I have been reading the reports by Seven3Seven, and since my flights as a pilot for America West are somewhat different than his, thought I should post one myself.
I am an FO on the Airbus A320/319 for AWA, and I’m based in Las Vegas. This is a report on my most recent trip, a four-day one that is pretty typical of the flying we do. I wish I could add some pictures like Seven3Seven does, but there aren’t any good pictures to add to this report because as you will see, almost all the flying was at night.
I live in Seattle, so every trip starts with a commute to LAS
. Since I will be flying all night long, I try and sleep in the morning before a trip. I got up around 10:30am PDT
and get ready to go. Most of the time I can take a flight that leaves SEA
around 5:30pm and make it with plenty of time to spare. However this trip had an earlier than normal show time so I planned on leaving Seattle on flight 605, with a scheduled departure of 2:28pm. I had checked on my computer before leaving home, and saw that the flight would be pretty full. On arriving at the gate found that it was overbooked. There was another America West Seattle - Vegas commuter waiting there, and he and I chatted as we filled out our jumpseat forms, as there wouldn’t be any seats for us in the main cabin. I had picked up some chinese food at the new central terminal area before going to the gate, and had a good lunch while waiting to board. For those of you who haven’t passed through Sea-Tac lately, you are in for a treat. The new terminal area & food court is spectacular, including a giant window with views of the runways and Olympic Mountains. I sat near the gate, eating my lunch, and sure enough the gate agents were soon asking for volunteers, providing a $300 voucher for future travel for those that stayed behind. As they were doing that, they were also boarding the plane. Once the main group had boarded, the other jumpseater and I went down the jetway, introduced ourselves to the captain, and stowed our bags. I was pleasantly surprised that the FO on that flight was another Seattle commuter that I had gotten to know while travelling back and forth. Both the FO and the other jumpseater were furloughees from TWA/American and had a lot to talk about once we were underway. The two of us jumpseaters strapped into the seats in the cockpit and kept quiet while the crew was preparing for the flight. We pushed back just a couple minutes late, and quickly made it to runway 16L, and were soon heading toward Las Vegas onboard the A320.
ATC (Air Traffic Control) gave us an unusual routing for a SEA
flight, taking us out over eastern Oregon, and eastern Nevada. Normally we stay on the west side of Nevada, crossing near Reno. Instead, we flew over Rome Oregon, Ely Nevada, and almost to Cedar City Utah before turning back toward LAS
. According to ATC it was because of military airspace being active. The Captain made a smooth landing on 25L and parked at gate B10. America West uses all of the B concourse, and much of the A concourse at LAS
. I went to our crewroom under the B gates, checked in for my flight on the computer, checked my mailbox, and went upstairs for some dinner with the guy who had jumpseated down with me. There’s not a lot of selection in this old part of the terminal – a Burger King, a couple of Taco Bells, and a deli. We got some bagel sandwiches at the deli and talked about the usual pilot stuff; the upcoming merger with USAirways, our contract, and the industry in general. Then it was back to the crewroom to kill some time on the computer before going out to the plane.
My Captain on this trip was someone I had flown with before, and in fact I had done my yearly recurrent ground school and simulator training with him the previous month. We get along well and he’s great to fly with. An hour before the flight I went up to the gate. The plane wasn’t there, but was due in any minute. I was let down the jetway, left my bags there, and went down the stairs. As soon as the plane pulled up I started my preflight inspection, being wary of the moving jetbridge, and all the rampers opening up the plane, hooking up air conditioning, and connecting fuel lines and such. It was an Airbus A319, N812AW. The plane looked to be in great shape, so I went back upstairs as the captain and FO got off. We said hello, then I boarded, stowed my bags, and got out my necessary equipment; headset, logbook, pen, and charts. I started the setup flows, checking to make sure the plane was in a good condition to fly. The aircraft logbook showed that one of the two air conditioning packs was inop. The packs provide the cool air and pressurization for the plane. We can fly with just one, but are limited to no higher than 31,000 feet. That wouldn’t be a problem on this first leg as we were just going on a short hop from Las Vegas to Los Angeles. Our second leg though was from LAX
in New York, so I hoped that we would change planes in LAX
. The Captain showed up with the paperwork from dispatch and confirmed that they knew about the inop pack. I continued my setup with the information from the release; it includes our route, fuel, weights, takeoff performance numbers, and a host of other important information. We aren’t set up quite like Southwest, as it can take 15 to 20 minutes or more to do a complete setup and input the information into the Flight Management computer (FMGS). The flight attendants were already onboard, having come in with the plane. It was their last leg and would be staying in LAX
. It is rare that the FA
’s stay with us for more than one or two legs. They have similar one-to-four-day trips, but their work rules are different, and they can fly more hours in a day than the pilots can. That ends up making their schedules much different than ours. The boarding goes smoothly and we are set up in the cockpit before everyone is aboard.
