Aeronautical Randomness
A commute for two
April 10, 2013

My wife and I make a great team.

But, not in the way you may be thinking.   Yes, we are happily married and enjoy raising our children.  On home projects, we work well together to get the job done.  That’s not what I’m writing about… Today, I’d like to share that for some unexplainable reason, we make a great non-revving team.

I do alright on my own.  Very rarely do I get bumped off a flight.  However, I do sit in a lot of middle seats way in the back of the airplane.

On her own, my wife has a high success rate at scoring free seats.  Like other standby travelers, she also has her fair share of disaster tales.

Recently, I had the opportunity to bring my wife along on a trip.  Commuting solo from BNA to SFO is challenging enough, so I was a little concerned about getting her to and from the west coast.  But, we were traveling together and that always seems to work out just fine.

There are too many mutual non-rev adventures to share… so, here’s my favorite:

Awhile back, we were in San Francisco finishing up a driving tour of the California coast.  (A trip that started with two first class seats on a regional jet into Palm Springs.)  On the last night, I started checking loads to get back to Denver.  There had already been a few cancellations and every flight out of all three Bay Area airports was oversold.  I started looking at two leg options and found the one that looked the best.  By the way I figured, we had about a 10% chance of getting us both home if we first flew to Missoula, Montana and then continued on to Denver.  Even with the risk of getting bumped in Montana, it looked like the best option.

That night, I was thoroughly distracted as I tried to enjoy a movie.  With our commitments and responsibilities, it was very stressful to think of us not being able to get home.  I let it ruin my last night of vacation.

In the morning, I woke early to recheck all the options.

I logged into the system and began entering information for the umpteenth time: SFO / DEN / Date / One Way.  You never know… something could have changed.

On that particular system, availability was color coded.  I’d grown so accustomed to everything displayed in red, I was startled to see a green flight number.  Due to the cancellations and a couple of other factors, the airline had added an “extra” flight between San Francisco and Denver.  It was a 747-400 and it had over one hundred open seats.  Problem instantly solved.

They didn’t even make us wait for seat assignments.  As soon as we walked up, they printed boarding passes.  We got coach, but had an entire section to ourselves.  It truly was an incredible turn of events from what I’d expected the previous evening.

On the drive to the Nashville airport in anticipation of “our” two leg commute, we rehashed the SFO miracle and several other non-rev stories from the last seventeen years.  The weather and loads on that February day looked fairly reasonable, so we were confident we wouldn’t have any issues.  Our plan of attack was BNA – ORD – SFO.

A few minutes after we breezed through the world’s best employee security line, we found seats at the gate.  I wasn’t all that surprised when the agent called me to the podium to hand me boarding passes.  I was just hoping we could sit somewhere near each other on the plane.  My wish was granted… not only were we right next to each other, we were assigned first class on the regional jet.

The smooth ride to Chicago was accompanied by great service from the flight attendant.  For the second leg, I had opted for a flight leaving two hours later in lieu of a sooner one.  The next flight was fairly full… the one I wanted to wait for was a 757 with forty open seats.  We enjoyed a nice lunch at O’Hare.

We found the gate for San Francisco about an hour before departure.  At O’Hare, they have those fancy monitors that show available seats and the names on the upgrade and standby list.  Passengers can learn just about anything about the flight without speaking to an agent.

At first glance, I thought the system was stuck on the wrong flight.  It was displaying over a hundred open seats and the graphic showed two aisles on the aircraft.  I may not be the best at identifying different aircraft, but I do know that a 757 doesn’t have two aisles.

As the screen scrolled through the plethora of information, I started to piece it all together.  The flight number was correct.  The destination was San Francisco and the departure time matched.  When the seating chart appeared again, the puzzle was solved in the lower corner of the screen: “EQUIPMENT: 777.”  There has been an equipment substitution.  The smaller 757 quickly became a distant memory.

It’s funny how quickly expectations change based on the non-revving situation.  Sometimes, I stand there and pray just to get the second tiny jumpseat in the cockpit.  When the flights are a little more open, I find myself hoping for an aisle seat with the middle one empty.  During moments like that afternoon in Chicago, I start daydreaming about really, really good seats.

My expectations were met: two lie-down-flat business class seats for my bride and I… all the way to San Francisco.

We boarded and found the two “suite” seats side by side in the business class cabin.  After stowing our stuff in our own dedicated storage bins, we sat in our seats.  As I got settled, I remember thinking the chair was comfortable enough to have in a living room.  After departure, the flight attendants served us a meal and we each started our own personal movie.

A little over halfway to the west coast, my wife turned to me.

In a very serious tone, she said, “Honestly, I can’t figure out why you’re constantly whining about your commute.  This isn’t nearly as bad as you make it sound.”

She tried her best… but, the uncontrollable grin on her face appeared midway through the second sentence.

We both laughed.  She took a nap.  I started another movie.  For the first time in a long time, I really didn’t care how much time was left in the flight.

To ensure she had the proper commuting experience, we spent the night at the Red Roof in SFO.

For the next few days, she tagged along on the trip.  We flew to Dallas and had dinner with friends.  The next day, we returned to San Francisco and continued up to Seattle.  I played tour guide for the rest of the day since it was her first trip ever to the Pacific Northwest.

Due to commitments at home, she bailed out on the third day of the trip.  At 5:00am, we walked down to the train station and sent her back out to SeaTac.  First, she flew to Washington, Dulles and then connected on a 50-seater to BNA.  That same day, I worked a flight to LAX and another to Boston.

“How were your flights?” I asked when I arrived in Boston.

“They were OK.” she said.  “I got on both with no problems.  On the first one, the plane was mostly full but I got a window seat.  On the RJ, I was crammed next to a big guy who would not stop talking.”

On my commute home two days later, I was in the cockpit jumpseat for both legs.

If I had it to do over, I would have insisted she stayed on the trip and commuted home with me.

I guarantee it would have been better for both of us.

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

  • Mike says:

    I call shenanigans! Nonrev privileges on TWO airlines has GOT to make that commute easier! 😉

  • Pam Deveau says:

    What a fun post Brian. Thanks for sharing…

  • Cook says:

    Hilarious and I enjoyed this post. Of course, standby and almost all forms of non-rev flying can be a crap-shoot. If you in-house flyers have a great advantage, it is your means to check projected loads before you book your flight – and even on lines other than your own. (Commuting pilots and FAs are experts at second-guessing seat loads when trying to find rides to and from work.) For the rest of us, it is a crap-shoot, our sponsor often books us on poor choice flights and we don’t have the access or the knowledge to re-book ourselves on other flights. It sounds like Mrs. Renewed pilot has learned some search skills for the in-house systems and is probably using them well (If with your access strings.) Smart standby flying is a great thing and the price is wonderful. No matter who you are (save very senior management) build in some flexibility and be prepared to wait. Oh, could I tell you some stories! This is not the place, but know that I’ve been bumped and/or left behind more than once. In fairness, The Bump or Dump was never worse than having to pay for a lost-minute, full fare seat. If I still had legitimate access, I’d still be filling a few open seats, front cabin, or middle-row, rear. A fun post and thanks.

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