Monday, November 10, 2014

It's just a day

It's the time of year again when I start seeing all the poor me, it's so unfair posts about people having to work on Thanksgiving. There are calls to boycott retail establishments and whatnot. Wives complaining about how their loved one has to spend the day shuttling other people. It irks me for several reasons. Not one mention is made about all the other people, outside of retail or aviation, who have to work on Thanksgiving, or any other big holiday. Last year I worked on Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and New Years Eve. And I lived. So did my kids. Because the place where I choose to work operations 24/7/365. Even during hurricanes. It's a hospital, it CAN'T close. So we all suck it up and work. And so do the police, EMS, gas station attendants (where would be buy our newspapers to get all the Black Friday deals if the gas station was closed?OMG, you mean we would all have to plan ahead to buy gas the night before?), movie theater workers, military, care home workers, stadium workers (for those holiday bowl and NFL games) and hundreds of other people. So over it already. The industry you chose to enter doesn't close for the holidays. Celebrate the sentiment another day and move on. Not to mention the impracticality of getting every pilot to his home destination- who would fly the last planes back to base? And pick them up again?

Which brings me to my next item- what's the big deal about celebrating on another day? Most people don't have a problem with celebrating their birthday with a party on the weekend instead of on the weekday that is the actual day. But we can't change Thanksgiving or Christmas the same way? Thanksgiving is a holiday that was randomly assigned to a day that *might* have been when a celebration was had. And if you've read Lies My Teacher Told Me, and knew the truth about the Pilgrim/Indian interactions you might not want to celebrate the holiday anyway. So turn it into family-appreciation/remembering-what-we-are-thankful-for-day that is not tied to a particular calendar day. Maybe your family will be happy not to have to split between multiple dinners or travel on the biggest travel weekend of the year. Can they not arrange to take a few days off earlier or later instead? If you are not near family, can you not take a few days off and travel there or to where your pilot is overnighting? A's schedules have always had him ending in early afternoon, making it easy for him to spend the evening celebrating.

 I feel the same about Christmas. There is much controversy regarding the commercialization of Christmas as well as the exact date of Christ's birth. If you celebrate the day for the presents and giving, well you can do that on any day- even with children. If you celebrate it for being the birth of the savior, that can be done in any place, not only in your hometown. It's easy to find a church and if you call ahead, they can probably even find someone to transport you from your hotel and back. Jesus will appreciate the effort, not the location.

Maybe I'm just in a grouchy mood since A just left but after years in the industry now and hearing the same complaints over and over I am just over it. And so many people don't realize the inconsistencies in their own beliefs they hold about "special days". Bah Humbug!

Monday, September 15, 2014

The year of questions

One of my favorite quotes, and one that got me through A's cancer treatement, is from Zora Neale Hurston- There are years that ask questions and there are years that answer them. It's actually the first line from one of her books. This has been a year of asking questions. A rough year for us thus far.

It started off in January when I was just DONE with A. He hadn't done anything wrong, it was just like a giant, 6 week long bout of PMS where every little thing about him was wrong and I couldn't stand it anymore. The way he tied his shoes, the way he arranged his day, the color of his hair. It was all simmering inside of me and I was acting like a royal bitch and I wouldn't tell him why. He should have just known. But I did spend hours in my office at work cataloging all of his offenses and writing diatribes to him about it all. And then one day, it was just gone. And now I can't even remember what the fuss was about.

Then, in March, all of three weeks after I stopped using birth control, I found myself pregnant. It was a surprise to us both. Not in that we didn't think it could happen, we knew we weren't preventing, but in that it had taken us THREE years of consistent trying, and four failed rounds of fertility treatments to get Babyzilla. And here, boom, we found ourselves pregnant. Of course we were stressed, thinking about how to afford a new car to fit us all, but we were very excited as well. I bought some maternity clothes on sale, a baby blanket, planned how to tell all my coworkers... And then at our 9 weeks appointment, we discovered that I had miscarried. Two days later I had a D and C because I didn't want to go through a miscarriage at home, alone, with A on a trip. I recovered and went back to work at my job. In perinatal services, where I see babies and pregnant women every day.

The spring brought us more news from A's airline that there would likely be a reduction in fleet and even through he was only around 30 people from upgrading to Captain ( FIN. A. LY), it would likely never happen as they expected to shrink through attrition. It's been seven freaking years already! I know A is bummed with the news and is casting around thinking about what to do. The thought of starting over at another airline doesn't sound appealing but he can't do anything else with his outdated ITT tech drafting degree. So where does that leave us?

We celebrated the 4th of July with a major plumbing mess and several slab leaks in our house. We spent the entire weekend turning the water to our house on and off twice a day at the main valve- an hour in the morning for showers and laundry and an hour at night for dishes and washing up. Our insurance would only pay for a minimum of labor and repair, so we had to take all the money we had been saving to put a new roof on the house (also much needed) to replumb the entire house through the attic. We have some fantastic hot water now and our bills are lower than they have been the entire two years we lived here, but we totally weren't planning on maxing out our cards and spending all our cash on it. Every time it rains I hear a drip in our roof, it's like water torture because I can hear it while I am laying in bed at night. Heaven knows what other damage is being caused.

Somehow, just 3 months after my miscarriage, I got pregnant again. A's first words were "how did this happen?" - in the context of "why was it so difficult before". Sadly, this time I miscarried again, just a few days after we found out. Just in time for A to be at his recurrent training. I told him, because I needed to tell someone, but I felt guilty as hell for doing something to distract him from his task at hand. He passed with flying colors and came home to help me. At least this time was easier because we hadn't had weeks of planning and getting used to the idea already. But two miscarriages in six months has taken its toll.

I still have intermittent bad moods where I want to scream at A's preference to hold the shower door scraper at exactly 35 degrees for maximum scraping effectiveness or his incessant talking about what it will be like when we finally have the money to fix up our house, my dread as we slowly pay off my grad school loans yet feel like we are never getting anywhere with them. I have sorry for me periods where I hate living here where I feel like I have no good female friends. Yet when I think about it, I'm sure there are at least 5 people who could have helped pick up the kids or made us meals if I had needed it. I am blessed to be home with a sick Babyzilla today, yet still being paid because I have accrued enough paid time off to cover it. I can't yet say what the rest of the year will bring us, but I hope it's more answers to questions than questions themselves.

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


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.