As we climbed through 10,000′, I glanced down at the flight management computer. The PROG page predicted a touchdown in Newark at 19:20 zulu. With nearly an entire trans-con flight from San Diego still in front of us, I normally wouldn’t have concerned myself with the arrival time. However, it was day four of the trip and I had a flight home to catch at 20:38 zulu.
The computer was predicting our landing at 19:25 zulu by the time we started speaking to New York Center. The cruise tailwinds were lighter than forecast and we had already received a few vectors for air traffic separation.
The captain and I decided to arrange one last lavatory break before landing. I probably could have waited until we reached the gate, but I didn’t want to waste any time getting over to my commute flight home. An hour is usually plenty of time to walk to a different part of the C concourse and ride the bus over to the A terminal. But, getting into the lav immediately after the flight can take some time and I didn’t want anything to slow me down. I had my sights set on attending my daughter’s middle school band concert at 7:00 pm in Tennessee. The 3:38 pm United Express flight out of Newark was the last one that could deliver me to BNA with enough time for me to drive to the school.
We set up the break and took turns going back to the lavatory. Prior to 9/11, one of us simply got up and left the flight deck. These days, it’s a much more involved process. Once complete, we started our descent towards Newark.
Speaking with approach control, we started receiving the grand tour of New Jersey. Although Newark was landing towards the northeast, we were vectored that direction and soon found ourselves northwest of the airport. Then, we were slowed. After what seemed like an eternity, we were turned onto a long, wide downwind still north of the field. From abeam the airport, we continued another twenty five miles before turning base leg for 4R. Our speed was reduced to 170kts. Finally, we were cleared for the ILS.
We crawled down final as I watched the minutes on the clock tick up. I was really glad I decided to empty my bladder before finishing the flight.
The 737-800 touched down at 2:34 pm.
After briefly holding short of 4L on taxiway Y, we were cleared to the ramp by ground control.
The guide-men and jetway operator were both in position to meet us. We parked, ran the checklist and completed the obligatory end-of-trip hand shake. “Nice flying with you. Good luck getting home,” the captain said as he unlocked the flight deck door.
We both had plenty of time to make our commute flights.
“I’ve got bad news for Brian,” the flight attendant said as she appeared in the doorway.
Before she finished her thought, I picked up the one liter bottle of water next to me and started to chug.
The drug test woman would be waiting for me at the top of the loading bridge.
“I guess there’s no way you’re going to make your commute flight now,” the captain offered reinforcing the obvious. Thanks, boss.
After extracting my rolla board out of its storage location, I walked briskly up into the terminal and met the dreaded lady with the clipboard at the counter.
“You’ve been randomly selected for drug AND alcohol screening,” she said. She was a very pleasant woman. I never get upset with the rep. She’s just doing her job. The process, on the other hand? That’s a different story.
We were parked at gate 111 in C-2. I wanted to walk over to gate 70 in C-1 and catch the bus to the A terminal. That would have cost me my career. It was 2:47 pm and I had no other choice than to start walking the opposite direction towards the health clinic in C-3.
Sweaty and a little winded, I cringed when I opened the door. The waiting room was full of flight attendants.
The woman at the reception desk processed my paperwork and time stamped my arrival: 2:53 pm.
“Is it going to be awhile?” I asked.
“No… head right on back.” Everyone else in the waiting room was there for a different reason.
The nurse conducting the test wanted me out of there as bad as I wanted to leave. I was her last
annoyed pilot about to miss a flight home that would never f&*!-up his career by using drugs and should be allowed to simply sign a statement stating that fact patient of the day.
She unwrapped a sterile tube and pushed it onto the machine. I blew the all important .000.
I removed everything from my pockets, washed my hands and picked out a sealed drug test kit.
She directed me into the restroom with the toilet filled with blue water and reminded me not to flush.
Barely enough of the water worked its way through my system to provide an adequate sample to prove I don’t take drugs. The nurse split the samples, sealed them and I initialed both. She handed me the final paperwork and I took off running.
Outside security, I went back to C-2 to board the AirTrain. As I came up the escalator, the train was just pulling away. Three minutes later, another one arrived. It was full! I pushed my way on after someone exited one of the cars.
In the A terminal, I walked down the long corridor towards the Known Crewmember access point. As I walked, I starting hoping I did not get flagged for random security.
After breezing through the checkpoint, I walked up to the gate as about half the passengers were still waiting to board. It was 3:16 pm.
The agent gave me a window seat in the back of the EMB-145. I boarded, plopped down into the seat and smiled as I simultaneously let out a big sigh.
The rest of that bottle of water was suddenly ready to exit my bladder about thirty minutes later. We were on climb-out, in turbulence with the gentleman next to me sound asleep. I used every technique I know to “get my mind off it” before the captain turned off the seat belt sign.
In Nashville, I hit the ground running. I had plenty of time to make the band performance, but I knew rush hour traffic would slow me down.
In plain clothes, I walked into the auditorium at 6:40 pm central time and sat down next to my wife and youngest daughter. The band members were sitting on the stage, but had not started warming up.
When I looked up, my twelve year old was looking right at me. She excitingly motioned me to meet her by the stairs next to the stage. When I stood and walked down to her, she said, “I just wanted to give you a hug.”
I’m sure it won’t be long until she’s more worried about “what her friends think” than giving me a hug in public. Uninhibited sweetness will soon be replaced by teenage self-consciousness. So, in front all the other parents, I hugged her and thoroughly embraced the moment.
“You’re going to do great,” I said directly into her ear. “I love you.”
It was a long, challenging afternoon.
But, it ended in the best possible way.
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