The captain played the voicemail on speaker for my benefit. It was a scheduler calling to inform us we would not be flying later from San Francisco to Seattle.
He had missed the call. The phone was in the cockpit while we stood and welcomed guests back onto the aircraft. The very patient Washington Dulles passengers had already boarded, taxied and returned to the gate. The captain and I had just returned from the subsequent taxi, engine run-up and return to the gate.
It’s a long story… but, everything was declared “within limits” and signed off by the mechanic who sat on the jumpseat during the engine run.
Due to the morning’s festivities, we were projected to land in San Francisco a few hours late. By re-crewing our next leg to Seattle, the airline was able to keep that flight running on-time. Since our original trip was flying back through SFO in the morning, we were told we would be laying over and rejoining our pairing the next day.
For the third time that morning, we pushed off the gate and taxied. I kept a close eye on the engine instruments as we accelerated down runway 30 at IAD. The engine was indeed within limits and operating flawlessly. We lifted off the ground and began the five hour journey towards the Bay Area.
About halfway through the flight, we received a message on our ACARS: “All five crew RON in LAX tonight. DH 35 minutes after arrival in SFO. Call for details at gate.”
The plan had obviously changed. I was a little concerned. The original trip was scheduled to return to LAX at 10:45am on the last day. A reassignment opened up the possibility of finishing much later and messing up my commute home.
At the gate in San Francisco, the captain made the call to scheduling. What he learned surprised both of us.
We were instructed to deadhead to LAX, spend the night and deadhead back to SFO in the morning. Then, we would rendezvous with our originally scheduled flight to Philadelphia.
There were no hotel rooms available for five extra crew members anywhere near the airport. According to the scheduler, the best he could find was $500 per room about an hour away from SFO. An airplane ride to a hotel was the best option.
In my airline career, it was the second time I’d faced the double-deadhead scenario.
Years ago, during my first stint with United, I was assigned a trip on reserve to deadhead from O’Hare to Miami to pickup a 737 and ferry it back. About midway through the flight, an ACARS message was sent back from the guys up front. The aircraft in Miami had a mechanical problem. When we landed in Miami, we were to check-in to deadhead back to Chicago. In those days, we always deadheaded in the first class cabin… Although not productive, it was a pretty good way to spend the day.
During my days at the fractional, it was not uncommon to arrive at a destination with no available hotels. Much of fractional flying involves transporting very wealthy guests to big events. During the Kentucky Derby, Superbowl and major golf tournaments, it is impossible to book last minute rooms. In most cases, we would re-position the jet for passenger pickup the next day. But, on a few occasions, we flew the jet empty to the nearest city with vacancies.
Unable to change the situation, we just rolled with it. Forty minutes after arriving in SFO, we were making the left turn off the upwind of runway 1L. We had the last few rows of the aircraft to ourselves, so there was plenty of room. Since our monthly schedule is pay protected, I was being paid to watch television instead of piloting to Seattle.
The infamous LAX hotel bus was pulling up as we walked out to the curb. It was also fairly prompt in the morning when we returned to LAX. We checked-in, boarded and flew the hour back up to San Francisco.
After deplaning, we found our aircraft waiting for us at the gate next door. It had just returned from Seattle. The reserve crew assigned to cleanup our mess was nowhere in sight. I hope they enjoyed our layover.
A bunch of little things need to line up perfectly for airline operations to run smoothly. With this complex twist, about a dozen different things could have screwed up the plan.
This time, it all worked out.
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