The Captain asked which legs I wanted to fly, and we decided that I would fly all the westbound legs, and he’d fly eastbound. We closed up, did our last checklist, and called ramp control for permission to push back. We pushed two minutes early, at 8:28pm PDT
. We were flight 115, LAS
. The sun had just set, and the hills west of LAS
were backlit with a bright orange glow. We started the first engine and told the tug crew to disconnect. As a fuel saving measure we try to taxi on one engine if conditions and time permit. We got our taxi clearance and head out to runway 25R, the longest one at LAS
. Although the Airbus has two steering tillers, company procedures only allow the Captain to taxi the plane. So on the ground he drives, and I do the checklists and talk on the radio. There’s a bit of a backup for departure – about seven or eight planes waiting to go. Not too bad for LAS
. It only takes about ten minutes to get to the head of the line. A couple minutes before reaching the runway we started the second engine, run the final checklist, and tell the flight attendants to sit down.
Soon we were cleared onto the runway to hold in position. It was my leg, and as we came to a stop the Captain set the parking brake and tells me that it was my plane. When the takeoff clearance came from the tower, I released the parking brake, spool up the engines a little to ensure they’re both working OK
, then set takeoff power. The Captain confirms power set, then calls out ’80 knots, thrust and flaps normal’. Then ‘V1’ (the speed where we must continue flying if one engine quits), and ‘rotate’. I brought the nose up and we’re flying. I checked the vertical speed and say ‘positive rate, gear up, managed nav’. The Captain does that and now I can follow the pre-programmed route to LAX
by either hand flying it or turning on the autopilot. I took us up the first few thousand feet, then turned on the autopilot. It’s a short flight to LAX
, and even before we leveled off at 28,000 feet, ATC told us to slow down for sequence into the LA
basin. The weather was fine, and I could clearly see the lights from the towns across the Mojave desert, and a bright glow on the horizon from the LA
basin area. I put away my LAS
charts and brought out the ones for LAX
. There’s just a few minutes of straight and level, going over the Hector VOR, then direct to CIVET intersection which is almost directly over the Ontario CA
airport. We were already starting down by then. The Captain was on the radio listening to the weather at LAX
, and contacting our operations people letting them know when we would be there and anything special we need, like how many wheelchairs for the passengers. They let him know what gate we would be using.
The weather was typical for LAX
. Low clouds, with a ceiling of 700 feet, and four miles visibility in the mist. I set up for an ILS approach to runway 24R, on the north side of the airport. The approach into LAX
is notorious for being a ‘slam dunk’. It keeps you up high until close in when they want you to go down and slow down at the same time. That’s sometimes difficult to do in a jet. But I knew what was coming and was prepared. As we passed over Ontario, I could see it was clear down below us, but I could also see the low clouds ahead, with an orange glow coming up from the streetlights underneath. We descended, listening to the other aircraft ahead, and following ATC’s instructions on speed. We were lined up well, and I took a quick look outside at the lights peeking through the undercast below. A brilliant crescent moon was directly in front of me. We descended through the thin layer of clouds, and I could see the airport from a couple miles out. I disconnected the autopilot and hand fly the rest of the approach. Unfortunately my touchdown was considerably harder than expected, but at least we made the early turnoff. The Captain chuckled, because my last landing on our previous trip had been a glassy smooth squeaker in LAS
. Nobody’s perfect. We taxied back to terminal 1, and gate 9 was open and waiting for us. We pulled in, shut down the engines, and I recorded the flight information in the logbook while the Captain completed the shutdown checklist. From pushback to shutdown, total time was 1:10. Flight time from takeoff to landing was 48 minutes.
