Pilot Lifestyle
Let’s fly south for the winter
February 4, 2016
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aruba4

The captain placed his suitcase on the floor and introduced himself as he shook my hand.  I was already sitting on board the 737-800 completing the initial cockpit setup.  I watched him attempt to stow his rollaboard in the small space above mine.

“Looks like you packed like I did,” I said as he started making groaning noises while he pushed and twisted his overstuffed bag into the opening.

“Yeah, I over-packed because I don’t know what’s going to happen on this trip.  I brought everything… t-shirts, sweatshirts and even a hat and gloves,” he replied.

We were both prepared for the worst.

On paper, it was a great trip.  Day one flew out to Vegas for a long layover.  On day two, we were schedule to fly to LAX and Dulles.  For day three, it was one leg to San Juan.  Finally, “day” four was a red eye back to EWR after a day-rest by the beach in Puerto Rico.

The big winter storm was forecast to arrive in the Washington, D.C. area shortly after our arrival on day two.

On the way to Las Vegas, we started brainstorming the different scenarios that could take place over the following days.  Would we make it to IAD or be reassigned?  If we flew to Dulles, would we get stuck?

When we arrived in LAS, we were still officially on Plan A.

The scheduler woke me up with a phone call in the middle of the night.  I didn’t answer, but his voicemail revealed Plan B:  In the morning, we would still fly to LAX and then on to IAD.  However, they wanted to get us out of Dulles and deadhead us to EWR.  After a layover, we would deadhead to San Juan and resume our trip with the red-eye.

By the time we arrived at the airport in Vegas, we were notified of Plan C: The Dulles flight was canceled.  Upon arrival at LAX, we had forty five minutes before taking a deadhead flight across the country to Newark.  After laying over in Newark, we would still deadhead to San Juan and complete the trip that night.

It was my turn to fly the short leg from LAS to LAX.  We departed off runway 1R at McCarran Airport.  Domestically, it’s one of our most scenic departures.  After rotating and climbing a bit just east of the Strip, we turn immediately to the west.  Those on the left side of the jet have a great view of the casinos, pools and whatever other nonsense is happening below.

SoCal Approach assigned 24R as the landing runway at LAX.  It was the first time I’d touched down on the North Complex since leaving that “other job” almost two years ago.  We taxied to the south side, parked and walked over to the gate to deadhead to EWR.

Since our positive space tickets were booked at the last minute, we were assigned middle seats for the five and a half hour flight.

Our contract has very specific rules about deadheading.  For a deadhead to a layover, the scheduler must confirm the reservation in the following order based on availability: aisle, window, middle seat.

If we are forced to sit in a middle seat, we earn 1.5x pay for that segment.

That morning, there just weren’t any available aisle or window seats.

I sat between two very nice people for a very long time, but made some extra cash.

About halfway to EWR, I checked the status of our SJU flight the following day.  According to the app, it was canceled.

Immediately after touchdown in EWR, when I took my cell out of airplane mode, I discovered Plan D.

The airline had canceled all flights in and out of EWR for the following day.

We were done.

It was time to go home to BNA… two days earlier than planned.

I escaped EWR before the snow started to fall. However, when I arrived back at BNA, I had some work to accomplish before I could drive home on the icy, snowy Tennessee roads.

I escaped EWR before the snow started to fall. However, when I arrived back at BNA, I had some work to accomplish before I could drive home on the icy, snowy Tennessee roads.

Although the San Juan layover was nixed, I flew the rest of my January schedule without any cancellations.  I purposely bid a schedule with as many warm layovers as possible.  Here are the highlights and some pictures.

Aruba

The first leg in January was from Newark to Aruba.  I flew the leg, landed to the east on south side of the island on a beautiful, sunny afternoon.  The layover was scheduled for twenty four hours.  Being a Sunday afternoon, there wasn’t much open in the touristy area of town.  But, it was still nice to walk around in the warm, tropical air.

Many of the businesses in Aruba were closed on Sunday afternoon.

Many of the businesses in Aruba were closed on Sunday afternoon.

There wasn't much happening on Sunday afternoon in Aruba.

There wasn’t much happening on Sunday afternoon in Aruba.

Early Monday morning, I boarded a boat and went out to the private island owned by the hotel.  On it, I found chairs, hammocks and a bunch of flamingos leisurely strolling around the tiny slice of paradise.

As I relaxed on the hammock, I kept reminding myself I was working.

This boat loads inside the hotel and travels out to a private island off the coast of Aruba.

This boat loads inside the hotel and travels out to a private island off the coast of Aruba.

The approach lights for Runway 11... As viewed from the boat.

The approach lights for Runway 11… As viewed from the boat.

The private island available to hotel guests in Aruba.

The private island available to hotel guests in Aruba.

The private island available to hotel guests in Aruba.

The private island available to hotel guests in Aruba.

Aquadilla

Day two of that same pairing was long, but equally rewarding.  We deadheaded from Aruba up to Newark.  Our contract states that if we deadhead to a working assignment, we must be booked in first class if available at the time of ticketing.  Seat 5A was very comfortable for the entire five hour flight over the Atlantic back to New Jersey.

Upon arrival in EWR, we flew a flight back down to Aquadilla, Puerto Rico.

Aquadilla sits on the western part of the island.  It’s an old airbase that was converted to a commercial airport.  The terminal building is an old hangar and the hotel was previously a hospital.

Honestly, the layover is a bit strange.  The hotel was very quiet and didn’t feel like the typical Caribbean destination.

But, it was warm.

An old air base becomes an airport and hotel.

An old air base becomes an airport and hotel.

Kinda quiet... But, it was warm and there was a pool.

Kinda quiet… But, it was warm and there was a pool.

Liberia

Last week, I flew a trip with long layovers in Vancouver and Liberia, Costa Rica.

On day two, we flew through IAH before heading to Central America.

After the scary forty minute drive from the airport, we arrived at the all-inclusive resort on the beach for a twenty five hour layover.

The stay in Liberia is one of my favorites.

That evening, we enjoyed a late dinner and part of a show.  Then, we headed down to the casino and I watched the captain quickly lose a bunch of cash at the blackjack table.

The next day, I went for a long walk on the beach, enjoyed some time at the pool and ate three (maybe four?) meals that were all complimentary.

Again, I kept reminding myself that I was working.

That evening, the layover came to an end with an equally terrifying van ride back to the airport on dark, hilly, curvy roads.  Along the way, we brushed by several dark clothed pedestrians seemingly oblivious to the high speed traffic traversing both directions.

I landed the 737-900ER on 22L in EWR at 4:38am.

The temperature was frigid and piles of snow surrounded us as we taxied to the gate.

We stay at a beautiful resort on the coast of Costa Rica.

We stay at a beautiful resort on the coast of Costa Rica.

It was a perfect morning for a walk on the beach.

It was a perfect morning for a walk on the beach.

Did someone say "buffet" before a red-eye?

Did someone say “buffet” before a red-eye?

The first nonstop flight from EWR to BNA did not depart until 10:00am.  (On weekdays, I can depart EWR at 6:20am.)  So, January ended with a two leg commute back to Nashville.

At 6:00am, a fifty seat RJ lifted off 22R and shuttled me down to PHL in about twenty minutes.  An hour and a half later, another CRJ departed 27L bound for BNA.  Both of the flights were only half full.

Two leg commutes are risky… but, I was really, really lucky that Sunday morning.

commutegame

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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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