Monday, December 28, 2009

A Good Reminder

"Ladies and gentlemen, we will be landing in approximately an hour and a half. For the last hour of the flight you will not be allowed to stand up, go to the restroom, or have any blankets or coats in your lap. If you need to use the restroom or move about the cabin, now would be a good time to do so."

Those were the words I heard the day after Christmas during my break while I worked a flight from London back into the United States. Those types of announcements, security personnel searching every passenger and their bags in the jet-bridge during boarding, not being able to tell passengers what cities we're flying over; it all seems very familiar. It seems like the stuff we used to see and hear right after 9/11.

Now granted, all of these rules seem rather silly. After all, if a terrorist is going to blow up a plane and knows that everyone will need to be seated during the last hour of the flight, what's to stop him from blowing up the plane right after take-off, or during the middle of the flight, or 61 minutes before the flight lands for that matter. And what's to stop a terrorist from mixing six 3-ounce bottles of liquid explosives together and blowing up a plane on the ramp - near the terminal.

The point is that regardless of how many rules are put into place, they're only effective if a terrorist hasn't been watching the news and is planning on doing the exact thing that the guy before him tried. Let's say tomorrow, someone tries to blow up a subway train but right before he pulls the trigger, he stands up, jumps around one one foot, sings "Mary Had a Little Lamb", and then BOOM! The next day, the subway police would come out with a new rule that would probably read something like this, "No jumping around on one foot or singing allowed on the subway." Seems kind of silly doesn't it, but it also sounds a lot like what the TSA has done. Moving blankets to the overhead and not allowing passengers to stand up for the last hour will certainly piss people off, but will it stop someone who has been training for the past 8 years to blow up a plane? Probably not.

Personally, I'm kind of glad that Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab tried to blow up a plane. Don't get me wrong, it upsets me that he made it through several security checkpoints while being a "person of interest". I certainly don't want to see anybody hurt and the economy probably wouldn't improve because of another terrorist attack. However, I think a failed attempt, like the one that occurred Christmas Day on Northwest flight 253, is a good reminder that we still live in a post-9/11 world and it's everyday people that need to make it safe. There isn't going to be a cop on every corner or an air marshal on every flight but there are normal people like you and me that, by working together, can prevent another attack on the country.

Terrorist's are training every day to attack our country's weakest points. Are you ready to attack back?

Monday, December 21, 2009

Is Christmas a Swear Word?

"Happy Holidays".

We've been hearing that a lot lately. What we aren't hearing is "Merry Christmas", and honestly, it bothers me. For example, I saw the words "Holiday 2009" printed on a can of Coke the other day. I guess they don't want to advertise what "Holiday" they're talking about. Minneapolis has a "Holidazzle" parade, instead of a Christmas parade. I've even heard the trees we bring inside our houses called "Holiday trees" instead of "Christmas trees".

According to a recent poll, 76% of Americans are Christian. There are, of course, many different variations of being a Christian (ie, Baptist, Lutheran) but they all have one thing in common - a fundamental belief in Jesus Christ (who's birthday is coming up). So why, when the majority of Americans believe in Jesus, are people more likely to say a swear word than they are to say "Merry Christmas"?

Maybe saying "Happy Holidays" has become such the norm that some people are afraid to stand out in the crowd by saying "Merry Christmas"? Maybe they're afraid of offending someone? Although I'd think with 76% of Americans being Christian, the odds of offending someone is rare - about 1 in 4. I probably offend 1 out of 4 people with my presence alone - but it doesn't stop me from showing up.

So what are we afraid of? No one is afraid to say Happy Thanksgiving. Banks and post offices are closed, so even the government recognizes it as a holiday. It's even on all the calendars I see at those calendar kiosks at the mall - which are ironically only open around Christmastime.

So, if Christmas is a real holiday, celebrated by a big majority of people, and it's even on calendars - why not say "Merry Christmas"? After all, it isn't a swear word, and it'll make baby Jesus happy.

MERRY CHRISTMAS!

Monday, December 14, 2009

How's Your Commute?

I'm writing this from seat 5A. Not a bad seat considering I ran up to the gate, a sweaty mess, 3 minutes before departure time, begging for a free ride home. Today I'm in the bulkhead row of an Embraer 175, there's no one sitting next to me which is nice considering I've been awake since midnight (body clock). Why I'm writing this for my blog and not sleeping is beyond me (although I think it has something to do with the Biscoff cookies Delta serves).

Odds are, if you have a job - you probably have to commute. Your commute may be a short walk or bike ride, maybe it's an hour drive in rush hour traffic, or if you're like me - you have to fly to work.

Because I'm based in Newark, yet live in Minneapolis, I have to fly to work. Being able to fly to work has it's advantages and disadvantages. The advantage being that I can live anywhere in the world and still get to work. The disadvantage of flying to work is that I spend a lot of time in airports, on airplanes, and often find myself sleeping in places most people wouldn't consider.

