Saturday, December 30, 2006

Things I've noticed flying around.....

Since I started my training with Continental I've been flying back and forth between Houston and Minneapolis a lot. Now, since I've worked for the airlines before I'm a not stranger to riding in the back but I've noticed a few things lately about riding on airplanes.

First of all, whenever someone finds out that I work for the airlines they always start asking some great questions. For example, "Why aren't you flying the airplane?" That one always comes up when I'm in uniform. One of my favorites is, "I know a guy who's kids friend is going to school somewhere to be a pilot. I think his name is John, do you know him?" Uh, probably not.

What's also funny is when someone doesn't know I'm a pilot and they try to explain to their significant other what everything is. "Okay, that chime means we're cleared to land." Uh, no it doesn't. "Did you hear that, that was the landing wheels coming down." No, those are the flaps, and they're not called landing wheels, it's landing gear, or just gear. One of my favorite things is when we're taxiing into the gate but have to stop and wait for another airplane to move, you always here someone on their phone saying, "Hey, we just landed but we're still on the runway." Alright, let me explain, if we were still on the runway, they'd have to close the airport down because all those other airplanes you see, need a place to land. We're on what's called a taxi-way, or the ramp, you can even call it the tarmac if you want, but we're not on the runway.

Speaking of things that happen when a plane taxi's into the gate, why is it that people can't seem to stay seated or keep their seat belt fastened for an extra two minutes while we taxi to the gate. I know it seems childish but if you stand up, the plane has to stop, because you stood up. That doesn't only stop our plane, but the 30 airplanes behind us too. Also, when the seat belt sign does get turned off, you can stand up, BUT YOU DON'T HAVE TO! If you're in row 45, you're not going anywhere for a while. Take a breather, sit back and watch all the other people stand in a tight cramped space for 15 minutes while 200 people in front of you deplane.

You know where there aren't any tight cramped spaces? First class! I've been fortunate enough to ride in first class a few times over the past few weeks and when you sit up there, you tend to forget all about the one bag of peanuts the people in coach are getting. Actually, you kind of forget that there is anyone else on the plane besides you and the other 7 people in first class. The flight attendants treat you like royalty! Just the other night I asked for some more bread, not only did I get more bread, but the flight attendant also asked me if I wanted more soup, but warned me to save room for apple pie. Okay, no problem. If you ask for more of anything, they give it to you with a smile on their face! It's amazing!

One thing I've always wondered is, do people actually buy stuff from Skymall? I see a lot of people looking at it (probably because they have nothing better to do) but I've never heard anyone say, "I think when I get home, I'm going to order that doggie ramp for my SUV so my old, out of shape dog, doesn't have to jump into the truck." Or how about the $20,000 lap pool for your house? Is that really the kind of thing you buy from a magazine on an airplane?

Another thing that always makes me laugh is that when people get into a terminal, they seem to forget how to function in daily life. It's like they always need to be asking someone what to do. "Okay, so I just take this boarding pass and go through security, and then to the gate? Is that right?" Yes, you can even get food and beverages inside the airport if you want. "Where's baggage claim?" Uh, follow the signs to baggage claim. "Where's gate E4?" I don't know, follow the signs to the E concourse and go about 4 gates down, you should see it. I don't know the layout of every airport I go to, but I do know how to read and I've never been to an airport that didn't have any signs.

Everyone always seems to be so frantic in an airport too. "I know we got here three hours before departure but what if we don't find the gate?" You'll find it, don't worry about it. These seem to be the same people that want to get on the plane as soon as they say, "We're going to start boarding here in a few minutes." Okay, listen, if you can hear that announcement, you've made it! You're going to get on! Now, would you rather sit in the spacious terminal for the next 25 minutes, or would you like to sit in your one square foot area while 200 people push and shove their way down the aisle. Unless of course you're in first class, then board as soon as you can so you can show off to everybody else that gets on and walks past you as you have your first free glass of wine.

So, to make it simple I've made up a few rules about traveling:

1. Look at the signs in the airport before you ask someone where something is, odds are, they need to find something too.

2. If you get to the airport early, relax, take a load off, get some food, have a drink, but not too many, because airlines can't accept an intoxicated passenger.

3. A pilot in uniform will be happy to help you find something, but you don't need to tell him about a guy you knew a long time ago that was a pilot. If you're a pilot though, feel free to share! Fellow pilots love to talk shop!

