Jul 16, 2007

A Day in the Life (26) Land Ho!

A description of a typical day's flight from Montreal to Vancouver and back - as a backdrop for a detailed, non-technical description of what an airline pilot does. (check left hand column for series index).

Log Entry 2003 - A320 Capt - Cruise

Time: CYVR Arrival minus 1H00M

Land Ho!

How exciting those words must have once been to a weary sailor. I can only imagine what it meant for them, after months and months at sea, to espy dry land and the promise of a safe conclusion to a dangerous voyage. Today, I've only been airborne six hours yet I’m exhilarated to see the CYVR tag finally crawl over the top edge of our electronic horizon, with its promise of nothing more than a quick stretch of my legs and a stale airport deli sandwich.

The activity level steadily increases as FO Paula and I stow items prior to descent, and generally clean up the flight deck. “A tidy flight deck is a happy flight deck.” some old captain used to chant at me at least once each trip. Now I can’t get it out of my head. I try not to inflict it on my first officers so I don't say it out loud - at least not more than once per trip.

I’m sure I have other oft-repeated phrases and habits that drive my first officers crazy. It's expected. It's part of the mystic of being an "Experienced" Captain. It's part of 'the deal.' My first officers tolerate my irritating, repetitive behaviors hoping that there may actually be some good reasons behind them. And if I actually remember some good reason that led to a particular 'irritating behavior' I endeavor to retell it at least once each flight. Oh, wait. I guess that's how these irritating behaviors develop. Which reminds me of a story... (but I digress and that's another entry for another day.)

The flight deck procedures specify that the PNF (pilot not flying) will program the waypoints and approaches and frequencies into our flight management computers for the arrival, but in reality, during a long segment the initial entries are entered by whichever pilot needs a pastime enroute to help stay awake. I’ve tapped in some rough numbers long ago. From time-to-time FO Paula has updated these as new weather reports came in. I now pull up the official ATIS report for Vancouver and enter a more detailed plan of our expected approach.

From this I derive a better gate arrival estimate which I send to the company. They need to utilize their resources of gate space, ground support equipment and personnel efficiently. Especially when we're behind schedule. I also make a final announcement to the passengers. Vancouver weather is improving steadily and it seems like the December rains have fled for a while, tantalizing us with the prospect of a mountain vista during the descent, along with probable turbulence below twenty five thousand feet, judging by the clouds I see out the front windows. The airport winds are light and favoring a straight in approach from the east, landing on Runway 26 right. We should regain a couple more minutes on our arrival time.

I gather some snack dishes to return to the galley and my bladder needs another break as well, so I push the call button and talk with Connie to initiate the PPP (Pilot Peeing Protocol). Curse you Osama! I’m the only person I know who needs a body-guard to take a whiz. Well, okay. There's me and a few thousand other airline pilots around the world...

Time: CYVR Arrival minus 0H45

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