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Thursday, October 6, 2016

The Far East

I was moving up the UPS seniority list rapidly.  Pilots senior to me were leaving for other jobs at a rapid pace.   They were not used to being treated the way they were at UPS.  The manager to pilot ratio was much higher than traditional airlines.  The fact is, pilots don't require much management.  You train them how to do their job and give them their schedule and send them off around the world.  No one needs to sit over them, making sure they do their job.  You know they have been successful when the plane arrives at the correct destination.  Nothing to it, from a management stand point.  We had so many of them hanging around, that they felt they had to do some managin'.  They were mostly a pain in the ass.

It did not take long before I was able to hold a "line of time", which means I would know in advance what my schedule was, instead of being on call around the clock.  We had a 3 month big period.  Most airlines bid for schedule every month.  There are pros and cons both ways.  If you do it monthly, you are bidding 12 times a year.  If you have a 3 month big period, you only have to bid 4 times a year, but the problem is, you are compromising the days off you want.  Let's say you have a child with a birthday in January and a wife with a birthday in February and you can't find a line you can hold with your seniority that gives you both dates off.  You have issues.  I didn't like it.  I would rather bid more frequently.  We usually had lots of time while flying or hanging around a hotel to do it and it gave you much more flexibility.  Three month bids helped the company with long term planning, but screwed up the pilots' long term planning.

The first crew I flew with was kind of memorable.  The first officer was a great guy, Curt.  The captain was an asshole.  I was a new guy, still trying to hang on with both hands.  The old saying about that is that I was 10 miles behind the airplane, which is a good thing, I guess, if the asshole wrecked it.  But he didn't give me any slack and was always pointing out my short comings.  He was also very non-standard.  He would call for a checklist that I was supposed to read and then the appropriate crew member would call the response as they assured the item was complete.  Captain A. Hole would immediately start calling all the checklist items from memory and then giving the response.  I guess he wanted to speed things up.  This made me feel like I was another 5 or 6 miles behind the plane.  Frequently, there were issues with some of the systems on the plane and when I brought them to his attention, he would tell me to do some non standard crapola procedure that wasn't in the book.  It usually solved the problem, but I was even farther behind.  It was going to be a long 3 months.

I don't remember how long it took me to get pissed off, but despite the fact that I was on probation, I finally decided to speak up.  One night, when I finally had gotten all my duties up to speed and we had time to wait, I looked at him and told him I was very impressed with his ability to memorize the checklist and recite it, but that was not the way it was supposed to be done.  I was new at this and had been feeling behind the curve and we needed to slow things down, so that I was satisfied that things were being done properly and that I was learning how to do my job, instead of just feeling like I was along for the ride.  He looked at me and said, "OK".  That was it.  But he still jumped all over my many mistakes.

Later in our bid period, Curt was not flying with us for some reason.  We had a guest first officer named Arnold.  The captain, whose name was Jeff, looked very seriously at Arnold and gave him this big speech about how he and I had been flying together for a long time and our normal FO, Curt, was not with us this time and Arnold was sitting in for him.  He said we had a certain way of doing things and we had one boss on this airplane and one boss only and it is him.  He was pointing at me.  I had to laugh at that one.

Even later in the bid period, Curt was back and we were at the end of a long night descending into Omaha Nebraska.  We were all tired, our brains were numb and our eyeballs were hanging down on our cheeks.  (Not really, I am just kidding, yo.)  We were cleared for a visual approach to one of the parallel runways 32 and Jeff was lining up with runway 36.  Curt didn't catch it either.  The only person on that plane who knew what was happening was that dumass, rookie plumber.  I said, "Hey, Jeff, that's the wrong runway".  He sat up straight, saw that I was correct and manuevered to land on the correct runway.  He thanked me.  I laughed out loud and said, "You live by the sword, you die by the sword.  If you ever give me shit about my mistakes again, I will tell everyone about the time I saved your ass from landing on the wrong runway".  That still brings a smile to my face.  (I have a friend who is still flying, who will not fly with Jeff, for all the same reasons I hated doing so.  My friend is a nice guy, not as obnoxious as I am.)

I began to get the feel for the job and later that year, I picked up a trip in open time, that was flying from Anchorage Alaska to Tokyo Japan.  I rode a DC-8 jump seat to Anchorage and wen to the hotel with the crew.  

The captain was a young guy, but he was very senior in the company.  His name was Dan and we got along very well.  We were going to be flying a load of cherries from the West Coast to Japan.  I was told that the Japanese love cherries and buy all the cherries they can from the US.  A plane load of cherries weighs 80,000 lbs.  We were fueled with 90,000 lbs. of kerosene to fly them there.  Our plane would be at its maximum allowable gross take off weight.  This would be the only time I had seen an 8 loaded that heavily.

As young as he was, Dan was an experienced DC-8 pilot.  We took off toward the Chugach Mountains and then turned to fly out along the Aleutians.  We used much of the runway and were climbing slowly.  It would be about a 7 hour flight, my first international flight with UPS and my first visit to the Far East.

We had a couple UPS employees on board, who were supposed to deal with the people in Japan, because this was a charter flight.  The cockpit was cramped, but they spent most of the flight bundled up in the seats just out side the door, sleeping.  Dan said he liked me, because I was a Florida boy and kept it warm in the cockpit.

We were flying to the Tokyo international airport near Narita.  As we descended through the clouds and I got my first view of Japan, I remember thinking, "We're not in Kansas anymore".  

As we were getting off the plane, Dan was approached by a guy who wanted us to choose our catering for the return flight.  They ignored the UPS dudes who had been sent to take care of this kind of stuff.  Over there, the people have more respect for the captain and pilots in general, than the UPS box heads do.  We went to a hotel with the tiniest rooms I had ever seen.  There wasn't much time to do any sight seeing, before we had to report for the return flight.

When the catering began to show up, Dan was laughing.  He told me he had ordered all kinds of expensive sushi and other stuff and that the company would probably be pissed when they got the bill.  I was not a big fan of sushi at that time, but there was so much to eat, that I did not go hungry.  I did try some smoked salmon and liked that a lot.  The UPS dudes slept all the way back.  They had done some sight seeing while we slept in our tiny hotel rooms.

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