4. If you're on the phone while you taxi in, that's okay. Just don't yell so loud that everyone around you knows what your plans are for the night. And don't tell them you're still on the runway.

5. Go for first class if you can afford it, especially on a flight over 5 hours!

6. Lastly, don't make up stuff about the airplane's noises. If you don't know, that's okay, just say I don't know what that was, but I'm sure the pilot sitting right over there would be glad to tell you.

Flying should be fun and it's truly a great way to get around! I love getting to see families re-united, military personnel coming home, and kids going for their first airplane ride. Now go out there and explore the world!

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Welcome to Continental...but before you start....

I started my training with Continental about 4 weeks ago! On the first day of class I was assigned to fly the Boeing 737 and will be based in Newark, NJ. The 737 is the airplane I wanted to fly, but I would have been happy with just about anything they let me have my hands on.

Sometime, over the next few months I will switch bases and be based in Houston, TX. So far, training is going well, I've finished systems training and am now getting into FTD's (Flight Training Devices) and will be "flying" the simulator shortly after the first part of the year. They have me slated to be done with training on Janurary 16th and shortly thereafter, you can see me sitting in the cockpit of one of the many Continental 737's.

Something interesting happened on the first day of class. Various people came in and welcomed us to the "family" but one person caught me off guard. He had a paper for us to sign, but before we signed it, he explained what it all meant.

"We've actually been having some trouble finding good pilots to hire," the man explained. If I was surprised, it was overshadowed by my joy of reaching my dream. "Let's just go over a few points before you sign on the dotted line," the company man chortled. "We're going to send you to the world's most renowned medical center. They'll spend two days probing your body orifices, draining and analyzing your blood, and administering psychological exams. They'll literally take you apart and put you back together. If they find any hint of current or future problems, you're fired and can find your own ride home." "Gee, I think my health is OK," I nervously choked out.

The manager went on, "Good, next we'll evaluate your flying skills in an aircraft you've never been in before. If we don't like the way you perform, you're fired!" I was confident with my flying, but this guy was making me nervous. He continued, "Next, if you're still here, we'll run you through our training program. If during any time in the next 10 years you decide to leave the company, you'll have to reimburse us $20,000, or we'll sue you. Also if you fail to measure up during training, you're fired." The man who was telling us about our dream job listed still more hurdles.

"Each time, before we allow you near one of our multimillion dollar aircraft we'll X-ray your flight bag and luggage, because we don't trust you. Also we'll ask you to pass through a magnetometer each time. If you fail to do so, you'll be arrested and jailed."

"When you've completed your flight, we'll have you provide a urine sample, because we don't trust you to not take drugs. Very soon, we plan to take a blood sample to look for more drugs. Also if you ever fly with another crew member who may have used drugs or alcohol, you must report to us immediately. If you fail to notice that anyone has used these substances, you'll be fired, have your license to fly revoked, and be fined $10,000."

"Every six months, we want you to go back to the medical center for another exam. If they ever find a hint of a problem, your license to fly will be revoked and we'll fire you. Anytime you see a medical person, you must tell us about it so we can see if you need to be grounded and terminated. Also, we need to examine your driving record, and you must tell us if you have even any minor infractions so we can remove you from the cockpit as soon as possible."

"At any time, without notice, a special branch of the government will send one of its inspectors to ride in your aircraft. The inspector will demand to see your papers and license; if your papers are not in order, you'll be removed, fined, terminated, and possibly jailed." "If at any time you make an error in judgment or an honest human mistake, you will be terminated, be fined tens of thousands of dollars, and be dragged through months of court proceedings. The government will make sure you never fly again for any airline."

"You will be well out of town most holidays, weekends, and family events - half our pilots are always on the job at any point in time. Smiling an evil smile now, the manager went on. "Oh, and one last thing to cover. Occasionally, we in management fail to see a trend or the country's economy falls flat on its face. If as a result of one of those events the corporation begins to lose money, you as an employee will be expected to make up the losses from your paycheck."

"Now sign here," he pointed, grinning as he handed me a pen. With my heart pounding and tears coming out of my eyes, I signed the paper and got ready for a fun life at Continental. It's amazing what people will do to fly airplanes!

(The above is what some people refer to as humor, they didn't ask us to do any of that and I'm very happy to be with my new company. Continental Airlines has been more than welcoming to myself and all the new-hires. I can't wait to get out of training and start flying again!)