Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Please Confirm Your Answer

I fill out the American Community Survey, but out by the Census Board, over the weekend. In addition to asking whether we had both hot AND cold running water,  how many rooms our house had and what our yearly water bill was, it also asked for information about each of us- our education, job duties , commute time, date of our most recent marriages-that sort of thing. And again we ran into the issue of how to make A's job fit into predefined catagories not designed for pilots. Every time I tried to fill in an answer, I'd get an "oops, we've detected an error" type message. Because you can't possibly work in a zip code that far away from you home. ( really, how does one define what zip code a pilot works in anyway? His base? Company headquarters? Which airport he lands at the most?) One can't possibly  commute 280 minutes one way- because our software doesn't account for 4 day trips between commutes and airplanes as a mode of commute transportation. How to express the number of hours worked daily? Especially versus the time actually paid or time away from base.  So you can thank me the next time you see skewed numbers related to pilot incomes, work hours and lifestyle. It wasn't misreporting or wishful thinking, it was the constraints of ten data collection system.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Commuting Considerations for pilots

Inspired by Joanna's post about commuting questions (which was a few months ago but still on my mind), here are few thoughts about things to consider before you commit to commuting to base.

Is your family prepared to live with a grumpy, stressed out pilot beginning the night before the commute to work? Where he starts to check flight loads obsessively on his phone, tries to devise second and third options to getting there, and generally takes out his panic about getting to work on you or tries to engage you in decision making when you are busy doing everything else? And carries on woefully about everything he still needs to get done and how early he has to get up tomorrow? Every week.

Are you willing to have even less time at home? Night before and day after commutes suck up even more precious time off. Three day breaks get whittled down to 26 hours at home between bad trips.

Can you afford a crash pad? Or multiple hotel overnights a month? It's nice to have the security of a crash pad, knowing you can stay any time. But it might be more cost effective to just shell out for a crew rate hotel room when it's needed. Monthly schedule changes ensure that you never get the best deal for the month.

Are you ok with using up all the available paid time off to cover trips that he missed due to missed commutes? Meaning there will be months when he's off with no pay.

How many other pilots are doing your same commute? Commutes from former or reduced bases are tough because there is a lot of competition for seats to get to work. Nobody else wanted to move either. Commuting from popular vacation destinations or airports close to them ensures that every other industry family is also trying to fly in and out on the same seats. We are two hours from Orlando and get lots of people who fly here and drive there. With some major cancer resources in our city, we also get a lot of medical traffic.

How many flights per day are there to your base? If A were commuting to ATL, we'd be set- there's nearly a flight an hour. However, to A's base there are only 3-4 per day. Which means night before commutes, commutes when he slips in 10 minutes past his show time, and commutes when he gets in 6 hours prior to his show time and then incessantly pesters me via smart phone because he's bored.

How many alternate routes are there? Can a two (or more) leg commute be done? Fly to a nearby base and rent a car one way? Fly overnight on a cargo carrier? We've had to resort to all of these options...

How long can your pilot stay awake? If he flies in overnight, he won't get much, if any, sleep. Can he then make it flying a full day the next day? I have seen A stay awake for 36 hours straight, without any extended blinking, at movie marathons with friends so I have some faith. Skirting the new rest rules is sketchy, but if it's the only way to get to work to get paid...

Does your airline have a good commuter clause and do you know the ins and outs? Do you have to show proof of flights? Can you pick up the trip later on if you miss the first legs? Can you volunteer for something else?

Last month, A ended up missing out on two trips for two different reasons. His first commute cancelled because there was no FO to fly the plane here and back (thanks pilot shortage!), which meant he couldn't get to work. He tried to work with crew scheduling to pick up the trip later on but was told that the whole trip was cancelled because they didn't have any reserves to fly the trip. So he was left high and dry. And so were all the passengers. The second trip (which was consecutive) he was on the plane and it was delayed for mechanical issues. While he was waiting on the plane, another flight to his destination from his company boarded and departed on time. But the Gate Agent wouldn't let him off his plane and delay the other for a few minutes to so he could switch planes. His flight ended up cancelling, as did his entire trip. Way for the company to shoot itself in the foot on that one.

Despite all the pitfalls, we continue to deal with commuting because we like where we live and it just seems like too much effort to relocate somewhere we don't like. The future may bring changes but for now, we are stuck where we are.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014


There are days when I feel more vindication than sympathy when I get texts on my work phone from A at home saying things like " Littlezilla has emptied his lunchbox onto the floor because he didn't like what I packed, twice" or "he just peed on my foot because he doesn't want to take a shower" or " he refuses to wear any shoes except the blue ones and I didn't take them out if the car like you told me to." But bless him for pitching in while he is home.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Polar and other vortexes