We did get to switch aircraft, so I packed up my flight bag, and once the plane emptied, I said goodbye to the flight attendants and went into the terminal. We had an hour and a quarter to kill before departure, so we both went to McDonalds (the only place left open) and grab some dinner. I walked onto the plane (also a 319, N831AW) to eat, and the Captain ran downstairs to the operations area to get our new paperwork for the JFK
flight. I was sitting in the plane having finished my meal (and the preflight setup) when the Captain came back in and told me that the van that was supposed to pick up our flight attendants for this leg never showed up at the hotel, and a station manager had just left in her own car to get them. I finished my part of the setup and wait. And wait. And wait. We were scheduled out at 11pm, and the flight attendants came running onboard at 11:18pm. Fortunately the passengers in the boarding area had been kept appraised of the situation and were being very calm about it all. The FA
’s introduced themselves and got the plane ready as fast as they could, and we soon started boarding. Once everyone was seated, we closed up and called for the push. It was 11:40pm. From the weather and flightplan information I knew that the winds wouldn’t help much, so we would certainly be late into JFK
. We pushed back into the narrow alley made famous on the A& E TV
show ‘Airline’, and start both engines. It’s only a couple hundred yards to the end of runway 24L, so there’s no need for a single-engine taxi. The tug cleared and we started moving out, only to see a dog running across the ramp about 100 feet in front of us. The Captain brought the plane to a stop and I reported the dog to ground control. We moved a bit farther, following the dog, and getting close to the runway. I finished my checklist items, while also keeping an eye on the dog. Sure enough he trotted onto the overrun then straight down the centerline of runway 24L. The tower cleared us for takeoff, but we certainly didn’t want to suck the dog into an engine, so we told the tower we’d wait. They sent a car with a searchlight out and we directed it to where we last saw the dog, near the glideslope antenna just to the right of the runway, about 1000 feet down from the threshold. We watched the car as it found the dog, and chased it across the other runway, 24R. The car reported it had the dog cornered on the far north fence of the airport, so we went ahead and took off. Liftoff was at 11:55pm. We were flight 306, LAX
. We had a planned flight time of 4:55, and started with 34,000 pounds of jet fuel onboard. We planned burn a little over 26,000 pounds of that enroute, the extra being there for required reserve, holding, taxi, and possible deviations for weather.
It’s the Captain’s leg this time, so our roles were reversed. He flew, and I made the radio calls. It was an uneventful takeoff and within seconds we were into the overcast layer. Just a few seconds more, and we popped out into the black night. The moon had set, but the city was all lit up behind us. ATC turned us south, then back east over the Seal Beach VOR. We kept climbing, up over the Daggett VOR. The air was smooth and the radio quiet. That a nice thing about night flying - there is much less traffic. Autopilot on, lights dimmed, and we watched southern California roll by. Our route took us over Las Vegas, Dove Creek Colorado, McCook Nebraska, Lincoln Nebraska, Iowa City, Detroit, Jamestown New York, Wilkes-Barre Pennsylvania, and on into New York. We were going on this north route because hurricane Dennis has just slammed into the gulf coast and we wanted to keep a wide berth.
Las Vegas was a spectacular jewel in the blackness of the desert. The spire of light from the Luxor hotel was clearly visible even at our altitude of 37,000 feet. It looked like we were going to run right into it, but our route turned and it passed just off to our left. It was quiet on the radio and the Captain and I talked a little about the usual things again; The merger, our lives etc. We passed over the Rockies, and in the distance could see the flashes of light from several isolated thunderstorms. We switched on the radar, but they were too far away to see at first. As we got closer however, we saw a cell firmly planted on our route directly over McCook Nebraska. Closer still, we can make out more details on the radar, and based on that and the wind from the north, we agree it would be best to go around the north side of the storm. I called ATC and they cleared us for the diversion. A United flight and a Delta flight were both doing the same thing, and all three of us go around the storm. It’s pretty impressive looking until we get close enough to go into the clouds. Then we couldn’t see anything until we passed out the other side. It was a pretty smooth ride and hopefully nobody in the back even woke up. Soon ATC cleared us direct to Wilkes-Barre and we settled back to the usual routine. As the air smooths out the flight attendant in front called and asked if we would like our meals. The Captain says no thanks as he had quite a bit at McDonalds. I say sure and soon I had a small piece of steak, some potatoes, and salad in front of me. I wasn’t all that hungry, but I’ve learned to eat when I can because sometimes it can be hard to get a meal in on a trip like this.
