Jan 18, 2007

A Day in the Life: CYUL - CYVR - CYUL (5)

A description of a typical day's flight from Montreal to Vancouver and back - using it as a backdrop for a detailed, non-technical description of what an airline pilot does.

Log Entry 2003 - A320 Capt - CYUL - Terminal building

Departure Time: -35 minutes

The last thing we see as we leave the crew room is our image in a large mirror. Intended more for the Flight Attendants I suppose, but still pilots also wear spiffy uniforms and follow precise guidelines regarding appearance. So I check that my hat is straight and my tie is on. I sometimes joke that I have the only job I know where I can earn a six-figure salary wearing a clip-on tie. I rationalize that it's a safety concern. Imagine the surprise a terrorist will have when he grabs at it to choke me. I'm sure that in the ensuing confusion I'll over-power him and save the day. I also once read that ties cut off blood circulation to the brain. I definitely need all my brain-blood.

I should mention that not all pilots are clothing troglodytes. I've heard tell of some who actually own suits and wear them on their days off - with their blue jeans I presume.

FO Paula also sports a natty blue necktie and the same military style hat as my own. I must remember to complement her on her clothing sense. Back in the '70s' when women pilots were cracking this male bastion some companies made them wear ridiculous-looking uniforms that only served to undermine their authority. I'm talking about bowler caps and ascots that looked like rejects from a 1950's flight attendant museum. Thankfully this didn't discourage them. Most women-pilot uniforms now avoid that silliness. The seventies were also the days of longer hairstyles for men. To better accommodate our flowing locks many of us tried hard to lose the hats. Literally. Somehow today, with looming airline bankruptcies and mergers, uniform issues have faded into the background. Except perhaps for deciding which style of tunic best fits the new Magnum.

And speaking of security, this morning I'm thankful we aren't heading south of the border. Since 9-11 the procedures in the U.S. pre-clearance center make me vaguely uneasy. I'm sure we're being violated yet I'm not sure how. Like some kind of security whore I want to protest, "...do you still respect me?" as I re-assemble myself - slipping my shoes back on and getting my belt re-fastened and my jacket and hat re-adjusted and my flight bag and suitcase re-stacked and ready to roll. It's such a nice feeling when it's over that I can't scurry out of there fast enough, eager to get on with easier stuff like flying airplanes in thunderstorms.

One day, another captain apparently became over-agitated at being treated like the enemy instead of the solution. When his favorite Swiss Army knife was confiscated he marched to the airplane, removed the crash-ax from it's holder and stormed back to the security checkpoint. There he brandished the shiny chrome hatchet and dared someone to "confiscate this!" I wonder how many of his passengers decided to take a later flight?

Personally I'm so tired of the semi-strip-search routine, I now wear a plastic belt buckle and airport-friendly shoes guaranteed to be metal-free. This heightens my chances of getting through the scanner 'ding-free'. But my real pet peeve is watching security agents relieve passengers of nefarious nail clippers, while five minutes later they were offered an assortment of decoratively-shaped, instantly-lethal weapons in the form of heavy glass liquor bottles from the duty-free store. Delivered right to the door of the aircraft, no less. Thankfully, this morning in the domestic end of the terminal we can take the special crew-access door, where procedures are a little less insane.

As we plow onwards through the sea of passengers, I hear one little boy exclaiming in that loud and unaffected voice only kids use. "Mommy look! A policeman..." His mom looks over and I smile my best airline smile. She begins the, "No, honey. That's the pilot who's driving us to Gramma's today..." routine . I've also been mistaken for doormen and luggage handlers.

I recall one evening with Captain Ren Fortine. We were standing on the curb outside the terminal after a long day's flying, waiting for our hotel shuttlebus to arrive. A cab sped up and a harried family spilled out. Dad began slinging the luggage from the trunk onto the sidewalk next to us. "Get these over to the United Airlines counter right away - we're late for our flight." He had obviously confused us with the Sky-Caps. Captain Ren, grinning widely grabbed the two largest suitcases and hustled them through the revolving doors. What could I do? I grabbed the other two. We deposited them onto a luggage cart as the family scurried up. Someone realized the mistake and there were red-faces and laughter as Captain Ren refused to accept the tip. "Hey! I'll take that," I thought to myself. "That's good beer money." I was just off 'flat salary' -- that is, the first few years when our wage scale is actually below the official poverty line -- so I was only half-joking. We wished them good-flight and hurried back outside before someone ran off with our bags.

This morning as FO Paula and I arrive at our gate at the far end of the domestic wing no-one has press-ganged us into luggage duty, and we've had a good walk, and the activity level is rising. Passengers are milling about, some sipping Starbucks, some engrossed in a newspaper or t.v., others on cell phones and still others sprawled on seats half asleep. This is the part of the flight where I feel most scrutinized. I wonder how many passengers are looking us over gaging if we're worthy of their trust. This is more keenly felt when there's been a recent air disaster in the news.

Eager to escape public view, I stop only a moment to speak with the gate agent. We're expecting a full load. Day's were I could offer the extra flight deck seats to employees traveling on a pass. Now the cockpit is restricted to active company air-crew. I confirm that we have no one requesting this privilege. The agent also says we should be loaded and out on schedule. The airplane has just been towed in from the far ramp where it sat overnight. Our flock of flight attendants is heading down the bridge. We follow them. I grab a quick peek at the the nose-wheel doors to make sure the aircraft number matches the flight plan. Huddling in the cold bridge-head, we wait while the ramp folks adjust the door-sill and lower the overhead rain-shield. Then there's a rush to the front entrance. Departure time is nearing and there's still much to do.

Departure Time: -25 minutes
(to be continued...)

No comments: