Jan 6, 2007

A Day in the Life: CYUL - CYVR - CYUL

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. This may be too detailed for some, but hopefully others will enjoy these insights into the routines followed by all airline pilots in one way or another. It's a very clock-bound, routine-bound life after all. And as a career progresses, staying 'fresh' within this kind of highly-structured environment, becomes part of the challenge.

Log Entry: December, 2003 - A320 Capt - CYUL - Flight Planning

Departure Time - 3H15M:
I'm flying to Vancouver and back - a 'turn-around' in airline parlance. I prefer flights like this. After almost thirty years of hotel rooms, restaurants and crew cabs, I'm fed up with the 'glamorous life' of travelling. So when the alarm clock sounds, it's wonderful to wake up at home and in the early morning darkness know where the light switchs are, and where that toe-cracking night table is, and what city I'm in without having to open the curtain to look.

The day before a flight, I find myself watching public weather reports for the region I'll be flying into. As I sip my morning coffee and listen to the morning news, I already know that we are under the influence of a warm front that slid over our area last night, and the following cool front with more snow and northerly winds is expected sometime later tonight - long after I should have returned from Vancouver. Meanwhile, on the west coast, they've been experiencing the usual early December weather, with rainshowers and moderate winds. The prairies are forecast to be mainly clear and mild. All in all, not bad for December in the Great White North. My daughter tells me that, "As Canadians, we are secretly in favour of global warming." She may be on to something.

Departure Time - 2H15M:
I used to enjoy the trip to work when I was based in Winnipeg and when I first moved to Montreal. Then the terminals were small enough that I could park in the employee lot and take a mind-clearing five minute stroll to or from the flight planning center. Now, the continuing growth of the airports have pushed employee parking lots out into the industrial no-man's land, where walking, even if it were close enough, would be a life-threatening activity.

So, I huddle by the lexan shelter, collar turned up against the morning chill and then scramble aboard the crew bus with the other denizens of the morning shift. Quick - make a mental note of the zone number. More than once, flight crews have been spotted wandering around the parking lot trying to remember where they left their vehicle four days earlier.

A weak morning sun struggles to lighten the eastern horizon as observed through grimy bus windows, while I cling to the grab-bar against sudden bus-lurches. This experience always makes me chuckle. In order to get the aircraft pushed-back on time, we sometimes used to carefully commence the procedure extra slowly, at about 5 k.p.h., while the last few people were still standing in the aisles. But not any more. Now the regulations stipulate that absolutely without exception for always-and-always, we can't budge a wheel until all the luggage is stowed and all the passengers are seated, and counted, and then and only then may we depart. But when we arrive at our destination, our passengers are disgorged into various other vehicles from busses, to underground subways that leave them hanging by their fingernails as they lurch and bounce from one terminal to another at 30 or 40 kph. So silly, but of course it errs on the side of safety and minimizes lawsuits.

Departure Time - 1H15M:
Finally, I arrive at the flight planning center by the requisite time - in today's case, and hour and fifteen minutes before departure. The countdown to pushback starts in earnest. The place is a hub of activity and noise and distraction. Crew members are milling about, some arriving from all-nighter flights, others like myself preparing to start the day. The phone behind the clerk's desk is ringing as I catch her attention and make sure she knows I've arrived. I manage to find a corner to stash my flight bag - they never design enough baggage stowage room into these facilities - quickly grab the contents of my mail folder for later study enroute - then it's on with my preflight routine.

I make a bee-line for an open computer terminal and check the scheduling pages to print out today's flight details and crew names. First Officer - Paula Martine*. Good, no changes from my monthly schedule. At the beginning of each month when you print out your schedule and list of co-pilots you'll be flying with, there are those names that make you cringe a little, and those that make you smile. Martine is definitely a smiley. She's just a pleasant person to work with. Her calmness, and relaxed sense of competency easily sets her amongst the top of the list of pilots I like to work with. I imagine her school report cards used to say something like, "excellent student... plays well with others..." I wonder briefly what the F/O's reactions are when they draw me for a trip. I hope it's generally positive, but what the heck - you can't please all the people all the time.

Many years ago, to reduce the possibility of personality clashes on the flight deck, the union and company agreed that the monthly bid system should be arranged to allow FOs to bid around the captains he or she absolutely can not work with. Conversely, there are stories of some captains, at the end of a difficult few days, handing the FO a slip of paper with the captain's employee number written out, along with a very strong 'hint' that perhaps the FO would be happier adding this number to his list of captains not to fly with. I've always wondered if the company monitors these 'incompatibility' lists . It seems this would provide a good early-warning indicator of problems on either side of the cockpit.

I make a quick confirmation that the bidding computer has my choices for next month's flying, then it's time to get on with the actual flight planning.

Departure Time - 1H00M:
( to be continued ...)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Great idea! Which I'd stumbled upon this earlier as I am on my way to Spain today! This would have been great reading on the plane! :)