According to census.gov, the average person working in Downtown St. Paul, spends 21.7 minutes driving to work. Depending on how many flights are going my way, the weather, and the number of passengers booked - I usually leave my house 8-20 hours before I have to report for work.

You may hear pilots talk about "jump-seating" to work. That's usually what we call it regardless of where we sit. There are usually one or two extra seats in the cockpit and cabin that are considered jump-seats. They're used for check rides, international relief officers, or the most common use - a pilot trying to get to work. Just because a pilot says he's jump-seating though, doesn't mean he's in the cockpit. As a matter of fact, the TSA prohibits someone from sitting in the cockpit if there is an open seat in the cabin (unless they are there for official duties). I guess the TSA doesn't want an extra set of eyes and someone with experience in the cockpit when something goes wrong. I'm pretty sure they consider pilots a security risk.

Often times I end up in first class, which is always a nice way to ride to work. Often times, I'm in the jump-seat in the cockpit, which means I'm getting one of the last seats on the plane. Sometimes I end up in the middle seat between two linebackers. Every once in a while though, my commute is a horrible mess and I seriously consider wanting to move (even to Newark, yeah, sometimes it's that bad).

One of the most memorable commutes I've had, started after working a red-eye from Las Vegas to Newark. We landed in Newark at 4:45 AM, however because it was a weekend, the first flight to Minneapolis didn't depart until 8:00 AM. I managed to stay awake until departure time and found myself in the last row of the airplane with the whole row to myself - perfect for sleeping. Before we pushed back from the gate (but after the ever-important safety briefing from the flight attendants), I had my eye-mask on, my ear-plugs in, and I was sound asleep. I was woken from my deep sleep about an hour and half later to someone tapping my shoulder. When I lifted up my eye-mask, I saw a lady with a baby who asked me, "Can I sit here?" Okay first of all, who the hell decides half-way through a flight that they need to switch seats? I'll tell you who, someone who has already annoyed their 80 year old seat partner enough to drive them to take their hearing aids out. I didn't think much about it (because I had just woken up) and nodded in the affirmative. She sat down, I put my eye-mask back down and tried to go back to sleep. I wasn't giving her much room but her kid never stopped crying or jumping around. Finally a flight attendant came by and told her, "Ma'am, this is one of our pilots, he's been awake all night and needs to sleep, you need to go back to your original seat." Then this lady - who needs a lesson in parenting - said, "Can I go to first class?" Uhhhh, NO! You don't just get to go to first class, especially when you have a kid who won't stop crying! The pièce de résistance was at the end of the flight when she had moved to the seat across the aisle from mine (and next to another guy who looked as excited about sitting next to her as the rest of the passengers did). As we landed, her kid spilled a bottle-sized canister of Cheerios all over the floor. As if she was going to avoid detection, she quickly ran up to her original seat before the airplane had even stopped moving. Seriously, has this person never been out in public before? What made me laugh the most was during deplaning when the aft-galley flight attendant told the first-class flight attendant OVER THE P.A.; "Suzie, we're going to need an extra cleaning crew because that lady with the baby who's standing at row 7 right now, she spilled Cheerios all over the floor back here, it's a huge mess." Maybe not the most professional P.A. I've ever heard, but a little public humiliation might have been just what this lady needed.

That wasn't the first time someone tried to wake me up while I was sleeping with my eye-mask and ear-plugs. On a different flight home, I was equally as tired and sleeping soundly when the drink cart bumped me into a mild state of awareness. I was half-awake and knew that the flight attendants were close by serving drinks, then I felt the flight attendant scratch my knee, trying to wake me up. I heard the guy next to me say, "I think he's trying to sleep." I wanted to flip up my eye-mask and say, "What do you think someone wearing an EYE-MASK and EAR-PLUGS is doing?!" I'll tell you what they're not doing, they're not thinking about what kind of tasty soda they're going to get from the magical drink cart. Unbelievable.

Sometimes it's not the people that make my commute a miserable experience, it's the commute itself. A few months ago, on a Friday afternoon, I had a trip with a 3:30 PM show for a 4:30 PM departure from Newark to San Francisco. I showed up at the Minneapolis airport at 5:30 AM, hoping to get on the first flight out to Newark. Since the airline I work for doesn't fly from Minneapolis to Newark, any pilots that work for the airline I'm jump-seating on, have priority over me when it comes to getting a seat. The first flight was full with five jump-seaters, needless to say I didn't get on that one. The second flight was cancelled, the third flight still had four jump-seaters trying to get on. Then I thought I could go to LaGuardia and take a shuttle over to Newark. I went over to the LaGuardia flight, it was full and the jump-seats were already taken. Then I decided to go to the JFK flight and see how it looked. It had plenty of seats so I took one of them and we headed out to JFK. We arrived at the JFK airport at 2:00 PM. Keep in mind, I needed to be in Newark 90 minutes later. I found the ground transportation center and arranged a shuttle to Newark. The shuttle picked me up at 2:37 PM. If you've ever been in the New York area on Friday afternoon, traffic is bumper to bumper. Every couple minutes we would hit some sort of snarl that would drive my blood pressure through the roof. I watched the time tick away but eventually we made it to the Newark airport. For job preservation purposes, I won't tell you what time I showed up but the flight left on time (with me sitting in the cockpit).

