Aug 13, 2008

A Day in the Life (36) One Down, One To Go.

A description of a typical day’s flight from Montreal to Vancouver and return - 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 - YVR Arrival Gate (Arrival, thirty-five minutes behind sked, so our planned 1:10 turn around time is now 0:35)
Time: CYVR Next Departure minus 0H35

There’s a flurry of activity now as I set the parking brake, and using hand signals communicate and co-ordinate engine shutdown and electrical transfer with the ground crew.

Around me the airplane begins sprouting doors. Cargo doors, galley doors, entrance doors, maintenance panels, and lavatory service panels spring open at the hands of eager ground crewmembers who’ve descended on us like ants on a watermelon. Inside our cabin the overhead bins spring out of the overhead sidewalls cascading coats computers and suitcases into the arms of passengers anxious to be on their way.

Meanwhile, in the relative sanctity of our flight deck, F/O Paula is jotting down fuel numbers and flight data on the paper plan and checking brake temps and other parameters too mysterious for captains to remember. We run quickly through our checklists securing the aircraft. This ship is going out again in an hour or so, saving us a few items that would apply for a full shutdown.

Then we’re busily stuffing our nests back into our flight bags being careful not to forget anything. We fumble for seat levers to extricate ourselves. Then carefully choreographing our movements in the small flight deck we get ourselves repacked in our shiny uniforms and out the flight deck door, bags in tow.

Paula stays behind for a few last good-byes while I scurry up to our ramp office. There’ll be a new flight plan to review and with the weather anticipated in Montreal tonight, I’ll want a chat with our dispatcher. There’s one word on my mind. Fuel. Need fuel, Need as much fuel as we can fit onboard.

Okay, that’s actually more than one word. But only one is important. Fuel.

One down one to go…

After finishing her PR assignment, FO Paula will break directly to the new aircraft and begin pre-flight preps, including asking the Shell driver to stay plugged in. Once we get our final load figures we’ll squeeze in every last drop of fuel our weight will allow.

I could run upstairs to a well-equipped flight planning center, but today I don’t have time. So I’ll use the flight planning computer stuck in a corner of an airport office used by other company departments. The room is buzzing with people working in, around and over one another and I wish it wasn’t. I’m hungry, and a little tired, and I need to concentrate on typing the right codes to bring up the full sized paper flight plan out of the depths of the printer. Then fumbling with more coded sequences on the local phone, I get the correct dispatcher on the line.

The latest YUL weather is not good. They are now experiencing the beginnings of what will become a full-blown winter blizzard and the alternates are also marginal. Given our full cabin we can carry enough fuel to use Toronto as an alternate with about 10 minutes extra over YUL for weather-related delays. That’s tight. Ottawa is closer but it’s affected by the same weather hitting Montreal. I’ll keep an eye on it enroute and hope that if needed it’ll buy us more time over the destination.

Tearing off the new plan with the latest load estimates, I dash for departure gate. A quick stop at the deli counter for two sandwiches to go. When I arrive at the departure lounge the passengers are already boarding. I “excuse me,” my way down through the crowded jetway. Folks occaisionally glance up and make comments like, “Oh, yes - please go ahead. We wouldn’t want to leave without you!” I guess it’s just airline travel that raises humour to a whole new level.

Before entering the flight deck I take thirty seconds to introduce myself to the new Purser while he continues to check boarding passes and greet passengers. Multi-tasking is a way of life in his job too.

Then it’s back into the seat. Remake my nest. Time to do the ramp check while gobbling down my sandwich. The other I toss over to F/O Paula who already has most of the flight plan typed into MacDoo. Teamwork.

Time: CYVR Departure minus 0H15

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