By the time we approached Ohio we could see the glow of sunrise on the horizon. We were racing toward the sun and soon enough it popped up behind some clouds. It was a spectacular red and orange sunrise from our position and I snapped a few pictures. Then it was time to get out the charts for JFK
, and the Captain checked the information in the FMGS with what was on the chart. It all matched and shortly after we pass Jamestown we started down. It’s a nice day in NYC with some high scattered clouds, and it was a warm 74 degrees even at this time of the morning. We approached from the northwest, then ATC turned us south, right over Manhattan as we descended through 19,000 feet. They were landing to the south on runway 22L, so ATC took us south over the Atlantic, then turned us east, then north. We were still descending as we crossed the southern Long Island shoreline at about 4000 feet. We continued north, then west to join the final approach path to the runway. The airport was clearly visible in the morning sunlight and the Captain hand flew it to a smooth touchdown. There were very few planes moving around the ramp, and we taxied north then east over to Terminal 7. A quick call to Speedbird ramp control confirmed that gate 4 was ready for us. We pulled in and shutdown next to a sparkling British Airways 747-400. With all the maneuvering around the thunderstorm, and the extra vectoring on our approach, the flight time ended up being 5:05, and total time from pushback to shutdown was 5:37. It was 8:17am EDT. Our gate agents were helping a couple of other flights about to depart, and we had to call operations to get one of them down to run the jetway. That added a couple minutes to the wait, but soon everyone was off, and the mechanics were doing their morning check on the plane. One elderly lady passenger was waiting in the jetway for a wheelchair, and we couldn’t find anyone to help out. The Captain and I went in search of a chair and finally found one at the next gate. She did not speak English very well, and handed me a copy of her itinerary. It showed that she had a 9:00am departure on American Airlines to San Juan PR
. It was now 8:35am. We knew there’s no way she would make it for an international flight in 25 minutes, but we couldn’t really explain it to her. Then the skycap came running down to take care of her – and hopefully to get on a later flight. We went up ourselves, and soon were on the van to the hotel. It took only five minutes to get there, and with a quick check-in I was soon heading to sleep. I had been up for 19 ½ hours, helped pilot a plane across the country, and flown (including getting to work) SEA
. I’m tired!
I woke up around 4pm feeling well rested and hungry. There isn’t much food to choose from in the hotel, and there is no place else to walk to in the neighborhood. But there are a number of restaurants that deliver, and I’d been told the pizza was great. I ordered a small pepperoni & onion and got to work checking my e-mail. The pizza arrived and I was astounded to find that this $10 ‘small’ pizza is huge! I can barely eat half of it. Next time I’ll remember to bring something to take the leftovers in.
This is a short layover for us, and I barely had time to eat, shower, pack & get dressed before it was time to check out and go. It is a 7:30pm bus departure for an 8:30 flight.
Back at Terminal 7 I watched the long line of passengers at the British Airways counter, and wonder if someday after the merger with USAirways I’ll have a chance to fly to Europe. T7
has always impressed me as a good looking terminal despite its age. Once through security we find the plane hadn’t arrived yet, but it would be there soon. We stood near gate 4 and within minutes see our plane arrive. Once the initial rush of passengers is off, we head down the jetway. Then it is back to the familiar routine; stow the bags, start the cockpit setup, do the exterior preflight inspection, then back inside to program the FMGS for our flight back to LAX
. This trip was on an A319, N803AW. This airplane had a deferred mechanical problem too; there was no air available from the APU(auxiliary power unit). That meant that we didn’t have any internal air conditioning until an engine starts, and we would need external compressed air to get the first engine going. We did have external conditioned air available to help cool the cabin, but in the humid heat of July it was still close to 80 degrees in the back. The gate staff was pressing to get us out on time, even though the plane arrived late. We can work fast, but will never sacrifice safety in the name of speed. We completed our checklists and confirm everything is ready. Once the passengers boarded and the door was closed we called ramp control to get permission to start one engine at the gate. It was now 8:38pm EDT, eight minutes later than our scheduled departure. The external air was turned on and we follow the checklist for an external-air start. Once the engine was going we pushed back, the tug disconnects, and we started the second engine. They were using runway 31L for takeoffs, down at the far corner of the airport from where our gate was. We called for taxi and are soon in a long line waiting to go. We taxi up behind an Air India 747-400, and I marvel at its size. That is a lot of aluminum. It takes exactly 30 minutes from engine start until we are lined up ready to go.
