately, for most of the winter months there are far fewer hard lines, and so my seniority can only hold a relief line. A relief line is essentially a schedule built out of all the scraps left over that weren’t assigned during the building of the hard lines. They are issued about five days prior to the beginning of the next months schedule and are much less flexible in terms of trading work days and dropping trips.
As I live in Chicago, I always try to get day and two day trips. I prefer to spend as many nights in my own bed as possible. This winter I have only been able to get a hard line in February, but I have also been relatively successful in trading my four day trips for day trips in all of the other months. However, when I was assigned my relief line for April, I wasn’t so lucky. This month I was assigned three 4 day trips. The following trip report is from the second of those four day trips.
The following YouTube video is available on my YouTube channel and shows selected highlights from the trip.
Originally Scheduled Legs: ORD to CLT, CLT to EWR, EWR to JAX
Actual Legs Flown:ORD to CLT, CLT to EWR
Report Time: 14:13 CDT
Scheduled flying hours: 6 hours 9 minutes
Actual flying hours: 2 hours 45 minutes
Scheduled Duty Time: 8 hours 21 minutes
Actual Duty Time: 11 hours 32 minutes
For once I had actually been looking forward to a four day trip. I normally try to avoid them at all costs, but this one was with one of my favourite captains and involved a lot my favourite type of flights between hubs and larger airports. With a 14:13CDT show time, an hour prior to our push at 15:13CDT, I was able to have a leisurely morning, preparing my camera equipment (including my brand new GoPro HD Hero 3 Black Edition) for the trip ahead, and getting all packed up and prepared to leave. Other than a single two flight day trip a week before, these would be my first flight for April. I had been assigned 11 straight days off at the beginning of the month so that I could attend a job interview in the UK. Unfortunately I didn’t get the job, and worse still, I picked up a cold while I was traveling, causing me to miss my first four day trip of the month. In all, other than the day trip a week before, I hadn’t flown in over three weeks. I was ready to get back into the swing of things and to get going.
I met my wife for lunch, after which she dropped me off at Terminal 2 in ORD. I went through the ‘Known Crewmember’ line, skipping security, and made my way to the crew room to pick up my twice monthly Jeppessen chart revisions. After quickly saying hi to a few friends down in the crew room, I made my way to gate F12A where I would meet my crew.
A band of bad weather had passed through Chicago over the past two days dumping a lot of rain and causing chaos to our schedules. O’Hare had been in ground stops on and off for the last 48 hours and it had torn our operation to shreds. Our flight was obviously not different. We were showing an hour delay. Our aircraft was still on the ground in Green Bay where it had been sitting for two days with a mechanical issue. By the time I got to the gate in ORD, our aircraft had just taken off from GRB on a maintenance ferry flight back to Chicago. While we waited for the aircraft to arrive, I took a moment to introduce myself to our flight attendant and to have a look at the paperwork. The band of weather that had caused so much chaos in Chicago had moved east and was now effected our entire route of flight for all three legs today. I sensed trouble ahead!
Eventually the captain joined us and our aircraft arrived at the gate. After swapping notes with the inbound crew (who had been stuck in GRB with the aircraft for two days!), we made our way down the jet bridge and started our preparations for our flight to Charlottle (CLT). I conducted the walk around and then got onboard to begin my safety inspection and pre flight checks. The aircraft had several minor maintenance defects that had been deferred to be fixed in the next few days. We were without one nav light, and the gust lock, which secures the flight controls on the ground in windy conditions. These aren’t major issues and we have backups in place. So the captain signed for the aircraft and we were good to go. But then, just as I was inputting our weight and balance data into my FMS, it froze and then reset itself. After a call to maintenance they returned to the aircraft and declared my FMS inoperative. Great! We were going to be operating on one FMS and we had this aircraft for the next two legs from ORD to CLT and CLT to EWR, before being due to swap aircraft for our last leg of the day from EWR to JAX.
Finally, 1 hour and 1 minute behind schedule we closed up the doors and pushed back. We had been told to expect to wait a further 45 minutes for our slot release to CLT, but luckily this ground delay was scrapped, and instead we made our way straight to runway 22L, and with the captain flying the first leg of the day, we got airborne about 10 minutes after our push. We were finally on our way!
