Chad found me in the crew room about 10:00pm Wednesday night. I really enjoyed flying with him the last time, so it was nice to catch up for a few minutes before the red-eye flight to Washington, Dulles. About 10:30, we followed our flight attendants up to gate 51B to begin our four day trip.
At 11:20pm, we pushed back from the gate, started, and joined the line of airplanes waiting to depart runway 01R at SFO. Around midnight, most east coast airports are ghost towns. On the west coast, all the airlines are departing on the red-eye push. I’ve explained it before… but west to east red-eyes are plausible due to the three hour time change. Jets can depart at a late hour and be in position for a morning departure. Aircraft make money in the air… may as well keep them flying around the clock.
After leveling off in the darkness over California, we started discussing our last trip. First, I mentioned the nice dinner we had with the whole crew up in Seattle. Then, we reminisced about a flight to New York. Although I never mentioned Chad by name, our last trip to New York was chronicled in the blog. Thanks completely to our amazing in-flight (flight attendant) team, what seemed like a debacle turned into a shining moment for our airline. You can read that whole story by clicking here.
I pulled the trip sheet out of my front pocket. On day three, we were scheduled to fly the same LAX to JFK flight we flew back in April. Surely, it couldn’t be as strange as last one, right?
A few hours later, the sun came up. I followed another airplane on the visual approach for runway 19C at Dulles. On final, the tower controller advised that many of the normal runway turn-offs were closed so “plan” to turn off at the one a little closer than normal. That’s just what a pilot wants to hear after being up all night. Admittedly, it was a bit sloppy… but, I made it work. Chad taxiied to the gate.
Next thing I remember, I woke up at the hotel about 5:00pm. A few hours later, we flew to Los Angeles for a ten hour layover. Although I’d slept all day in Virginia, I had no trouble resting that night. In the morning, we gathered in the lobby and boarded my “favorite” shuttle for LAX. On the bus, we shared the story of our last trip to JFK.
There were no departure delays posted for our flight. But, our arrival time was showing about thirty minutes late. When we were handed the paperwork, our dispatcher provided some clarification: “You are routed on a Canadian Route for Air Traffic Control Restrictions. Be aware that several flights have been given lengthy re-routes and will require maximum fuel if you receive one of those routes.” Wonderful.
Upon receiving the pre-departure clearance, we were cleared with no revisions. It was my turn to fly and we departed on the standard Loop Six departure out of LAX. A few hours later, we were way further north than our normal routing. Out the right side, I had a nice view of the Mackinac Bridge which connects Michigan’s two land masses. (I remember a great documentary on the History Channel about the construction of the bridge. But, I’d never flown over it.)
From there, we cruised down towards Syracuse, New York. We were planning to fly to Kingston, New York and join the arrival into JFK. With about forty minutes left in the flight, we decided to take one last bathroom break.
When I returned from the lav, Chad was chuckling. Most often than not, I hear the captain brief “no changes” when I come back from a break. In the short time I was away from the flight deck, much had changed.
We had just been re-routed from present position to Kennebunk, Maine to join the Parch One Arrival. From the Maine Coast, the arrival routes down over Boston, Providence, Long Island, and into JFK from east. The additional few hundred miles added thirty five minutes to our flight.
I hadn’t flown over Kennebunk since my days at Business Express. It was like being back in the Saab 340 flying from Portland, Maine to New York. Although, it was a much more quiet, comfortable ride.
As we descended past Providence, our weather radar displayed numerous thunderstorms. Remarkably, none of the storms were on our route. We stayed on the arrival until just south of Calverton, New York. Then, the controller started issuing headings around some weather. It was like threading a needle. We received a final heading towards the northwest to join the final approach course for the VOR 22L approach at JFK. Upon joining final, we could see there was a storm beyond the airport. It was still safe to land… but, it looked like we were arriving just in time.
The pilots in front of us reported a smooth ride down final. On the way down, we were both fully scanning for any subtle or obvious signs of wind shear.
Since I was flying the jet, Chad keyed the radio: “Tower, should we miss (go-around/abort the approach), request an immediate turn to the south.” That would keep us out of the approaching storm.
It stayed smooth all the way to the ground. We landed and headed for taxiway Hotel. The airplane behind us landed safely. About halfway to the gate, it started to rain. As we approached the gate, the ramp guy guided us to parking in a torrential downpour. It may have taken us thirty five extra minutes in the air, but our timing was perfect.
Just like April, all the guests were smiling. Our in-flight team, once again, did a fantastic job of keeping everyone happy. I have to be honest… I work with some pretty remarkable people with tremendous customer service skills.
The next morning, we ate the free breakfast buffet at the hotel and headed to the airport. At the terminal, we ran into one of the flight attendants from the April JFK flight. How ironic.
So, no. History did not really repeat. Friday’s flight was not nearly as adventurous as the one back in April. However, it was strangely unique from a “normal” flight from LAX to JFK. I’ve flown two of those flights with Chad, and both have been memorable. If we fly together again a few months from now, maybe we could avoid New York? I hear Cancun is nice that time of year.