Thursday, May 24, 2007

Commuting to Work

A lot of people commute to work. As a matter of fact, if you work anywhere, odds are that you have some sort of commute to make. Some commutes are short and some are long. My dad drives about two miles to his office, my brother rides his bicycle six miles to his office every day in order to save on gas and get a little exercise. I know some people who spend one hour in their car to get to their workplace. As an airline pilot who lives in Minneapolis and is based in Newark, my personal commute involves driving twenty minutes to the airport and then hopping on a plane for a 2 1/2 hour flight to where I'm based.

Usually, flying to work is pretty easy. I show up to the airport and hop on one of several non-stop flights to my base. Of course there's more involved than just hopping on a plane. I have to check to see how many open seats there are on a flight, check to see if there's any adverse weather that would affect my flight, and of course, I have to leave a couple back up flights in case my first choice flight gets canceled or oversold. I also might have to leave the day before if there aren't any flights that get me to work on time, I may also have to come home the day after a trip if I get in after the last flight of the day back home has already left. All this along with showing up an hour or so before the flight makes commuting a very time consuming process.

My last commute to work didn't go quite how I was planning. I had to be at work on Thursday afternoon at 1:00 PM. On Wednesday night after all the passenger airline flights had left I decided to check how many open seats there were for the next days flights. I had three flights that would get me to work on time. Earlier in the day the flights had quite a few open seats and things looked good. But something must have happened after the last flight of the day because suddenly, all my flights were oversold by several people with dozens of passengers on the standby list. I also noticed that there were several other pilots listed for the flights so it was going to be a fight for the jump seats. Oh, and there were thunderstorms forecast for my departure city.

There's another airline that flies boxes late at night that we're very fortunate to be able to ride on. I called them to see if I could take a red-eye out to my base instead of worrying about the flights the next day. It would mean being up all night long and sleeping in the crew room the next day before my coast to coast flight but it would also mean an almost guaranteed seat to work. I decided to take the red-eye freight plane. Fortunately I was already packed and all I had to do was shave, throw my uniform on, and head to the airport.

It's customary to bring cookies to the pilots of this airline whenever you jump seat with them, so I stopped at a bakery (actually, it was a gas station that had a bakery section) and picked up some cookies for the crew. I actually had to pick up enough cookies for four people because my flight was going to stop in Chicago along the way and there was most likely going to be a different crew bringing me the rest of the way.

I introduced myself to the crew in the weather room and we made our way out to the plane. I felt like Tom Hanks in the movie Cast Away as I was walking up the steps to get on the plane. I was pretty sure though that we weren't going to crash in the ocean on a flight between Minneapolis and Newark.

As the pilots did their pre-flight, and the ground crew loaded all the big cargo crates, I tried to stay out of the way. I'm always amazed at what a smooth operation it is. It runs just like a passenger plane, except with boxes instead of passengers. After a quick safety demo by the first officer (yes, even cargo airplanes have to give safety demos to jump seaters on how to use everything in case of an emergency), the ground crew closed up all the cargo doors, verified everything was okay with the flight crew and we were off.

Most big cargo planes have some jump seats behind the cockpit along with a couple jump seats in the cockpit. Just like on a passenger plane, we're required to ride in the back unless those seats are full, then we're allowed to sit in the cockpit. Flying on a cargo plane is a lot like riding in the back of a semi-truck, kind of cold, loud, and there's only one small window on either side so it's very hard to figure out where you are. I was the only jump seater and there was a row of 4 jump seats where I was sitting, so after we got going I folded them all down into a makeshift bed.

I made friends with a moth that stowed away on the flight, also hoping for a free ride. We quickly became enemies though when he started buzzing around my head while I was trying to sleep. After I showed him the front page of a magazine he seemed to be content lying, very motionless, on the floor. I let the turbulence from the storms we were flying around rock me back to sleep and before I knew it, we were arriving in Chicago.

I sat up and put my shoulder harness and seat belt on before we landed. We taxied to the "gate", actually, it's more of a big parking ramp than anything. The cargo doors opened and just as quickly as the plane had been loaded, it was unloaded and on came new cargo. The crew I was with got off and went to the hotel and on came a new crew.

I asked the new crew if it was okay if I go with them. They said they would love to have me ride along but I wasn't on their paperwork so I should go inside and talk to the operations people. I walked inside, apparently the person who listed me for the Minneapolis to Chicago flight, didn't list me for the Chicago to Newark portion of my trip. You're supposed to list at least two hours in advance and the flight I wanted to be on left in less than one hour. I called the jump seat phone number and explained the situation. The person I talked to was very helpful and got me listed right away.

I walked back out to the airplane, and told the crew I was on the list now and their final paperwork should reflect that. Once again I got another safety briefing from the first officer and we were off. It was now about 1:00 AM and I was very sleepy. I looked for anymore stow away moths and quickly put the other jump seats down to make my "bed" for the next couple hours.

