Flying Stories Pilot Lifestyle
What happened to layovers?
March 10, 2011

For the first ten minutes on the elliptical, I think I was still asleep.  It was 3:00 in the afternoon, but I had slept until 2:30.  The day before was busy… I commuted to SFO and operated flights to LAX then Ft. Lauderdale.  We arrived in FLL at 6:00am.  Juniority and red-eye flights go hand in hand.

As my legs worked to spin the machine, I kept looking out the window towards the hotel’s pool area.  It was packed with people.  Everyone was either lying out, swimming, or enjoying food and drinks at the pool bar.  In this business, we tend to insert ourselves into vacation situations for ridiculously brief periods of time.  Most people come, stay, and enjoy.  I was there less than twelve hours and had time to sleep and exercise.

View from the hotel fitness center

Thoughts of vacations triggered a memory of a trip I once flew for United:  Dulles – San Juan – Dulles.  Round trip was a little over eight hours.  Since pilots can only fly eight hours per day, schedulers craftily built the trip to deadhead down and fly back.  (The pilots who flew down, deadheaded back.)  For the deadhead, the flight was over-sold and I was assigned a middle seat in coach.  When I boarded, there was a party atmosphere in the cabin.  Everyone was flying to San Juan to embark on a cruise.  There were 150 casually dressed vacationers and the two of us all dressed up in our monkey suits.  Some passengers took pity and invited me to skip out on the return flight and join them on the cruise.  Still not sure how I would have explained that to my wife or the airline.

I then started thinking about all the great places I’ve been over the years.  Too often than not, I only get a taste of the destination and don’t get to spend any quality time.  I got involved in this business to fly jets and see the world.  Honestly, its starting to bother me how much of places I am not seeing.

To put my statement in perspective, please allow me to explain.  When I started with United, a layover longer than fourteen hours was in a “downtown location.”  When we arrived in San Francisco, L.A, Seattle, Boston, New York, Miami, Philadelphia, Chicago, or any other big city, we hopped in a van and went downtown.  During those years, I felt like I really explored our great country.  After 9/11, the policy was changed so only layovers longer than twenty hours were downtown.  To save money, the schedulers did everything possible to avoid twenty hour layovers.  I even did a few that were scheduled for 19 hours 59 minutes.  That’s a long time across the street from the airport in New Orleans.

At Virgin America, we are a start-up airline trying to save money.  So, I completely understand the need to stay at airport hotels in lieu of the more expensive downtown locations.  However, as I continued to spin on the elliptical, I was a little saddened by the loss of a great life-style.  What would pilots forty years ago say about the life we live now?  Think of Leo DiCaprio in Catch Me if You Can. Would it have seemed nearly as glamorous if he and all those beautiful flight attendants were walking across the street from the airport DoubleTree?

Anyway, those thoughts, my MP3 player, and staring out the window helped me complete the sixty minute routine on the elliptical.  I hurried upstairs, showered, changed, and met the crew in the lobby for the flight back to LAX.  It was the first time on a short layover I chose exercise instead of a meal.  Things must be changing.  Fortunately, there was plenty of food on our flight.

At the end of the five and a half hour flight, I had the opportunity to brush up on my cross-wind landing skills.  It was a blustery evening in Southern California.  The steady wind was a direct 20 knot crosswind with gusts up to 30.  We rocked and rolled all the way down final approach.  While fully in control, it felt like a battle all the way down.  I’ve flown hundreds of those type of approaches before, and it is never fun for the passengers.  The wind continued to swirl even directly over the runway.  In the flare alone, I think I changed the inputs four or five times.  After touchdown, I slowed quickly to minimize the effects of the wind on the aircraft.

After the first few rows of guests disembarked, the caterer opened the right side cabin door to service the aircraft.  When he opened it, the 30 knot wind rushed into the cabin.  As the guests felt the wind, most of them smiled and said “now I understand why it was so rough.”   The lead flight attendant and I tactfully advised them to “hold onto everything.”  Hats and skirts were no match for the wind rapidly tunneling through the front of the cabin.

We arrived at the hotel around 10:45pm.  Even though I’d slept until 2:30pm on the east coast, I was ready for bed.  I had no trouble sleeping until 8:30 the next morning.  It was time to finish the last two days of the trip on the right side of the clock.

The crew convened in the lobby at 9:20am.  We waited a bit for the “on-demand” shuttle.  When it arrived, we crammed ourselves into the back of the bus.  From there, the shuttle went to another hotel to drop off and pick up more passengers.  Then, we headed to the airport to drop off passengers at other terminals.  When we arrived at our terminal, it was forty minutes after meeting in the lobby.  The hotel is a mile away from the airport.  (See my elliptical thoughts earlier in this post.)  LAX hotel: wonderful.  Airport supposedly saving the environment by implementing a communal shuttle and awarding the contract to a single bus company: despicable.

The flight to JFK was uneventful.  We arrived over New York and started the vectoring (ATC assigned headings) process to get us down to runway 22L.  Ever look out your window, see your destination, turn a bunch, and finally land several minutes later?  That is very typical for New York.  Here’s the radar track from the end of our flight:

New York controllers are very skilled at handling large volumes of traffic. But, it takes awhile!

After the twelve hour layover in New York, we vanned to JFK for the flight back to Los Angeles.  Our newest airplane was waiting for us at the gate.

I love new jets.  New jets smell good and feel good.  New jet deliveries also symbolize growth and pilot jobs.  Although the interior looked crisp and new, it was really noticeable on the outside of the jet.  Here’s a photo of the wheel well for the right main landing gear.  This area is always covered in grease, dirt, and hydraulic fluid.  It is very unusual to see this area clean.

A320 wheel well

It was my turn to fly the jet back to LAX.  When we arrived, the winds were much more typical for Southern California.  For the third time in four days, I landed the A320 on runway 24R.

This four day trip ended with a scheduled deadhead.  Since I’m not on reserve, I was able to commute home directly from LAX.  No sense in going to SFO to hop on another jet home.  Yet another reason it is great to be off reserve!

Here’s a couple more random photos from the trip:

We start Chicago service in May. Here's an ad we're running on billboards in Los Angeles. Blunt enough?

Nice view of Lake Powell on the way to JFK

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.

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There are 3 comments

  • Beverly says:

    Enjoyed this – and all your blogs. You’re a great writer.

  • kunk says:

    Nice job Brian! I really enjoy your perspective. Good stuff. Congrats on your exercise program, and being off reserve status. Good things really do happen to good people!

  • Pam Deveau says:

    I love reading your blog, Brian. You know you’re enjoying what you’re reading when you don’t want it to end! Thanks for sharing.

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