Featured Post

Sunday, November 13, 2016

24 hour layovers

The flights into the desert and back to Rome exceeded the time for a three crew member plane and required a "heavy" crew, an additional captain and flight engineer.  At first, UPS tried to fly the trips with a normal crew.  One of the captains was arguing in the hotel restaurant with a management pilot named Tom Gummer.  Gummer was insisting that he fly with the normal compliment and the captain said, "The FARs (Federal Aviation Regulations) haven't been suspended, just because there is a war".  Things got heated and Gummer "fired" the captain.  That is when Gummer and all the other pilot managers learned that they did not have the power to fire pilots.  The captain kept his job and all the flights carried the required extra crew members.  This was the weird kind of stuff that was happening because of the arrogance of UPS and their lack of knowledge of how airlines are run.

At first, the international nature of the flying was causing me to be behind the curve while flying.  Furthermore, I was not used to being a first officer, copilot.  It is almost as if you have to turn off or subdue the decision making circuit of your mind.  Frequently the decisions you would make would be overridden by the captains.  Many of the captains on the 747 were old school.  They were very impressive in their experience and knowledge of international flying, but they frequently thought the first officer was a voice activated autopilot.  They would tell you when to start down, when to extend the flaps and when to extend the landing gear.  I might have needed a little assistance in those decisions at first, but soon got the plane figured out and just had to bite my tongue and tolerate the interference.  Remember, I always had the philosophy that it is the captain's plane and we must always remain within his or her comfort zone.

When the Desert War ended, we returned to our normal flying.  We flew from Louisville to Anchorage, Alaska, spent 24 hours, then to Tokyo's international airport at Narita, Japan.  We flew to Philadelphia or Newark, then on to Cologne, Germany.  We had domestic flights to Dallas, Portland and Philadelphia.  We flew to Ontario, California, then on to Honolulu after a layover.  There were day time flights between Philadelphia and Oakland, California each day, but they were very senior trips.  

Before going to Alaska and Hawaii, I had never thought I would ever go to all the states.  I started thinking about how many states I had been to.  When I looked through my logbook and remembered driving trips, I was surprised to learn that the list of states I had never been to was very short.  They included, North and South Dakota, Montana, Mississippi, Minnesota, Vermont, and New Hampshire.  There was no way the Whale would fly to some of those places, but I filed the information away.

The flights to Japan were interesting, because we crossed the International Date Line.  Check out that hyper link.  It is very informative.  We left Anchorage at about 1000 hours, 10 AM to you civilians.  We arrived in Tokyo earlier in the morning, but on the next day, after a 6 or 7 hour flight.  That can bend your mind, but the return flight was bendier.

We left Tokyo in the evening, around 9 PM or so and arrived in the morning of the same day we had just lived through in Asia.  It was crazy.  That kind of stuff and crossing all the time zones can make you very confused.  

Trying to figure out when to sleep was also an issue.  We had mostly 24 hour layovers on the 747.  We would take the plane to a city, another crew would take it on the next stop and we would wait until the next plane came through at the same time next day.

Now you may think a 24 hour layover is cool and makes it possible to get lots of sleep, but there is a problem.  When you arrive, you have been on duty for a long time, 8 or 9 hours, let's say.  Flying long legs in a jet can be tiring.  You want to eat something and go to sleep.  If you sleep 8 hours, you are probably at least 9 or 10 hours into your 24 hour layover.  That leaves 14 or 15 hours until you next flight.  This is just about the time your body thinks you should be getting ready for bed again.  Sleep 8 hours, be awake 16 hours and repeat as necessary.

I you did that, you would be going on duty when your brain cell is getting ready to shut down for the day.  So we would usually take a nap when we arrived, have a period of being awake in which we would eat, exercise and do some sight seeing, then try to sleep as much as we could before our next report time.

There were issues.  Humans sleep better in the dark.  It was not always the hour of darkness when we tried to sleep.  In fact, it never was.  There were maids banging around in the hotel rooms and hallway.  There were drivers honking their horns in the streets below.  There were hotel personnel calling your room to see if you wanted maid service.  Sometimes, UPS Crew Scheduling was calling to alert you to a change.  If you remembered, you disconnected the phone, which was risky, because a family member may need to get in touch.  This was usually done through UPS.  

For example, when my dad was on his death bed, I was in Cologne, Germany.  We had arrived and I had gone out to have some beers with a crew member.  We returned to the hotel, saw some other folks we knew in the lobby and were talking at about midnight or so, when someone from the front desk came over and asked for me by name.  I had a good idea what was going on.

It was scheduling and they told me to call my wife.  Doreen told me what was up and I called scheduling back.  They arranged for me to fly from Cologne to Frankfort, then to Pittsburgh and I joined my family at the hospital.  It was just before Christmas.

So, anyway, 24 hour layovers have their problems.  We had to learn how to manage sleep and frequently, things just didn't work out.  It is not possible to force yourself to sleep.  I can remember many, many times, lying in bed and just rolling around, wide awake.  I called it the rotisserie.  Knowing that you had to sleep and that there was a window of opportunity before a report time would only make it worse.  Sleep was the number one topic of conversation among UPS pilots while on a trip.  "Did you get any sleep?"  "No, I feel like shit."  "Same here."  "OK, we'll have to choreograph naps on this leg."

With our normal compliment of crew members, sleeping was verboten.  However, I am here to tell you, it had to be done.  The only problem was when you woke up and saw the other guy was sleeping too.  It happens.  Most of the time, it happened when the naps were not planned.  You had to determine who was in the worst shape and let them go first.  Wake them up after a couple hours, then let the other guy go.  Ah, sleeping sitting up in the beat up, old seats of our whales, those were the days.

The flight engineers were allowed to nap.  I mentioned my friend Geary Chancey before.  We flew together a lot.  We seemed to like doing the same kind of stuff.  On several legs from Tokyo to Anchorage Geary would put his head down on the engineer's table and zonk out.

Somewhere over the Pacific, the sun would start coming up, directly at our 12 o'clock position, right in the kisser.  It was blinding.  If you had been awake the whole flight to this point, seeing the sun in that way made us very tired.  I guess it was the realization that we had been awake all night.

When Geary was napping, the sun would wake him up and he would jump up from his seat and start singing that old James Brown song, I Feel Good, with appropriate screaming and dancing.  Very entertaining for the rest of the crew, as our eyeballs were hanging down on our cheeks. 



No comments:

Post a Comment