Finally, one of the worst commutes was on an Embrarer 145. I was assigned to the cabin jump-seat, which on the E-145 is next to the last row of seats and blocks the lavatory when it's extended. The general procedure with someone in the cabin-jump seat is - sit there for take-off, then move forward to the other cabin-jump seat (by the main entry door) while the flight attendant does the service, then back to the rear jump-seat for landing. However, on a flight that's two hours long, once the flight attendant finishes her service, there's still over an hour to go until landing. Obviously the jump-seater can't go sit in the rear jump-seat because it blocks the lavatory, so they just have to find a place to hang out. Usually the flight attendant will do another service, or hang out in the small galley and read (the flight attendant manual, of course). This particular flight attendant wanted to sit in her jump-seat (by the main entry door). I obviously wasn't going to argue, it is after all, her jump-seat. She asked if I would like to sit on a ice-box in the galley. I've seen this before, the flight attendant will take one of those tin boxes with all the soda cans in it, throw a blanket over the top, and call it a seat. So when this flight attendant mentioned that, I figured that was what she meant. Nope. She actually took one of the ice-buckets, dumped out the ice into another ice-bucket, flipped it upside down, gave me a incredibly thin blanket to sit on, and went to her jump-seat. Now, the ice-bucket is maybe 7 inches tall. I, on the other hand am 6'3". Sitting on a 7" bucket for over an hour, isn't the most comfortable thing in the world. Oh, and did I mention that I was sitting on a plastic ICE BUCKET!!! Ice buckets are cold, especially when they just had two bags of ice dumped out of them. The blanket she gave me wasn't one of those nice comforter type blankets you'd use to snuggle with on a cold winter afternoon either, it was see-through-thin and provided no warmth whatsoever. So, after my legs fell asleep from the odd sitting position, my butt fell asleep from the subzero sitting surface it was frozen to. And as if those two things weren't bad enough, I just about went deaf from the wind noise blowing past the galley service door. My 21.7 minute drive home was the most comfortable part of the day.

So sometimes when I commute, I'm hanging out with the pretty people in first class, and sometimes I feel like I'm in one of Saddam's torture chambers, but either way, it gets me home.....and home is where the heart is.



Glad I haven't had to sit next to this guy yet!

Thursday, December 03, 2009

A Letter to a Mugger

You probably don't need to read this blog....unless you're the guy who tried to mug my wife and I while we were shopping at Gander Mountain last night. In case you don't remember who we were, I was the guy wearing the black pea coat that you demanded I hand over, shortly after you pulled the knife on my wife and I, threatening our lives. You also asked for my wife's purse and earrings. I can only hope that you somehow come across this rather important message.

First, I'd like to apologize for your embarrassment; I didn't expect you to actually poop in your pants when I drew my pistol after you took my jacket. The evening was not that cold, and I was wearing the jacket for a reason. My wife had just bought me that Kimber Model 1911 .45 ACP pistol for our anniversary, and we had picked up a new holster for it that very evening. Obviously you agree that it is a very intimidating weapon when pointed at your head....isn't it?!

I know it probably wasn't fun walking back to wherever you'd come from with that brown sludge in your pants. I'm sure it was even worse walking bare-footed since I made you leave your shoes, cell phone, and wallet with me. (That prevented you from calling or running to your buddies to come help mug us again.)

After I called your mother, or "Momma" as you had her listed in your cell-phone, I explained the entire episode of what you'd done. Then I went and filled up my gas tank as well as those of four other people in the gas station - on your credit card. The guy with the big motor home took 150 gallons and was extremely grateful!

After we left the gas station I drove by a homeless shelter and gave your shoes to a guy outside, along with all the cash in your wallet, he seemed to be really happy. I told him it's the season for giving. That made his day!

Later, I called a bunch of my friends over in Europe. It's been so long since I've talked with them, I usually don't call them from my own cell-phone because it's so expensive. As I was searching through your contact list I found a guy named "Probation Mike", I can only assume he is your probation officer?? I called him a couple times and made some threats to his family. I thought he knew I was kidding but he sounded pretty serious, you might want to call and explain what happened. Oh, the FBI called too - I think it might have something to do with the bomb threat I made toward a bank. The FBI guy seemed really intense and we had a nice long chat (I guess while he traced your number).

In a way, perhaps I should apologize for not killing you ... but I feel this type of retribution is a far more appropriate punishment for your threatened crime. I wish you well as you try to sort through some of these rather immediate pressing issues, and can only hope that you have the opportunity to reflect upon, and perhaps reconsider, the career path you've chosen to pursue in life. Remember, next time you might not be so lucky. Have a good day!