Ok, so a little behind the times here. A happened to be off and avoid the flying madness that was the Polar Vortex at the beginning of the month. However, Kidzilla happened to come home from CA on day two and we had to pick him up from Orlando International. We tracked his flight, occupied ourselves for the two hour delay, and arrive at the airport about an hour prior to arrival. At which time we promptly entered the gates of hell. The check in line was ridiculous. Utterly. It wound all the way through the check in switchbacks, across the open entry expanse to get deeper into the airport, and completely through the switchbacks of another airline. One look at the line and expletives started spewing out of my mouth. There was no way to make it through the line to get gate passes. I remembered that we had previously gotten gate passes from the list baggage claim office so we immediately headed down there. And promptly got our passes thanks to my profuse humility and thanking. We made it through the mob at security (the check in areas must have been using all the moveable line makers since security could have benefited from a few as well). On the tram we overheard someone who said it took them four hours (!) in the check in line. Then we met a forlorn woman at the gate who said she got in line at 10 am and got to the gate at 5pm (!), only to find her flight then cancelled. We happened to be near the customer help desk and in the entire 50 minutes we were there the one agent assisted the same gentleman. What a nightmare!

Now, far be it from me to claim to know best for airline severe weather operations, but surely this could have been handled better. Like maybe two lines at check in, one for rebooking and one for flights actually leaving? Seems like a no brainer to me. Maybe a few more people inside the gate area or directing people to a rebooking area that doesn't block five gates with the line? A had his own experience with poor operations in the aftermath of the vortex. He got reassigned during his trip and ended up sitting for FIVE hours in Austin, TX waiting on a hotel assignment. Although he knew which hotel the company books with, they would not pick him up until they had the reservation. I hear that the third party company that does the bookings for A's (and likely others) was snowed in and no employees were able to get in. So A's airline had to whip out their corporate cards and start booking rooms directly. What a mess! Rumor had it that pilot's had to resort to refusing to push from the gate until they had confirmed hotel reservations at their destinations. Rumor also had it that Crew Scheduling lost track of where they reassigned everyone and sent mass emails asking pilots to report in where they were. Seriously? This is hardly the first time that bad weather has hit the eastern US. As A's company was not so long ago bought by another airline, there was much comparison about how this never would have happened with the management of the previous airline, the larger of the two, because they were more used to a total flight crew of this magnitude. I'm sure every airline had it's own issues in that week, but the chaos I witnessed first hand really could have been avoided.

A's new(ish) combined company is still in joint contract negotiations. It is so sad to see the company that not so long ago had the industry leading contract, having to fight for even basic things like health insurance. I so wish that companies would take a cue from the tech industry and realize that having the BEST contract and perks will attract and retain the best people. Instead of having the worst work rules and pay and then wondering why they can't attract enough new people to cover attrition. It makes perfect sense to me. Clearly I have all the answers for airline operations lately... A's company voted down the concessionary contract and is encouraging another airline to vote down theirs as well. But there are always those old timers who have 3 alimony checks to write and new starry-eyed pilots who will fly for anything and don't see the big picture. Since our "two years and out" has now dragged on for seven, nearly eight, years as an FO, it's worth continuing to fight.

Monday, December 30, 2013

Looking behind, looking ahead

I can't believe we are at the end of another year!

Babyzilla just turned 3. We've lived in our house for over a year (an done pretty much nothing off the home improvement to do list). A's piece of crap car has lasted over a year. It's been two years since we used a credit card! This year we made a big push to get more organized. We continued to refine our budget and envelope system (thanks Dave Ramsey) and attempt to pay off our debt. We made time and worked through One Year to an Organized Life for big picture home organization and Secrets of an Organized Mom for specific ideas for organizing. We'll continue to refine by going back and re-looking at every area in the One Year book once a year.

I had a total of 3 job assignment changes at work moving from Neurology to ICU to Neuro ICU to Newborn ICU. Thankfully I discovered that I really enjoy working in an ICU setting. I love where I am at and don't forsee any more changes. I also racked up a total of 19 comp days through taking extra on call time and used only 3 paid time off days the whole year. I also became a La Leche League leader. I read a total of 89 books this year, all chronicled in my book list on the side bar. There are still 272 books on my to read list... My friend Google Reader was shelved and I switched to Feedly to manage my blog subscription; ironically you have to provide the entire blog URL to get my own blog to show up there...I made 15 dozen cookies from scratch in one weekend to give to our neighbors for the holidays.

A continued to move up the seniority ladder and is in the top 30 in his base, which means he finally gets pretty good schedules. We still fight about him wanting weekends off and me feeling it's more helpful to have weekdays off. Now that he's just a few classes from upgrade, true to form, the airline has stopped upgrades because they don't have enough First Officers to cover for all the people upgrading. The two year journey to upgrade continues as the seven year never ending quest.

This next year will focus on continuing to manage our finances,  getting rid of more STUFF, and figuring out once a month cooking to free up my evenings. With the ever present work out more, spend more time with the kids, blog more and have a million dollars fall into my lap on the list as well.

Wishing everyone a happy new year!