Friday, August 22, 2014

Sometimes it's better to pay...

Back in late June Kidzilla took his annual trip to California for the summer. He's been flying as an unaccompanied minor for a few years and is rapidly approaching the age where we would no longer have to pay for services. On this trip, Kidzilla got to experience (insert sarcasm here...) the best of both mom and dad's personalities and the benefits of paying the extra fees. 

I left work early so that A and I could both drive Kidzilla to the airport two hours away. A, being the tricky pilot he is, decided to track the inbound aircraft as well as the anticipated departure time for Kidzilla's flight. He informed us that the inbound was delayed, that we had plenty of time, and that we should detour in search of the A&W restaurant they wanted to hit on the way. Can you see where this is going already? We stop, eat, and then stop again to clean up the backseat after Babyzilla spilled the rest of his milkshake all over him and the backseat. We were about 15 minutes away from the airport when we got a text from Kidzilla's dad out in CA saying "hmmm, are you SURE that flight is delayed?" With flames suddenly shooting out of my eyes I request A to double check his information and, you guessed it, aircraft swapped and flight is on time. And we are going to miss it. We come screeching up to the curb and Kidzilla and I fly out with his bag to run in to the check in desk with A yelling at us from the car ( in the bossiest, most know it all voice ever) "well the plane is still at the gate." We go in with they sorriest looks we can muster and explain the situation. As soon as they confirm we missed the flight, Kidzilla bursts into Emmy winning hysterics and I rack my brain for plan B. With no other options to get him out to CA that night, I rebook him on to the 6am flight in the morning, figuring A and I will hash out the logistics in the car. Blessedly, the customer service agent does not charge us a change fee. A quick type, type, type and less than 10 minutes later we head out to the curb where A promptly Informs us (again in THAT tone of voice) that he doesn't see why we couldn't get on because "the plane still hasn't pushed." As if he isn't already at the top of my shit list...

We head over to the cell phone waiting lot to decide on our plan. Spend the night in a hotel even though we have no overnight gear with us or go home and have A drive Kidzilla back the next day?When I inform Kidzilla's dad of the plan he promptly informs me that they are supposed to fly to PDX the next day and this mix up better be resolved without screwing up those plans as well. As if he didn't miss Kidzilla's plane the summer before leaving us stuck in town waiting an extra 12 hours a few trips ago.

We decide to spend the night and quickly book the least sleezy cheap nearby hotel we can find with the promise of free toiletries. Except when we get there everything is locked in the maid closet and no one has the key. Since Kidzilla has a set of everything at his dad's house we are left with a small plastic comb and an eyeliner pencil I dig out of my purse.  Babyzilla has a minor meltdown when he discovers we have no pajamas for him as evidently he MUST sleep in pajamas and can't sleep in just underpants even just this once. And I dig out the largest youth large shirt I can find in Kidzilla's bag to sleep in. 

Bleary eyed we return to the the airport at the busiest time of the morning. After fighting our way to a check in kiosk we are promptly directed to the Special Services desk. At which point I lose my mind and the grumbling begins. We go stand in line behind the two other people in line who are then subjected to the whispered litany of insults regarding their intelligence when they spend more than 2 minutes at the help desk. Finnnnaaallly it's our turn and we spend a total of 25(yes!) minutes at the desk while they re- enter all of the information about the unaccompanied minor booking into the new itinerary. The line behind us grows and grows and grows. Why they could not have done all that the night before, when there were NO passengers at the desk baffles me but I try my hardest to be sugar sweet. "You've paid all the fees already?" "Oh yes ma'am" with a nice big smile and eyelash bat. After an eternity we, in our day old clothing and finger and water brushed teeth finally make it to the gate. After Kidzilla is properly loaded we sit and make fun of all the shameful people running up to the gate at the last minute- because, you know, we are so totally much better than that. Once the door is closed, we push our luck, defy the instructions to remain at the gate until the flight is airborne and head to the car figuring the flight actually will be airborne by the time we actually make it to the garage. And on our way out we get the little phone beep which A says means the flight is airborne. 

Because I had not made arrangements to take the day off work, I call in to let them know I will be late and then we head back home. An hour into our drive A's phone beeps again with a return to gate message. Instantly flames again shoot out of my eyes as I demand for A to explain what is going on- he told me the flight was airborne. The UAL website doesn't show anything but Flightaware shows a U turn and return in the air. A continues to drive us toward home and I call the dreaded UAL hotline where I am somewhere around number 52 in que. While willing my head not to explode. A minute into the wait, I get a phone call from a number not local to either where we live or the airport we just left from. It happens to be from the gate agent informing us that the flight had an inflight malfunction, had to return and they have already rebooked Kidzilla on the next flight out, which leaves in 10 minutes- is it okay to put him on the flight? Once I gather all of the pieces of my now blown mind, I agree and send Kidzilla parting behavioral advice ( commands, really) and count my lucky stars that the ex had shelled out for the UM fee so we didn't have to go back and spend the next three days trying to get him on another flight. Kidzilla's bag however did not make the next flight- totally reasonable since it was a quick change and it looks identical to every other navy rolling bag in the cargo compartment- but completely tizzy inducing when factored in to the whole further flight to PDX that the bag was not checked through to bit.  Eventually Kidzilla made it up to PDX and his bag arrived the next day.

In the end, it all worked out and Kidzilla had a great summer. And although I have tried to be graceful to A because I know he knows he screwed up big time and doesn't need to be reminded about it over and over, I can't help but give him shit about the whole debacle every once in a while.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Life and trials

Tonight we are experiencing the bliss of having A surprise us at home with an 18 hour, between trips visit. Thanks to timing out last night and a delayed flight this morning, his schedule got changed up enough for him to fly home and brighten our day. I found out as I was leaving work and let him come home and surprise our boys. They were beside themselves and talked him into taking them to the pool at 8pm for a treat. It's been a rough year for A and I, so we are blessed when little respites like this fall into place.

Last week I had jury duty and was picked to be on a trial jury. It was an interesting and surreal experience. So many people complain about having to go to jury duty, but I would totally do it again given the opportunity. They started with a pool of 60+ randomly selected people and weeded us down to 14. It must have been my (supposed) bleeding heart social workerness, countered by my familiarity with guns, tempered by my complete lack of interest in our local news that made me the ideal candidate. For three days we sat and heard evidence and proceedings on an armed robbery and murder case. The entire time I sat there thinking "wow, this is really happening. I am in a courtroom and a lawyer, right there(!), is addressing ME. And I have to make a decision that will affect the life of that guy sitting right there." Every so often the gravity of the situation would hit me again- we were sending a 21 year old to prison for life; he'd already been in jail since arrested at age 18. Our group of jurors got along well and it was a bit like the end of summer camp where you are randomly thrown together with a bunch of people that you totally bond with because you spend so much concentrated time together and then bam, end of the week you all go home and never see one another again. We ended up finding the guy guilty of both counts and it continues to haunt me in some ways. We were at the pool and I had a flash about how that guy will probably never swim in a swimming pool again. Or eat barbequed chicken off the grill. Or snuggle with kids in bed in the morning. Little things like that that you don't think about when you are 18. Or killing someone over $650 and some ounces of marijuana.

Hopefully I will be able to stay focused and get more of our life written down. As always, its just so hard to find the time...

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

Guilty

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.