Flying Stories
A day in the life…
December 21, 2010

In this post, I wanted to document a typical day as a reserve pilot.  In the future, I’ll stick to topic-oriented or individual story posts.  I promise not to bore you by documenting every detail of every day!


My cellphone rang at 3:57am this morning.  A call at that hour would normally trigger fears of a family emergency.  But, the call rang with the special ring-tone reserved only for the crew schedulers.

“Hello?”  I mumbled.  I wasn’t really sure which planet I lived on or where I work.

“Yes, good morning sir.  We have some flying for you later this morning.  Report at 6:35am for a flight to Washington, Dulles.”  This gentleman had obviously been awake longer than me.

“OK, what time is it now?”  I managed to ask as things were starting to become a bit clearer.

“Four AM.”

“I’ll be there.”

With the brain fog starting to lift, I decided I would need to leave at 5:40.  So, I set my alarm for 5:00AM.  I also programmed a wake-up call and tried to fall back asleep.  I should have known better.  It is almost impossible for me to sleep after being awakened by a phone call.

It was painfully early, but I was happy to receive the assignment.  I sat in San Francisco for the first two days of reserve.  If you remember my last post, I sat for five says without being used.  I was ready for a change of scenery.

So, I showered, donned the black uniform, and walked out the door to catch the shuttle to the airport.

The shuttle picks up at the Red Roof, then proceeds to three other hotels before leaving for the airport.  I walked over to the last stop to board the shuttle.  No sense in spending ten to fifteen extra minutes driving around in circles.  When I arrived, I realized it was going to be the type of ride I dread.  There were about twenty other crew members from other airlines waiting to board the shuttle.  It was a crammed ride full of all the predictable chatter.  If you ever want to hear about denied trip trades, short layovers, low pay, crappy work rules, or a vast array of other “I got screwed” tales, then take a ride on a bus full of airline employees.  Honestly, some of it is justified.  But, it gets old listening to the same whiny discussions ride after ride.

I arrived at the airport early and rode the elevator up to our operations.  I checked in on the computer to officially start my trip.  Like the van ride, the place was packed.  However, in this room, everyone was happy.  There were lots of cheery greetings.  People who didn’t recognize me offered introductions.  It was easy to forget it was only 6:15 in the morning.  These folks were awake and ready to work.

The captain arrived a few minutes later.  We conversed a bit, grabbed our luggage, and headed back down the elevator.  After breezing through security, we arrived at the gate.

Once on the jet, I completed my cockpit pre-flight items, a walk-around, and setup of my electronic flight bag computer.  Closer to departure time, the fuel man brought us the fuel slip.  The document showed the amount of fuel loaded onto the jet and the gauge readings when he finished.  I calculated that the arrival fuel plus the gallons boarded equaled the amount on the gauges in the cockpit.  For this flight, our flight plan and gauges showed 30,000 pounds of fuel.

We pushed, started one engine, and began the taxi.  We only started one engine since San Francisco was using runways 28L and 28R for takeoff.  For a long taxi, it saves fuel.  Due to the winds, we were certain we would use one of those runways for takeoff.  There were no other options.

“…the winds just shifted so we just opened up 1R.  Taxi 1R.”  the cheery female ground controller instructed.

Ugh.  That runway was significantly closer than 28L.  Actually, the runway was right in front of us.

We immediately started the second engine and I re-calculated performance for runway 1R.  Once the engine was adequately warmed up, we were on our way.  The captain decided to fly the first leg.  For today, I would operate gear, flaps, and handle all the radio communications.

With a good wind behind us, the flight to Dulles took four hours and twenty five minutes.  The captain made a nice visual approach and landing on 1C.  After bidding farewell to the passengers, it was time to go the hotel.

For years, Dulles was my home airport.  At the time, the only way to go from terminal to terminal was riding the archaic “mobile lounges.”  Everyone would cram into the moon-rover looking vehicle.  Then, the driver would push his way through the sardine canned passengers barking “excuse me” along the way.  He would lower the vehicle and drive it to the other terminal.  Announcements were broadcast that this exciting mode of transportation provided a unique look at airline operations.  Upon arrival, the driver almost always had trouble parking it.  Once parked, everyone would spill out with a sigh of relief.

