My job as a pilot is made much easier by checklists and routines. I do the same thing - the same way - every time. Checklists are written in a way that is intended to flow logically as we set up the cockpit for each phase of flight. It’s the times when something upsets that flow - that checklist items are missed. You’re midway through a taxi checklist and a radio call breaks the cadence of the “challenge and response” and it’s easier (and safer) to start over rather then stumble back into it. My life has become a series of checklists. I’m not sure if I was made for aviation or if a career in aviation has made me the way I am. When I’m on a trip, each day I do the same thing - the same way - every time. My evening ritual in the hotel has been modified slowly over the years to become the most efficient it can be. I check into my room and immediately strip the garnish bedspread off the bed and lay out my clothes for the next morning. Regardless of how long I have in the hotel, I ready for the next day by setting two alarms on my phone, one on the hotel clock and phone for a wake-up call. Each of these alarms are set for 1 min apart beginning 45 minutes before we are to meet for the van. I write the city name and tomorrows day of the week on the hotel key envelope and put it next to the alarm clock. The rest of the night, like a Roomba vacuuming robot, I mindlessly walk through a series of preprogrammed routines. Hopefully, this involves some Seinfeld. The same precision takes place during the morning events. Nothing gets skipped, nothing gets forgotten. Until there’s a change to the routine. A shower that won’t get hot or a broken coffee maker. I recently introduced a lunch box to the program. I’ve become a lunch box guy. I pack 4 days worth of food on ice and make meals-to-go in my room for a picnic at 30000 feet... without the blanket or ants. It’s not as much about saving money as it about getting so freaking sick and tired of Sbarro pizza and Wok-n-Roll fried stuff with soy sauce. With the introduction of the lunch box, I’m all out of whack. Yesterday, although I made some excellent burrito’s out of Trader Joe’s Chickenless Chicken Strips... I forgot to shave. Having to get ice from the ice machine for my lunch box threw off my whole program! While showering, I debated when to work ice retrieval into the equation. Should I do it before or after I put on my tie? This internal argument must have carried on into the “it’s now time to shave” portion of the ceremony and I overlooked it while I debated maybe just getting ice on the way out the door with all my luggage. Years ago, I left the keys to my car in the cockpit of the airplane I just gave to another crew and realized this as I watched them taxi towards the runway. Naturally, this happened because I just bought a new suitcase and hadn’t decided yet which pocket to store my keys. I had it down to a science with my old suitcase but had yet to find a convenient spot for them in the new one. I opted to keep them in my pants pocket until resolving this crisis but then they kept stabbing my thigh so I set them in the cup holder. Off to STL they went without me. Tonight, I may use a spreadsheet to map out a new routine for tomorrow mornings ice gathering mission. But doing so, I’ll probably forget to brush my teeth before bed.
I hate the phrase, "Knock on wood". The only time it has ever been okay is when it was sung by The Mighty Mighty Bosstones. If you're one of the people who've said something in the cockpit like, "I've never had an engine fire or a hydraulic leak. Wait, let me knock on..." and then looks around the cockpit for something to knock on, you may recall I gave you a courtesy smile. I hate that phrase.I'll put my foot where my mouth is. I'm gonna use it. So far the formula for keeping the peace with a newborn has been pretty simple. I'm looking for some wood to knock on. I'll amend my hatred for that phrase. If you're somewhere in which wood is unlikely to be present - there will be no knocking. I just used air quotes. If ever I share a room with you on the International Space Station and I see you looking around for some hard wood flooring after saying "all this time and the toilet has backed up once", I may kick you in the shins. Never mind. Forget the knocking! I'll say it loud and boastfully... proudly tempting fate! So far the formula for keeping the peace with a newborn has been pretty simple. There are only a few things to fix when he cries... Sometimes I look around and wonder if there is more to it than just changing a wet diaper or giving him something to eat? The crib is pretty simple. Maybe he's upset because he'd rather have a few hundred thread count sheets to cuddle up under or at least a pillow? I've seen the inside of enough Hampton Inn elevators to know all humans want fluffy comforters and free waffles. These are the things that make you see sheep while you sleep. Maybe he's not happy with the amenities? Is this why he cries? Nope - wet diaper. The Ipod has been on repeat for a few days. Maybe he's tired of hearing the same "Nature's Tranquility" tracks? The sounds of the Amazon Rain Forest may be freaking him out? I know some nights when I'm halfway between sleep and deep sleep but upright and tripping over myself those tunes put me inside Apocalypse Now. Nope, a bottle of the same stuff he's been drinking since birth and he's good to go. Don't get me wrong - sometimes I'm tired and the bottle and diaper change take a little longer than I'd like. Sometimes he doesn't just roll back to sleep as efficiently as his old man does. Eight and a half hours before the hotel van time and lights out for me. "Come on buddy, we're gonna do this is three hours - it's now or never." It's these time I wonder if he's been listening over my shoulder to NPR and wonders if there will ever be peace in the Middle East? Maybe he has the answer and just doesn't have the ability to tell me? Maybe this is what's upsetting him? Nope, a bounce or two and a burp and then he's off to the pillow races. Again, so far the formula has been pretty simple. Now, let me find some wood to knock on. It's too bad "Stomp on Wood" lost it's flavor. According to Wikipedia, it was said to originate from early settlers when they would stomp the floor in their log cabins to avoid bad luck.