It was my leg again so the Captain turned the controls back to me and after the required separation from the 747 ahead of us, we were cleared for takeoff. 31L is not the smoothest runway, and we bounced along until rotation. At 400 feet I made a left turn over the Canarsie VOR, then soon we got direct to Robbinsville New Jersey. Our route had us flying almost a straight line back to LAX
, which meant we would be flying directly over the remnants of hurricane Dennis. It was dumping buckets of rain across the Ohio Valley, but weather reports showed that the tops of the clouds were only reaching about 33,000 feet. We were planned at 36,000, so it didn’t look to be a problem. Up we went, back into the smooth air, and leveled off as planned. Shortly after that, as we passed just north of Philadelphia, ATC cleared us direct to the Rattlesnake VOR, which is near Farmington New Mexico. We accepted and then sat back, getting into our cruise routine.
The sun had set, but there was still a nice deep blue glow on the horizon, and the crescent moon was higher than the previous night. Venus and Mercury were still visible on the horizon through the glow, and the sky above was clear and black with diamond bright stars. Cloud cover from the hurricane prevented us from seeing much on the ground until we were over Colorado. The thunderstorms from the previous night had diminished, and we only saw a few distant flashes way to the north of us. We passed near Pueblo Colorado as the Flight Attendants brought up our dinner; grilled chicken breast, green beans, tortellini and a salad.
The normal westerly headwinds were absent and despite the late push in JFK
we made great time. We sent a message over ACARS to our dispatch that we would be arriving in LAX
almost 40 minutes early, in hopes that they would have a gate ready for us. ACARS is the ‘e-mail’ system we can use when airborne to send messages to the company, and get printed weather reports. Before long we passed south of Las Vegas toward the Hector VOR, and a repeat of the previous night’s approach. The weather was the same; low clouds and light winds. The clouds were a bit thicker this time, and we didn’t see the ground until about 500 feet above the runway. This time though my touchdown was a lot smoother, making a satisfying end to the flight. The gate was available and we pulled in at 11:05pm PDT
, 37 minutes ahead of schedule, for a total flight time of 5:27. Not too bad for an east-to-west transcontinental flight. We let the passengers off, and caught the van to the hotel, getting there just before midnight.
Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water…
It was a nice long layover in LA
. The hotel is near the ocean in Redondo Beach and I took a long walk down the waterfront bike path and around the Redondo pier, watching all the fishermen working their lines. I even managed to get a bit of a sunburn through the thin clouds.
The van picked us up at 7:30pm for the 15 minute ride back to LAX
. I even saw a Saudi Arabian 747SP parked on the south side next to Sepulveda Blvd. I hadn’t seen one of those in years.
As we sat waiting back at gate 11 for our plane, our hopes for a quiet & uneventful flight were dashed when a man walked up to the Captain, wearing an ID
from our company. He introduced himself as a check airman and said the Captain would be getting a line check on the flight to Las Vegas. Every Captain has to be watched on a flight once every six months, and it was his turn tonight. Not that it is hard, but there is always added pressure when you are being watched. This was flight 117, LAX
The plane arrived, another A319, N822AW. It helped that both the Captain and I had just been through recurrent training the previous month, and were up to speed on everything required of us. I did the setup, exterior inspection, and programmed the FMGS with plenty of time to spare. Once we were sure we wouldn’t have to get up again, the check airman pulled down the jumpseat behind us and sat down to watch how we did. I am happy to say everything went well, there were no deferred maintenance items on the plane, and there was no dog on the runway. We pushed back exactly on time at 9:05pm, and made the very short taxi to runway 24L. Standard procedures and callouts were followed as usual, and we traced the same departure path as the first night; out over the ocean, left turns back over the Seal Beach VOR and on to the Daggett VOR. It was another short flight, and soon we were descending into LAS
. I turned on the Terrain map on my moving map display, which shows the location of terrain higher than we are. With all the mountains surrounding LAS
, it is a nice feeling to know where they are, especially since we can’t see them.
