Pilot Oversteps Boundary?

In my 12 years at United Airlines I have dealt with my fair share of asshole pilots. I am sure my sister, employed for 16 years and still a working as a flight attendant and my father, who retired as a captain in 2000 with 35 years would agree. There are some pilots who feel empowered and must make it known to other flight crew members, employees and passengers. That seems to be the case with a Frontier captain out of Dallas who forced a quadriplegic passenger off his aircraft citing safety issues (Source).

Unfortunately this issue became an incident when John Morris boarded and a flight.”When a flight attendant saw John strapped in, they said they would have to clear it with the captain,” said Kathleen Morris. Mr. Morris has limited control of his upper board, but had never had previous issues on Frontier before. Seat belt extensions were used to secure is legs and chest to the seat. Passengers did come to the aid of Mr. Morris, but Frontier decided to escalate this issue and involve local law enforcement.

When law enforcement showed up, then notice Mr. Morris “safely restrained” and said it was not a law enforcement matter, “because he’s not posing a problem for the plane or other passengers.” Needless to say that was not good enough for the captain who refused to take off.

It’s unclear as to Frontier’s or the FAA “procedures” on how to deal with a situation of this nature. One captain believed he was a “safety issue” while the next was accommodating and flew Mr. Morris to Denver on a later flight.

I still recall a post 9-11 incident out of LAX when multiple pilots refused to flight an olive skinned man, wearing a turban home to his family in Chicago. The passenger went so far as to agree to sit in handcuffs, he just wanted to get home. Sad state of affairs as the airlines continue to get more bad publicity because of the stupidity of one individual. Of course incident reports will be filled and in the end nothing will become of this.


Confessions of a Load Planner

Okay, so today’s offering really doesn’t have much to do with aviation security, but there was a Yahoo article titled, “35 Secrets Your Pilot Won’t Tell You” I read today. Spending 12 years at United Airlines and growing up with a father who was a pilot for 35 years and hearing stories from both my mother and sister who were flight attendants, I can relate to some of these comments made from individual pilots.

Some seem to be “common sense” type comments, but then again when is common sense ever common? Least of all in an aluminum tube traveling at 500 MPH. Air travelers do some stupid things, so these comments are to be taken in stride by myself as none of come off as surprising to me.

Although, much like pilots sharing this information, I too have my own list of  “things you don’t want to know about” as it relates to the operations side of an airline while at an airport. The one comment that did stand out, which I could directly relate to was, “I’m constantly under pressure to carry less fuel than I’m comfortable with. Airlines are always looking at the bottom line, and you burn fuel carrying fuel. Sometimes if you carry just enough fuel and you hit thunderstorms or delays, then suddenly you’re running out of gas and you have to go to an alternate airport.” This worked conversely as well, pilots who wanted to carry as much fuel as a plane could. A good example, would be trips that departed from LAX or SYD bound for SYD and MEL. There would be pilots who would not budge when it came to their fuel load, which could mean leaving off revenue generating cargo and inconveniencing travelers who might not be able to get on the flight. Although if they are carrying minimum fuel and there are some bad headwinds, then it’s quite possible that plane will end up diverting while over the Pacific. Ever check fuel prices in Fiji?

Kids. How much do kids weigh? I don’t really know, but if I used enough of them as a load planner I would be able to make the weight and balance figures work, while being able to load the plane with cargo and all the passengers. This was another ploy used. Sometimes the number of kids used were considerably higher than the number of actual kids on the plane. I still recall bringing this to the attention of a shift manager who flat out lied to me saying, “People on my shift would not do that.” I call bullshit! I saw it. It did happen. But it was common when I was employed.

In all honesty, I did not care if you, as an air traveler missed your connecting flight. I don’t know you, nor do I care if you are going to be late to where you are traveling to. I wanted my airplanes that I was responsible for to release their brakes (aka depart from the gate) on-time. Why? Because this is where the emphasis was placed for operations, get the flight out on time, regardless. Last thing I wanted to do for 8 hours was argue with two departments over a 1 minute delay.

I would go as far as to move a connecting flight to a different gate to inconvenience passengers from getting to their connecting flight. I would remove all departure information for “close connections” off the ‘Arrival/Departure’ screens. If I really got in a pinch I would have the customer service agent lock the aircraft and pull the passenger loading bridge and let the airplane sit there for a few minutes rather than take a delay making connections.

The load planning was at best, a shot in the dark when the computers failed and you had to resort of “manual spinning” of the aircraft. All this means is you calculate weights and total and using a very primitive weight and balance computer (See Image) you would guesstimate figures needed for the pilots to enter into their flight computers in order to depart. Good article at AvStop regarding weight and balance calculations. It wasn’t until AFTER the fact when the computer came back online you would double check your work and sometimes the figures were not close, yet the aircraft still was able to depart.