Our initial routing took us over the South Side of Chicago, down toward Gary and then south east towards Charlotte. The climb out was a little turbulent due to the last dregs of the weather from the last two days, but soon we were in our cruise at FL350 with a relatively smooth ride. We took the time in the cruise to brief our approach into CLT, anticipating an approach for runway 18R. With the captain flying it was my job to pick up the weather, get our gate assignment from ops and do the performance calculations for our landing into CLT.
The weather that had effected ORD so badly over the previous few days was now effecting CLT. As we descended we started to hit some moderate turbulence. Other aircraft around us were reporting severe turbulence, but luckily we managed to avoid the very worst of the bumps. Still, it wasn’t the most comfortable of descents. As we took up our final approach course on the ILS for runway 18R, the tower controller asked us to do a side step over to runway 18C. After quickly resetting the ILS frequency, the captain disconnected the autopilot and hand flew us down the glideslope for a gentle landing on to 18C. We taxied in a parked up at gate A10.
We bid farewell to our passengers and starting preparing for the second of our three flights today up to EWR. We had been checking the ground delays to EWR throughout our flight from ORD and we were expecting about an hours delay on the ground in CLT. We decided to start boarding and get everything set up for our departure, just in case we got an earlier clearance. With the fuel, bags and passengers onboard we were all ready to get buckled up and get out of CLT. Then I called Clearance Delivery. ‘There’s currently an indefinite delay on your flight plan’ the controller told me. On further investigation it became apparent that EWR was now in an a ground stop for at least the next hour as the storm system started to batter the airport. We were already running late, and looking at the radar we could see things were only going to get worse. 45 minutes later our ground stop was extended by another hour and we were told that our slot had been pushed back by a further hour and a half on top of that. We didn’t want the passengers to have to wait on the aircraft, and so we made the decision to deplane and have them wait in the departure lounge while we awaited further news.
It was now 2100 local time, and it was becoming increasingly apparent that we wouldn’t be making it to Newark much before midnight and then on to Florida much before 4am. Tiredness was starting to hit hard and the night ahead seemed longer than ever. Finally Clearance got back to us and told us we were released with a new route of flight. However, this route would increase our fuel burn by 2,000lbs and would add another 39 minutes to our flight, taking us up to a flight time of around 2 hours as we tried to avoid the worst of the weather. We ordered the extra fuel and started to reboard. Then, just as we were about to close the doors, we got a call from dispatch to let us know that Newark was back in another ground stop. This time we decided to wait it out with the passengers onboard, just in case we got released at short notice.
Finally, at 23:13EST we were cleared to push back. We were 4 hours 51 minutes behind schedule, had a two hour flight ahead of us in bad weather, followed by an aircraft swap in EWR and then another two and a half our flight down to Florida. I just wanted to go to bed! However, it was my leg to fly and I knew if we made it to EWR we could reassess there. At around 23:30EST we lined up on runway 18C and I took control of the aircraft. We sped down the runway and finally rotated up and on our way to EWR.
Due to the bad weather our route of flight took as North West, away from the storm before making a dramatic turn to the South East, down over Allentown and then towards Manhattan. Due to the extra fuel we had taken I elected to change our planned cruising altitude from FL350 to FL250 where the ride was reported to be a lot smoother. This seemed to work out well, and it wasn’t until we were well into our descent into EWR that things started to get choppy. By now the worst of the weather had passed and it wasn’t as bad as it had been descending into CLT five hours earlier. I disconnected the autopilot at about 3,500 feet, and with Manhattan glistening in the fog on our left, I guided our little ERJ-145 down the glide and on to runway 22R at EWR. It was 01:15EST. As we taxied in it became apparent how bad the delays had been in New York. British Airways were only now pushing back for London Heathrow and many of our own company aircraft had not been able to make it in and had diverted elsewhere. I was dreading what lay ahead, we still had to go to Jacksonville, FL tonight.
‘We’re not going, they’ve cancelled’ my captain exclaimed with great relief as our CLT passengers were deplaning. ‘Thank God’ I thought, ‘I can sleep’! The company had cancelled our Jacksonville flight and had heavily modified our schedule. The next day we had been due to fly from JAX to EWR and EWR to MEM, now all our scheduled showed was a deadhead to Washington Regan (DCA) and a nice long Washington DC overnight. Our schedule for days three and four had also been changed. On day 3 we had been due to operate MEM to DEN, DEN to LNK, LNK to ORD and ORD to MCI. We were now scheduled to operate DCA to EWR, EWR to YUL, YUL to EWR, EWR to MCI. Day 4 had been schedule to be MCI to IAH, IAH to CMH and CMH to ORD, but we were now going to operate MCI to IAH, IAH to QRO, QRO to IAH and then finish with a deadhead from IAH back to ORD. It was lucky I had bought my passport, I hadn’t been expecting to go to Canada and Mexico on this trip when I set out for work so many hours ago!
