Most days my day job is pretty unremarkable. But sometimes it rises to the level of recording as was the case last night. I still admit that, if you gotta work, this gig is sweet, especially for those of us lucky enough to still enjoy it.
Thursday afternoon a call came in from scheduling. I figured it was scheduling because the phone shows “Unknown.” They’re almost always calling to offer “JA” which means “Junior Assign” or overtime. And frequently it’s a very, very good deal. Something has gone amiss in the operation and they need someone to fly something. Now.
If you answer the phone it’s mandatory that you take the trip, but if you call back it’s optional. I almost always call back. I call myself “JA Jeff” because I love doing these things, especially since they usually involve deadheading—riding in the passenger cabin while still getting paid; perfect for working on my many projects.
So they offer me this: ferry an empty airplane to Boston (from Chicago), overnight, then deadhead home (ride in the back) in the morning. Perfect! Sign me up.
After checking in, the first sign that things would not be as advertised appeared: the arrival was an hour late. Not a biggie but an omen. No worry, though, I relaxed in the empty gate area, plugged in and worked on some magazine stuff coming due. The plane finally arrived, a shiny -700 model, so we preflighted and headed out.
An empty 737 has awesome performance. With just the First Officer (FO) and I, an average fuel load and minimal freight, we were a veritable rocket ship, even taking off at reduced power (as normal). What a climb rate! Then there was that gorgeous, sparkling Chicago cityscape with its lights edging against Lake Michigan. “If you gotta work…”
Flying to Boston was uneventful. The weather was clear, smooth and visibility unlimited with a few knots of wind when we were cleared for the “visual” to runway 27.
“GO AROUND — WINDSHEAR AHEAD”
The last thousand feet was nondescript, the way we like it—smooth, established and steady from 1200 feet or so. I was hand flying using the HUD (Head-Up Display) mostly because it’s kinda fun. Tonight was just another one of hundreds of such approaches: the runway slowly grows bigger as we slide down the glideslope. At 500 feet, my partner called “500 feet”. I crosscheck that we got a landing clearance, that there’s 5 green lights and the flaps are set. Keep going. Smooth. Then, at 300 feet or so, “GO AROUND, WINDSHEAR AHEAD” blared into our quite serenity.
For a brief second I questioned it but then, biting the bullet, I powered up into our windshear escape maneuver, feeling kind of silly since I was almost certain it was false. Better to go around, though, feel the air, and ask questions later. The windshear maneuver is more aggressive than a normal go-around and you leave the gear and flaps down initially, retracting them when clear of the shear. We never felt even the slightest bump AND got a test pattern on the radar, further confirming that this was just an indication problem. We discussed it and decided that, if it happened again we would continue to landing. Sure enough, on the next approach, at about the same altitude it cried out again. This time we pressed on to an uneventful landing. In probably 10+ years of flying with this equipment, I’d gotten my first false alarm. I’ve heard (and responded to) it one other time but that was real.
After parking this sort of thing has to get entered into the maintenance log. Thankfully, at my airline, pilots are encouraged to write this stuff up so it can get taken care of. Paperwork always takes a while but that turned out not to be a hold up at all. While I was working with maintenance and dispatch, the F/O was working a much bigger problem—we had no hotel. Oh boy. Normally that gets set up by scheduling but, in the heat of battle, it was missed and now they were scrambling to find us a place to stay. Don’t beat up on scheduling, out of all the years I’ve been doing this I’ve only had one time with no hotel: tonight.
Ring Around The Roses
Finally they found us a place, a rather nice one, about three miles away, but there was no transportation. No biggie, we would just take a cab. It was so late, though, that even in Boston, there were no cabs there. We had to call one. Within 10 minutes a cab showed up and we were off. A new adventure began.
My Droid phone has a great GPS navigation program which I brought up to see our progress. The driver also had a GPS with voice directions. Unfortunately, it didn’t seem like he was following it. In fact, the most common refrain from that trip was Garmin Girl complaining: “RECALCULATING.”
20 minutes later, our tour of Boston complete, and after some encouragement from us about directions, we arrived at the hotel. I’m not sure that it was intentional since driving in Boston seems almost as bad as driving in Italy but clearly there was a quicker way. The fare reflected that. Even though it’s the company’s money I bargained with the driver for a more reasonable fare and thankfully he was OK with that. I don’t mind tipping but I don’t like being “taken for a ride.”
No Keys At the Inn
The final insult came when we arrived at the front desk and they informed us there were no keys. Their system was down for some kind of maintenance and they couldn’t make new ones. Thankfully the manager was quite helpful, and walked us up to our rooms, opening our doors with his house key.
Finally, rest at last.
The vast majority of work trips are wonderfully mundane—just the way I like them. But every now and then one rises to an honorable mention and I feel need to record it for memory’s sake. If I can get through my career with nothing worse than this, I’ll be a happy hiker indeed.
Now back to your regularly scheduled paramotor programming.