Las Vegas stood out as brilliantly as ever as we closed in. I called the company for our gate information and was surprised to find out that we would be changing planes again. It should have been a through flight for us since the flight attendants were going with us to RDU
. But I can never figure out how the routing people decide where each plane goes, so I bow to the inevitable and plan on switching planes. As we neared LAS
, approach control told us we will switch runways, and to plan on landing on 19R. This is a much different approach for us as there is no ILS to guide us in, and it is mostly flown manually. The Captain had me reprogram the FMGS for the new runway as he aimed us for the north end of the Vegas strip. We descended to 3500 feet, configuring the plane for landing as we go down. It’s really a spectacular way to get into LAS
at night, especially with the big windows in the cockpit allowing a great view of all that neon. We passed just north of the Stratosphere tower, eastbound, about 1500 feet above the ground. The tour helicopters were cruising up and down the strip 500 feet below us as we pass the Stratosphere almost at eye level. Then we made a sharp right turn, lining up with 19R. The Captain did a great job, nailing the turn and we leveled out right on the centerline, right on the VASI (visual approach slope indicator) lights for a good altitude. He made a greaser landing and we taxied off the runway. We glanced at each other and we were both grinning a little bit.
We parked at gate B10 and the check airman congratulated us on a great job. Normally both the Captain and I would have made the dash to the new gate, but the Captain was ending his part of the trip there in LAS
. His son was having back surgery the next day and he needed to get home for that. So he had called crew scheduling to get the time off as personal leave, and a reserve pilot would complete the rest of the trip for him. Total time for this leg was 1:01, and the flight time was 48 minutes.
I finished the paperwork, packed my bags, and walked quickly to the opposite end of the B terminal (of course) to gate B19 for my flight 849, LAS
. Once again, the same procedures as before were followed as I prepped the plane, another A319, N809AW. This plane was also in great shape, and we didn’t have to deal with any deferred maintenance items. The Captain showed up with the paperwork and we introduced himself. He had just finished his upgrade training two months earlier, and was one of our most junior Captains. But he had been on the Airbus as an FO for years and knew the plane very well. A few minutes after I got onboard, the flight attendants arrived, having followed the same path I’d taken across the terminal. We only had 48 minutes scheduled between flights but we did a good job and pushed out at 10:56pm, three minutes ahead of schedule.
The weather in Raleigh was forecast to have a chance of rain showers, so an alternate airport of Washington-Dulles was included on our dispatch release. This meant some extra fuel was included, and also some extra for possible deviations around a bunch of thunderstorms that had sprouted along the east side of the Rockies. This meant we were fairly close to our maximum takeoff weight. And since the temperature in Vegas was still hovering around 100 degrees, it would be a full-power, high speed takeoff. The Captain briefed the procedures and away we went. It was his leg to fly, so we took off with him flying and me on the radios.
It is surprising how recognizable the countryside is even at night, once you get used to where everything is. Flagstaff, Albuquerque, and Santa Fe were easily recognizable even from a distance. We could also see, however, a long north-south line of thunderstorms over the Sangre de Cristo Mountains just east of Santa Fe. We climbed up to 37,000 feet and using the radar and ATC’s advice found a nice hole in the line just north of Las Vegas New Mexico. Once through the storms, ATC gave us a route direct to Raleigh-Durham. The rest of the leg was very quiet and uneventful, and we watched the brightening glow of the dawn in the east.
This was a shorter flight (and an earlier takeoff) than our LAX
leg, so we were able to descend before the sun rose completely over the horizon. Down into the damp North Carolina haze and mist we went – quite a change from 100+ degrees and dry in Vegas. ATC took us south of RDU
, then turned us back to the north for a left hand pattern to runway 23L. The Captain clicked off the autopilot on downwind, and hand flew the approach. A nice smooth landing followed, and within minutes we were parked at gate A14. We parked at 6:31am for a total time of 4:35. We walked out into the sunshine to wait for the hotel van – always a strange feeling when you’ve been up all night. A five minute drive brought us to the hotel and another night’s (or day’s, depending on how you look at it) rest.
I woke up around 3:30pm hoping to catch the space shuttle launch on TV
, but it had been scrubbed for the day. So instead I got on my computer and started working on this report while the information was still fresh in my mind. After my fingers got tired I went out for some dinner at the food court of a local mall. Ah, the glamorous life of a pilot.