Once all of the passengers were off the aircraft we called the company to get our hotel assignment for our night in EWR. This turned out to be a bit of an ordeal as our hotel had lost our reservation and we ended up missing the 02:15 shuttle, meaning we had to wait another 30 minutes at the airport. Finally though, at 03:02EST, I made it to my hotel room! We were over three hours late getting there, and we were in the wrong city, but I can’t remember the last time I was so happy to see a bed! Tomorrow would be easy, one quick deadhead to DCA and maybe some sight seeing, but for tonight, I needed to sleep!
Originally Scheduled Legs: JAX to EWR, EWR to MEM
Actual Legs Flown: None (Deadhead to DCA instead)
Report Time: 12:07 EST
Scheduled flying hours: 5 hours 18 minutes
Actual flying hours: 0 hours 0 minutes
Scheduled Duty Time: 6 hours 53 minutes
Actual Duty Time: 1 hour 54 minutes
The night was shorter than I would have liked as I was woken at 07:30 by the alarm clock in the room that the last guest had forgotten to reset. I tried to get back to sleep, but the noise from the hallways at the hotel made it tough. Eventually I just decided to get up and methodically start the day. Once I’m awake I’m fully alert and so I rarely go back to sleep. For an airline pilot this can be both a good and bad thing. Good in that it helps when I have an early morning show, bad in that I often find it hard to adjust to time zones. Nevertheless, today would be easy and very little was expected of me. I just needed to show up to the gate on time to catch my deadhead to Washington National.
I decided to check in online and discovered that we’d be on a Republic Airways operated Dash 8 Q400 for the short flight to DCA. I was glad to be back on a Dash 8. I hadn’t flown on one since I left the UK a few years ago. Republic have only recently received the type. All of their Q400 fleet was previously operated by Colgan Air, prior to their merger with Pinnacle and Mesaba. When the merged company entered bankruptcy United pulled the contract for the Q400s and a few months later it was reassigned to Republic. Many of the Qs are now based down in Denver, however, slowly but surely they have started to reappear in Newark and the company has recently announced a new Q400 crew base will be opened in EWR. Since Republic has started flying the Qs their operational performance has plummeted . The airline are struggling to staff the aircraft properly and they are also having problems with maintenance. I was hoping that after the trials and tribulations of the night before we might be able to avoid any further issues today.
At around 11am I took another look at the United app to check up on the status of our deadhead. Low and behold it was running about 90 minutes late on it’s inbound flight from Toronto. We decided to head over to the terminal anyway and got the 11:15am crew shuttle over to terminal C. We were joined by several other crews who had also had their schedules changed due to the weather the previous day. One of these crews included one of my training partners from my initial new hire class at the company. He had been due to operate down to Kansas City the night before, but they had ended up being cancelled and he was now deadheading out to Houston to pick up the rest of his trip. We spent a little time having coffee and chatting and then went our separate ways to our gates.
We began boarding about an hour after we were due to depart. The flight was nearly full, but the seat next to me was open. After a quick safety demo the Captain came on the PA to tell us that we were expecting a quick 35 minute flight taking off from runway 22R, that it would be a little bumpy and for that reason the flight attendants would remain seated for the duration of the flight. I don’t think a service is usually offered on the EWR – DCA route anyway.
There was no one else in line by the time we made it to 22R, and after a short take off role we were airborne. I’d forgotten just how much the Q400 yaws, and with the high winds this afternoon it was even more apparent. The woman across the aisle from me didn’t seem to be enjoying herself at all! She spent the whole flight grasping on to her arm rests for dear life.
Eventually we started our descent over Baltimore and then down on to runway 1 at DCA. The landing wasn’t too bad, although the approach was definitely not for those who may suffer from motion sickness!
Once we had deplaned and made our way over to the hotel the Captain and I decided to meet in the bar and grab a drink before heading to downtown Washington to do a bit of sightseeing. We jumped on the Metro and visited the Capitol building and the White House before calling it a day and heading back to the hotel to get an early night ahead of our 07:33 show time and four legs the next morning.
Check back early next week for part 2!
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