Flying Stories Pilot Lifestyle
I am not running for that flight
February 16, 2012

The trip trade really worked in my favor.  I was scheduled to start a three day trip early Monday morning.  An evening commute and hotel room was planned for Sunday night.

Saturday evening, I logged into the company system to check open time.  A trip had become available that caught my attention.  I immediately requested a swap with Monday’s trip.  After a brief moment, the “PROCESSING” notification changed to a green “APPROVED.”  Beautiful.

The new trip started Sunday evening with a deadhead from San Francisco to Los Angeles and continued with a red eye to Boston.  I called our schedulers and got released from the deadhead.  It was now my responsibility to get myself to LAX by 8:25pm.  I wouldn’t have to deal with any SFO delays or buy a hotel room.  I was still leaving Sunday afternoon but would return home a day earlier.  The trip paid the same amount.  Win win win… all around.

I started planning my commute home on the second day.  My last flight on the third day, Seattle to San Francisco, was scheduled to arrive at 5:45pm.  The last two flights to Denver were United at 5:46pm and Southwest at 8:15pm.  Both flights had plenty of open seats.

Since the United flight left at my arrival time, I had only one option.  I was glad the times were the same.  I’ve grown a little tired of running for flights.  If we were scheduled even twenty minutes earlier, it would have been tempting.  Although I’d have to sit around for two and a half hours, it was nice to know I had plenty of time.  I could take my time saying goodbye to my coworkers, watch some television, grab dinner (Subway), and stroll over to the Southwest flight forty five minutes before departure.  I was relaxed knowing there was no way I’d be running for a flight.

The LAX to Seattle leg was uneventful.  The captain flew while I handled the radio calls.  It was a beautiful day on the west coast.  I’ve flown the route countless times… but, it never gets old staring out at Lake Tahoe, Mt. St. Helens and the top of Mt. Rainier peaking above the smooth overcast layer.

The agent in Seattle handed us our paperwork for the flight to SFO.  Seventy knot tailwind?  Really?

“Redwood 123, you are number one for departure, monitor the tower and have a nice day.”

Got right out of Seattle.  After takeoff, I started navigating out on the RNAV departure.

“Redwood 123, cleared direct Mendocino.”

“These guys are killing me.” I said to the captain.

“Why?” he asked.

“Because there’s no way I’m running for that flight.  I don’t want to be too early.  I don’t want to be tempted.”

He just laughed.

I looked down at “the box.”  It said we would land at 5:30pm. (Actually, it displays Zulu time… but, I’ll keep it simple.)  Still not enough time to be tempted.

Everything was being managed by the Airbus computer based on the “cost index” we programmed.  I was cruising along at .73 mach.  That’s 73% the speed of sound… fairly slow for the A320.  But, that airspeed combined with the strong tailwind still made for a respectable ground speed.  We were saving gas and making good time.

I wasn’t speeding up.  There was no way I was running for that flight.

“Redwood 123, cleared direct Point Reyes.”  Shorter route… more tailwind component.  Plus, the overall winds were higher than forecast.

As we approached SFO, the box was displaying :17.  I knew we’d add a few extra minutes.  San Fransisco was landing to the west.  From the north, the controllers most often send us over the top of the airport, slightly south, then a left turn towards the east for miles and miles.  Then, we make two left turns back to the west and start the final approach for runway 28L.

“Redwood 123, expect right traffic for the visual 28R.”  We turned left before the airport and anticipated right turns to 28R.

“I’m not running for that flight.”  I felt the need to say it again.

“Redwood 123, descend to three thousand, report the airport in sight.”

“In sight.”  The captain obliged.

“Cleared for the visual 28R.”  Slam dunk… just outside the San Mateo bridge.

I made the approach and landing.  The captain taxied across 28L and into the gate at Terminal 2.

I started running for the United flight at 5:26pm.

Well, running is an exaggeration.  I promised myself a long time ago I would never jog in an airline uniform with roller board in tow.  It doesn’t look professional.  But, I did walk very, very fast.

I flew out of Terminal 2, made a right turn and headed over towards Terminal 3.  The guy checking IDs at security looked a little alarmed at the speed I was approaching his podium… but, he verified my credentials.  All my stuff went on the belt, I walked through the detector and quickly reassembled on the other side at 5:30pm.

As I entered my old stomping grounds, the first status board gave me the bad news: Gate 87.  That was almost the furthest gate from where I was standing.  Since the flight was only two thirds full, I knew the agents would close the door ten minutes early.  I kept moving… it was too late to turn back.

I made the right turn at the long hallway that leads to the 80s gates.  I jumped on the moving sidewalk and kept moving quickly.  As I approached a gentleman walking and talking on his cellphone, I came to the realization that the sidewalks need to be three wide.  With the addition of an extra lane, I would label the signs:  “Right -> Stand, Middle -> Walk, Left -> Walk FASTER.”  I slowed to match his pace and patiently walked behind him for the last ten yards of the belt.

I hit the still carpet at a very brisk pace.  Hanging a left at the food court, I realized dinner would have to wait.  I reached an unobstructed moving sidewalk.  With the aid of the mechanical belt, I think I set a new personal land/speed record.

As 87 came into sight, two of the three agents gave me a quizzical look.  The other enthusiastically yelled “Are you trying to go to Denver?”

I was really too out of breath to yell.  So, I just nodded my head.  She immediately picked up the phone and called the agent down at the plane.  Only hearing half the conversation, I expected to be denied.  Then, the agent said the magic words into the phone: “We closed the door even earlier than normal… do you think we could let him on? It’s the last flight of the night.” (I did not volunteer my knowledge of the Southwest flight.)

She checked my credentials, printed a boarding pass and told me to run.  With nobody else is sight, I jogged down the jet way, scooped up my suitcase and boarded the United A320.  The door literally closed behind me.  I hustled down to row 31 trying not to hit passengers with my bags.  I sat and buckled my seat belt.  At 5:37pm, the airplane pushed back… nine minutes early.

At 8:55pm MST, the jet parked in Denver… twenty minutes before that Southwest flight was scheduled to push out of San Francisco.

Sometimes, commuting miracles happen.

The commuting pilot ground tracker at SFO


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 8 comments

  • Beverly says:

    Great story. I was with you all the way.

  • Pam Deveau says:

    I got tired just reading it. Glad you made it!

  • Capnaux says:

    Great Blog!
    I’m always looking for those writing about the “realities” of airline pilot life, to link up with my blog. You certainly capture the life of the commuter!
    (“Cactus West”;)

  • Captmsy says:

    I’m SOOO glad I’m retired. I did that so many times in my 34+ year career. Thanks for documenting the “glamorous” life of an airline pilot.

  • Brian K says:

    Great story! I had no idea that the commuting process could be so strenuous sometimes, but at least you made it in time and managed to get home a few hours earlier than the Southwest flight. Judging by the diagram and taking into account security and the transfer of terminals, i’d say 11 minutes is pretty remarkable. Reading some of your commuting posts makes me realize how informal the process really is for commuting on a different carrier; just approaching the gate, a quick check of the credentials, a boarding pass printout and you’re set in no time it seems.

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