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!

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