This was another short layover and by 7:30pm EDT I was in the van heading for the airport for the last leg back to LAS
. We had the same flight attendants I’d started with in LAX
the day before. The Captain and I were done in LAS
, but they would be continuing on the Vancouver Canada before their day was done. At the gate was my last plane for the trip, yet another A319, N828AW. Nothing but 319’s for me on this trip. This last leg was flight 439, RDU
At the airplane I found out that it just wasn’t my week for APU’s. This time the entire APU was labeled inop, meaning we had no air conditioning, internal electricity, or air to start the engines. The external air conditioning attached to the jetway was inop also. There was no way to cool the cabin until we had an engine started. In the hot humid North Carolina air this meant the cabin would be stifling as soon as the passengers started boarding. I told the gate agent about it and she promised to board as swiftly as possible. Once we had an engine running we could turn on a pack and start cooling the plane. The agents did a remarkable job getting everyone down and in place, and we were ready to go just about on time, pushing at 9:01pm EDT, one minute late. The ‘push’ time was the time the door closed. Actually we had to sit at the gate for several more minutes while we went through the procedure for starting an engine using outside compressed air. Once the engine (and the associated electrical generator) were running, the ground crew pulled the external air and external electrical power and pushed us back. As we started moving toward the runway we used the air from the running engine to start the other one, and by the time we reached runway 23L we were ready to go.
We had to wait while a 757 landed on our runway. In the hot damp air his wingtip vortex’s were plainly visible – a vivid reminder of the power of wake turbulence. The wind was blowing pretty good from the east though, and the twin vortices drifted over us and away from the runway. We were cleared to go and I took the plane up into the night.
The winds aloft this week had been pretty strange. They were much weaker than normal. Our planned flight times were actually a few minutes longer eastbound than westbound; a very rare occurrence! The light winds meant we’d be back into LAS
much earlier than scheduled, which can often be a problem. There is such a huge bank of flights leaving at 11pm that there are only one or two gates available for early arrivals. If you arrive early, you often have to sit in the penalty box for a while until your gate is available. I have sometimes sat there for up to 40 minutes. Once leveled off at 36,000 feet I sent an ACARS message to dispatch informing them of our early arrival in the off chance they could find a gate for us. There wasn’t a reply so we sat back and waited. We watched the tail end of a beautiful dark orange sunset in the west, with the black outlines of distant thunderstorms in front of it.
On our route there were only a couple small thunderstorm cells to deviate around in western Oklahoma, and the ride was very smooth. It looked like we would be back almost 40 minutes earlier than scheduled, which made the Captain very happy. He commutes from Atlanta and we had a flight scheduled out to ATL
at 10:44pm. If we had been on schedule he would miss it by 16 minutes and would have to wait for a Delta flight at 1:30 in the morning. Instead it looked like he’d have almost 20 minutes to make it – if we had a gate. I checked the FMGS route for the descent and made sure all the altitude and airspeed restrictions were in place. Soon ATC told us to speed up – we were first in line to get to LAS
. We both smiled at each other and I dialed in a little more speed. Once starting the descent over the Grand Canyon (not very spectacular at night – just a big black spot with no lights anywhere) ATC told us to ignore any speed restrictions on the descent. Even better, when the Captain checked with our operations people they said our gate would be open. Sometimes it is better to be lucky than good. I slid the plane down the final approach path without having to deal with slower aircraft ahead of us and made a very nice landing on 25L. LAS
had tied a record high temperature that day with 115 degrees, but it had cooled to an only slightly less miserable 104 when we landed. We pulled into gate B22 at 10:29pm. The Captain did his shutdown checks, said goodbye, and dashed off for his flight to Atlanta. I made sure the cockpit was cleaned up, the lights were dimmed, and the plane ready for its next leg to Vancouver Canada.
My trip included four days of flying, six legs, three landing for myself (all at night), six different aircraft, and two instrument approaches. The trip totaled 22.4 hour of flight time, 19 of that at night.
As for myself I had until midnight for my return flight back home to Seattle. I read the rest of that day’s paper, then boarded flight 898 where there was one seat left in first class, so I didn’t have to sit on the jumpseat in the cockpit. I was still on ‘red-eye’ time and wasn’t sleepy, so I fired up my laptop and finished off this report. The cabin is dark except for the light from my computer, the air is smooth and everyone else around me is sleeping. The lights of Seattle are visible ahead and we’ve just begun the descent. Home again for three days, then I repeat this trip all over again. Yes, I do love this job.
One smooth landing is skill. Two in a row is luck. Three in a row and someone is lying.