I slept very soundly and awoke to the landing gear coming down. I quickly sat up to put my shoulder harness and seat belt on again and we landed a few minutes later. We got into Newark around 4:00 AM but by the time I got off the plane, took the shuttle bus over to the passenger terminal, then took the train to the terminal my airline flies out of, it was 4:45 AM.

My next stop was the crew lounge where I would sleep for the next few hours. Unfortunately, the lights in the crew lounge are kept on all night long (probably so pilots don't sleep there too often) but I had an eye mask that I took from a hotel once. The eye mask, along with my ear plugs, and a semi-comfortable couch gave me another four hours of sleep. I woke up around 9:00 AM. Only four more hours until I had to be at the gate.

After I made myself presentable to the general public I found some breakfast at the employee cafeteria. Shortly thereafter I met the crew at the gate and we headed out on our four day trip.

Most of the time commuting is pretty easy and stress free but this last trip to work was not. So when you get in your car and are at work thirty minutes later, think of me and how I left for work fifteen hours before I needed to be there. Maybe it'll make you appreciate your "quick" commute.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

What's with signs?

Tonight I was taking the stairs from my hotel room down to the lobby. The door I used had a sign on it that read "This door to remain closed at ALL times". I thought to myself, if the door is supposed to remain closed at ALL times, why is there even a door? Shouldn't there be a sign that reads, "We were going to put a door here but instead we put a wall"? It got me thinking, there are a lot of stupid signs out there. Are there stupid signs because there are stupid people?

For example, the sign on a 7-11 gas station reads, "This door to remain unlocked during business hours". Well, aren't 7-11's open 24 hours a day? Therefore, there is never a time when the door should be locked because they are always open. Which brings me to my second question, why are there locks on the doors?

My biggest pet peeve is when people don't read the simple signs. For example, when I'm in the airport and someone asks me, "How do you get to baggage claim?" I will usually respond with a polite, "Go to the coffee shop, take a left and head downstairs." What I say is far different from what I want to say. What I would like to say is, "You see the big sign that reads 'Baggage Claim'? Follow that until you see a belt with a bunch of bags going round and round...then you've arrived in baggage claim!"

I guess what I'm trying to get at is, I thank God for stupid people. They make me laugh!

Friday, May 04, 2007

What is a 710??

When it comes to my car, I'm not exactly what you'd call a "handy-man". I don't change my own oil, I don't install new tires, and I'm not afraid to admit it. I'd rather pay someone who has the correct tools and is properly trained, do it for me.

A few days ago I was having some work done at my local garage. A blond came in and asked for a seven-hundred-ten. We all looked at each other and another customer asked, "What is a seven-hundred-ten?" She replied, "You know, the little piece in the middle of the engine, I have lost it and need a new one."

She replied that she did not know exactly what it was, but this piece had always been there. The mechanic gave her a piece of paper and a pen and asked her to draw what the piece looked like. She drew a circle and in the middle of it wrote 710. He then took her over to another car which had its hood up and asked "Is there a 710 on this car?" She pointed and said, "Of course, its right there."

We all had a good laugh when this is what we saw:

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Five Things You Might Not Know About Me

A good friend of mine recently sent me an e-mail that asked some questions that were used to get to know the other person a little better. So, since this blog is all about me, here are:

Five things you might not know about me:

A) Five jobs I have had in my life:

1. Librabrian (well, I probably wasn't considered a librarian but I put books away).
2. Gopher, at the Stanton Airport (jobs included mowing, painting, shoveling rocks, and filling in gopher holes in the grass runway).
3. My Dad used to pay me to mow the lawn.
4. Assistant Manager at Brookstone at Mall of America.
5. Someone gave me $10 once to deliver a little plastic bag full of powder sugar to a guy on a street corner (not sure if that counts as a job or not).

B) Five movies I would watch over and over:

1. Always (a movie about fire bombing planes and their pilots with Richard Dryfus)
2. The Interperter
3. School of Rock
4. Big Daddy
5. Anger Management

C) Five places I have lived:

1. Newark, NJ
2. St Paul, MN
3. St Cloud, MN
4. Memphis, TN
5. Houston, TX

D) Five TV shows I love to watch:

1. Yes Dear
2. King of Queens
3. Friends
4. Mythbusters
5. Comedy Central Presents

E) Five places I have been on vacation:

1. Hawaii (twice)
2. Sanibel, FL
3. San Francisco, CA
4. Flathead Lake, MT
5. Los Angeles, CA

F) Five web sites I visit almost every day:

1. Yahoo! Mail
2. The Hangar (an aviation message board)
3. My Brothers Photo Blog (he takes some good pics)
5. You Tube

G) Five of my favorite foods:

1. Steak
2. Potatoes
3. Pizza
4. Ice Cream
5. Candy

H) Five places I would rather be right now:

1. Hawaii
2. Friends cabin on Flathead Lake
3. Riding on a motorcycle
4. Outside
5. Space (outer space that is, not just the space that's close...I'm talking OUTER SPACE!)