My second IOE trip was scheduled about a week later. This trip was much shorter than the first. If all went well, I would receive a sign-off completing my initial training with Virgin America.
It was a two day trip:
- Day one: Deadhead from San Francisco to L.A., then fly to JFK
- Day two: JFK to San Francisco
On a deadhead flight segment, the crew-member rides as a passenger. Airlines use deadheading for a variety of reasons. Sometimes, the schedulers just cannot build all the trips to connect with each other. Other times, crews are moved around to cover irregularities in the schedule. Either way, it involves riding in the back to catch up with a trip.
Since I commute to San Francisco, I considered flying directly to Los Angeles and skipping the deadhead segment. But, I’d never had a chance to be a passenger guest on a Virgin America flight. So, I stuck with the original plan. Early on the first day, I boarded the flight and found my seat amid the cool “mood lighting” that illuminated the cabin like a hip night-club. (Or, so I’ve heard… I couldn’t tell you the last time I went to a night club… if ever.)
During push-back, I viewed our safety video for the first time. It was very impressive and different from the monotone announcements on most other airlines. All the FAA mandated safety information was delivered, but in a fun way. I’m hoping due to its humorous tone, people watch the video and remember all the information. All kidding aside, knowing the information in the video could someday save your life. Thanks to Virgin America and YouTube, you can study here for your next flight:
The Virgin America entertainment system is second to none. Each seat has a nine inch touchscreen that the guest can select from a wide array of entertainment. I started playing with all the different buttons. I could now appreciate why some people refer to our airplanes as the world’s largest IPODS. Never flown on us? Here’s a summary of what’s available on board:
- Twenty four channels of satellite television
- Premium television
- Wireless internet
- Twenty on-demand movies
- Hundreds of MP3 music files
- Music videos
- Seat-to-seat instant messaging and chat
- Ordering food (sandwiches, snacks etc…) from the guest’s seat
- Shopping from the guest’s seat
- USB and regular plugs at every seat
All that technology combined with three smiling, friendly flight attendants in-flight team members made for a very pleasant one hour ride down to Los Angeles. I had a better understanding why so many guests absolutely love the airline. It is almost impossible to be bored. What a great way to travel!
Once at LAX, I met with the captain conducting the second half of my IOE. Just like the first trip, we spent awhile briefing about the expectations for the next two days. On the first leg, he was there to teach if I had any questions. The leg back from JFK to San Francisco would be my course completion check.
We departed off runway 24L. Just like the last flight out of LAX, I flew straight out over the ocean, turned around and flew right over the airport on our way to JFK. During the five hour flight, we reviewed most of the remaining company policies and procedures that were not covered on my first trip. We also spoke a lot about family, friends, career history, and the airline industry. The first flight with someone new always passes quickly…. there are usually plenty of things to discuss.
New York arrivals aren’t the most efficient. But, with three very busy airports all within close proximity, they’ve come up with procedures to be as efficient as possible. Normally, an airplane would descend through 19,000 feet about sixty miles from landing. Not in New York. The arrival brought us over Manhattan at 19,000 feet. Heading south, we flew over JFK and descended as quickly as possible. The controller gave us a right turn back around to line up with runway 04R. From there, I flew a visual approach and landing. The captain commented it was obvious I had experience in the plane and didn’t see any problem signing me off the next day.
The only real surprise of the day came when we arrived at the layover hotel. When we walked into the lobby, we were greeted by two other Virgin America crews. Four other pilots and six other in-flight team members were just hanging around socializing. They greeted our crew with open arms. I was introduced and welcomed to their family. Coming from an airline where employee groups barely acknowledged each other, I was glad to see this high level of camaraderie on the road. We stayed and talked for about twenty minutes. It would have been nice to stay longer, but it was a short layover.
Very early the next morning, I grabbed my D-cell flashlight and did my pre-flight walk-around in the dark. When I finished, I had time to walk to the back of the airplane and snap this photo:
When I returned to the cockpit, I finished my pre-flight duties and programmed the computer to prepare for the load manifest. We pushed, taxiied and departed on runway 13R. We turned towards the west on our way back towards San Francisco. It was now a bright, sunny morning. I had a great view of New York City off the right side of the plane. Nine years and countless flights later, the skyline still doesn’t look right without those two skyscrapers.
The return flight took a little over six hours. When we arrived, I flew the charted visual approach to runway 28R. (A charted visual requires good visibility, but follows a charted course to the runway.) After landing, we proceeded to our gate. After the parking checklist was complete, I received a handshake and congratulations from the training captain. He opened my training folder and signed it complete. After a quick trip to the fax machine, I was officially done with training.
Hopefully, you’ve enjoyed this journey through new-hire training. It took two and a half months from start to finish. Factoring in the interview and background check brings the total to four months. Hiring and training pilots is enormously expensive and time consuming. Although I enjoyed it, for a myriad of reasons, I hope this was the last new-hire course I ever attend.
I may be done with training, but this is only the beginning of this blog. As I move forward, I plan to capture the interesting stories during my first year of employment. I also plan to write a few articles about some of the more misunderstood aspects of the industry. My goal is to write articles in simple terms to help people outside the industry learn more about it. If you have any suggestions or questions, feel free to comment or email.
Thanks for reading!