This was our third leg for the day. We began in Omaha around 2Pm and flew Omaha to Milwaukee and then off to Boston. Boston to Milwaukee had us holding over Grand Rapids for 30 mins before we made the call to run to Indianapolis for more gas. You're holding over Michigan with fuel burning away and planes above and below you all doing the same - thinking about plan B. Chicago has been in and out of holding patterns for most of the day and airports are full of diversions already. This means a long wait for fuel and the potential for the Passenger Bill of Rights to be an issue. We've got a full flight and several infants on board that can be heard through the bullet proof cockpit door. To make things even more fun, our APU is inoperative which means we have no air conditioning on the ground and I am certain that if a dozen planes are waiting for fuel already, no one is going to be in too much of a hurry to get a ground air cart for us.
So looking around at where to land while the engines are chug chug chugging at our fuel. Dispatch and I decide Indianapolis is a good option and we have enough fuel to make it - if we leave "Right Now". And then Milwaukee calls to say the airport should re-open soon. But, if we wait and commit to it - no plan B if it closes again. It has opened and closed twice since we've been within earshot of them so the odds are pretty good that if it does open soon, it will close again before we get there. And then there is the "Right Now" line.
Indianapolis it is. Fly fast and burn more gas or fly slow and save some in case we need it for something else? There is weather in Indiana as well. Fly slow. "Folks, I know I told you it will be 40 mins until we land but it's going to be an hour."
Luckily for us, no one has landed in Indianapolis yet and we're first in line for fuel - but our crews have gone home for the night and Airtran is there to help. "How do you turn the light on in your baggage bin? Where does the aircart connect to the airplane? How many people does this palne seat?"
And I'm arranging for fuel and paperwork to release us to Milwaukee and the crying baby and the people that have connections and there is a cancelled flight next door so can we put more people on your plane and wow - it really is getting hot back there. What happened to the aircart?
Lets spin an engine to cool things off. Oh, we can't spin an engine. They are bringing more bags over now because of the cancelled flight and the cargo door is near the engine so it can't be spun until we load the bags.
"How do you turn that cargo door light on again?" They ask.
I tell the passengers the story, again. I ask them if they want to join me in the jetway, it is much cooler and it shouldn't be too much longer. A man is off to see his daughter give birth. She is in the hospital waiting for him. I tell him my last name is Stork and draw up the obvious connections. He laughs. So do others. Buys me some time.
The puzzle is coming together now. We've got the fuel and the paperwork and the extra bags and people now. Lets go to Milwaukee. The weather is still there and there is no good way to go around it... Time to pick our way through some storms.
The amazing thing about thunderstorms at night is that the moisture in the air carries the light from the lightning for miles after a strike. Even though we're not in any thunderstorms, with each strike the cockpit lights up so bright you're blinded for a moment. "I've asked our flight attendants to remain seated for their safety."
Air traffic controllers are talking to us but we've got this cell we're trying to fly around and we'll have to get back to you. And dispatch sends a message, "Ha! I did such a great job filling you around the weather and you decided to go right up the middle of it!"
No choice... the line has some breaks in it. And it does... aside from a great light show and few sizable bumps, we make it to Milwaukee to drop off a few, pick up a few and head to Minneapolis for the night.
What makes or breaks a night like this is the crew your assigned to. As the Captain, I have to be able to trust my team will do their jobs and allow me to delegate where need be. The great crews are the ones who know what needs to be done without hesitation and do so with a positive attitude. My crew easily handled all of our issues and even though we were tired and hungry - did so without hesitation and with a smile. This kept our passengers happy but more importantly - me happy!
Plenty of sick days from Grade School were spent at my Nana's in Tampa watching this show from her king sized bed. I think it was on at 1pm while she was watching Days of Our Lives in the other room. (Side note - I threw up on her new carpet one day and while she was yelling at me for puking she started throwing up too. As a result, if it was "Bridge" day, I'd sleep in the back of her car in her friends driveway while they were inside drinking Martini's and playing cards. The ladies were afraid I had a weak stomach and would ruin their carpet.)Read More