So, the highlight of my day came when I rode the train from Terminal B to the Main Terminal.   I know this train has been built for awhile.  But, it was the first time I’ve ridden it.  Thank you Dulles for finally rescuing your airport from a very poor 1960s idea.  (Although, they still use the people mover for some operations.  I was able to snap a photo of it in case you’ve never seen it.)

The people mover was replaced by a train since my last visit to the B Terminal at Dulles. Thank goodness!

Tonight, I was on my own.  The captain had friends to visit and the flight attendants were on their way back to San Francisco.  No problem… it reminded me of my days with United.

I checked into the hotel and grabbed an early dinner.   Now, I sit here writing this post.  The early morning call and long flight are starting to catch up with me.  It is an afternoon check-in tomorrow for flights to Los Angeles then back up to San Francisco.  No wake-up call, no alarm set.  I’m off to bed.

About author

Renewed Pilot

I've endured a roller coaster career in the U.S. Aviation Industry. Currently flying the 737 on my third try with the same legacy carrier, I have also flown for a regional, fractional and start-up carrier. My piloting experience includes the 737, A320, 727, Citation Excel, Citation Bravo, Saab 340 and many light singles and twin engine aircraft. I reside in the suburbs of Nashville, Tennessee.

Related items

/ Other posts in this category:


Hurricane Harvey

Read more

Whoosh! (There It Is)

Read more

Wrapping up 2015

Read more

There are 4 comments

  • Jesus Calderon says:

    Ahhh this sudden rwy change early in the morning! Here at Barcelona, wind permitting, we use night -noise abbatement- cross rwys configuration from 11pm to 7am which is rwy 07R for Dep and rwy 02 for Arr and then at 7 in the morning we shift to standard 25L and 25R config. It’s funny though to see pilots who prefer to depart before with the night config scramble through the taxiways until the supervisor coordinates with app the first arrival on 25R and then I call to the “racing” pilot, wich uses to be a Vueling A320: “VLG7736 we just started changing rwys, new rwy for departure 25L, report ready to copy new SID” then you see them jumping on the brakes realizing they just lost their chance for the desired 07R departure and with a noticeable boreness voice they answer “ready to coooopy twr, pleeeeeease gooooo aheeeead…”When that happens I always cant hide a little smile while thinking “nice try buddy but not enough, maybe tomortow”!
    Changing subjects, you mention the single engine taxi to reduce fuel consumption, once you need to start the other engine, you usually get the bleed from the -if still running APU- or you perform a cross bleed start with the already running engine? Could you please explain a little about the cross bleed start on the A320 and in case of cross bleed starting at the gate, if you need to make any special request to atc or apron operators?
    Thanks a lot man, rest a bit and then continue enjoying your “modus vivendi”!! 😉

    • Usually, the APU is used to start the second engine. In the Auto mode, with the APU bleed open, air is available to both engines.

      When fuel prices reached their highest levels a few years ago, United asked us to shut down the APU and perform a cross-bleed start on the second engine. Most were not comfortable doing it on every flight.

      A few weeks ago at LAX, we had an airplane with an inoperative APU. When I inquired about permission, the ground controller approved start of the first engine at the gate with the air cart. But, we needed a city vehicle to clear the area behind us after we pushed. Once we received permission from the airport authority, we conducted a cross-bleed start on the taxi-way. Different airports have different procedures. Regardless, we always make sure it is clear behind the airplane. Although, for the A320, to bring the air pressure up to 30psi doesn’t take much more than normal taxi-thrust.

      When I was at United, there was a big bold warning on the cross-bleed procedure: “DO NOT CROSS-BLEED START DURING PUSHBACK.” It always made me laugh. Can you imagine the guy adding thrust while the tug operator was trying to push the plane?

  • Jesus Calderon says:

    Well, as allways its a matter of common sense, the problem is, as we say in spanish: “common sense is the less common of the senses!” Does it makes sense in english?? ;P Thanks for the answer mate, safe flights and Merry Christmas! 😉

  • Leave a Reply to Jesus Calderon Cancel reply

    Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *