“How’s everything going up here?”
I slowly turned around from my seat in the cockpit. It definitely wasn’t the captain’s voice. I fully expected to see the ground agent, lead flight attendant, mechanic, or fuel man. Instead, our CEO stood smiling in the cockpit entryway.
As we spoke, I just assumed he was joining us on the flight down to Los Angeles. We had a brief, but very friendly conversation.
After he left, the captain returned to the cockpit. That’s when I learned the CEO was not flying with us. He just stopped by to say hello.
It was 7:00am on a Saturday morning. The CEO of our airline was at the airport just to spend some face-time with team members and see how the operation was running. I cannot adequately express in words how much that impresses me.
The night before, I was assigned a trip to fly to Los Angeles, then on to Ft. Lauderdale for a long layover. The next day, we would reverse the route and finish very late in San Francisco.
The two flights were routine. I flew the leg to LAX, and the captain piloted the jet to FLL. With the help of a nice tailwind, we completed the long leg in four hours twenty minutes.
The van picked the five of us up at the curb and we headed off to the hotel.
When we arrived at the hotel, there was another crew in the lobby. Our captain invited them all to dinner. About thirty minutes later, we set out on foot to take over a great “locals” restaurant near the hotel. The conversation was lively, and I really enjoyed the few hours I spent with my new friends. If I have to travel and be away from my family, this is definitely the better approach to layovers. Crew dinners were pretty much non-existent at my last airline.
I got a great night sleep at the hotel. With the flight later in the afternoon, there was no need to set an alarm.
That day in Ft. Lauderdale, I was on the brink of making a drastic change in my lifestyle. I’d enrolled in Virgin America’s “Biggest Loser” style weight-loss competition. Over the next three months, four other teammates and I will strive to lose a higher percentage of weight than the other teams. My overall health is great, but I really want to take off all the extra pounds I’ve gained over the years. To me, this competition is a great place to start.
I hesitated to share this with you. Ultimately, I decided it was good to share for two reasons:
First, I firmly believe accountability is a great motivator. I am already accountable to four other people during this competition. They are depending on me to do my part for the team. By posting it here, it also forces me to publicly acknowledge the three month commitment.
Second, it fully explains where I headed next:
That was probably normal behavior for an overweight guy the day before a weight loss competition. Silly, I admit… but, it was great. As I was finishing my meal, a pilot from another airline came through the doors. I’m a little self-conscious wearing my uniform anywhere other than the airport. Not this guy… he even wore the suit coat. I watched him order, get his burger, then sit down to enjoy the few thousand calories. Maybe his airline was doing a Biggest Loser competition too? With that in his stomach, I hope he was not on his way TO work. At least I had a few hours to let it settle. Completely full, I made the fifteen minute walk back to the hotel.
The burger coma wore off a few hours later. All dressed in black, I met the rest of the crew in front of the hotel. That afternoon, the transportation company brought the white limousine. I can only imagine what the other hotel guests were thinking watching an airline crew pile into the stretched luxury vehicle.
The flight back to Los Angeles was full of guests. Due to FAA weather forecast “alternate airport” requirements, we were also carrying extra fuel in case we needed to divert to Ontario, CA. All the people, bags, and fuel brought us almost up to the maximum gross weight of the airplane. I performed a maximum thrust, highest flap setting takeoff out over the ocean. The controllers turned us back to the west for the routing just south of Lake Okeechobee. From there, we flew up towards Sarasota and out over the Gulf of Mexico.
There’s always been one down-side flying east to west routes in the early evening. Moving west at 450mph, the sun takes a long time to set. For the majority of the flight, it hangs at the absolute worse spot on the windshield. The sunshades and sunglasses make it almost bearable.
Fortunately, we don’t move fast enough to stop the sun from setting. After hours of employing every known tactic to deflect sunlight, we were treated to a nice sunset. Before you get too envious of the view, I still think standing on a beach watching the sun set over a flat ocean is more spectacular. But, this is a close second.
After waiting around LAX a few hours, we flew the final flight of the trip back up to San Francisco.
The next morning, I was released from reserve. Normally, I would run to the first available flight back to Denver. That morning, I went to our operations to begin the weight loss challenge.
“I’m here to embarrass myself on the scale.” I told the weigh-in coordinator.
She smiled and took me to the private weigh-in area. After the weigh-in, she offered some well-received advice about nutrition. I already have my own plan moving forward, but any advice is definitely appreciated.
With the weigh-in complete, it was time to go home. I was really lucky to receive an empty jump-seat ten minutes before departure. When we arrived, Denver was cold and snowy. Quite a contrast from Ft. Lauderdale just twenty four hours earlier.
The hardest part of the week? Driving past my post-trip Wendy’s without stopping. I went home and ate a healthy meal. Let the game begin.