In regards to weather, delays and what the FAA calls “estimated departure clearance times” (EDCT) or what pilots might call “wheels up” times, I had very little control or input on these times. I knew I had airplanes landing that needed gates, so it was common practice to load the plane and send it to a low traffic area on the tarmac to wait out these delays. If the FAA ground controller could not stash a plane somewhere I would send it to our remote maintenance area. Sometimes these delays to ORD or the east coast could be upwards of a few hours! So here I have trapped a planeload of passengers on a plane until their EDCT arrives.

I also would park planes at our hanger facility, order DOA (Department of Airports) buses to transport these passengers from the airplane to the terminal, about a 5-7 minute ride. We had so many planes, when times were good at the airlines that we did not have gate space for them. Since enroute times usually have a built in delay factor, airplanes were usually scheduled to arrive earlier than expected. So we actually planned for planes to arrive at the hanger. This could also be used to “break connections” to a close connecting flights.

Like I said, I was a bastard at the airlines.  What little motivation I ended my tenure there with, I was not about to go “above and beyond” to accommodate any passengers or any cargo. As long as my flights went out on time, management would stay off my back. Sad that local airline management (when I was still employed) only cared about their “Star Flights,” which were the early morning departures that began the day across the system. I don’t suspect things have gotten better since my departure from the airlines. These are just a few unknown facts that DO HAPPEN at the airlines.

TSA = Joke

Here we go again! Is the traveling air public for more knee jerk reactions from a supposed “security agency?” The TSA still remains as nothing more than a glorified security company under the control of the US Government. Rest assured, if the government wanted to commit an act of air terrorism, it would happen. And they would let it. Increasing rules and becoming “more vigilant” won’t do shit. Where there is a will, there is a way. It is ridiculous to think the more rules imposed the less likely there is to be another terrorist attack using commercial airliners. Then again, I am off the thought it was the US Government that knew about 9-11, but that is a discussion for ATS, not T6F.

I no longer travel by air if I don’t have to. After spending 12 years at United Airlines I was getting fed up with the “added” or “heightened” security we were supposedly under. I can’t remember a time since I left the airlines, or even post 9-11 where the airlines were not at a heightened security alert. What does it matter our hourly rent-a-cops now fly mock badges and are federally trained? LOL. I’ll tell you. NOTHING! It might make you feel safer, but these people are no more better trained than they were pre 9-11. I can still remember going through a 4 hour class on how to detect explosives in an x-ray machine and supposedly I was “trained.” Again, pre 9-11.

Times have changed and as I mentioned I don’t want the hassle of the US Government telling me I can and cannot do when I pay for an airline ticket. “New rules imposed by the Transportation Security Administration limit on-board activities by passengers and crew in U.S. airspace. The airline said that during the final hour of flight passengers must remain seated. They won’t be allowed access to carry on baggage or to have any items on their laps.”

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said in a statement Saturday that passengers flying to the U.S. from overseas may notice extra security, but she said the measures “are designed to be unpredictable, so passengers should not expect to see the same thing everywhere.” That’s even better and this is supposed to help us how? I am sure there are guidelines and regulations that will continued to be followed and enforced, so this “unpredictability” is nothing more than another way to let the traveling public know their rights can be violated if there is any cause for suspicion.

How about more screening, after you are through the main checkpoint? Uh, okay. This was nothing more than an inconvenience while in the gate room, prior to boarding. What did it ever turn up? I’ll tell you what it turned up at LAX in the United terminals the years following 9-11. NOTHING! Just a stronger presence of TSA (the government version of a rent-a-cop).

I just wonder how much more tax money will be generated when they tack on another security fee in order to pay for this “presence” to make air travelers “feel safer” because in all honesty, very little has changed about the security or lack of it when it comes to US airports and airliners. Thankfully I take one flight a year, to Las Vegas. Even that can be made in an 8 hour drive, something I will seriously consider next year.

Job Satisfaction

A recent Harris Interactive survey* found only 45% of Americans are “satisfied or extremely satisfied” with their job, while only 20% feel “passionate” about what they do. It seems a good job is becoming more difficult to come by these days. I will consider myself extremely lucky that I landed a great job, one in which that allows me to answer honestly in the “extremely satisfied” category.

Never before have I felt such satisfaction with a job I have held. While working at the airlines, for United Airlines I did feel some satisfaction but one important part of the equation that was never going to be met was the pay. Even in the best year I never cleared $60,000, this after 6 years on the job. Unfortunately that sixth year (2001) at United spelled that end and sent the airline into a worse tailspin than it was already in.

I was passionate for my position at United, from ramp serviceman to load planner and zone controller (operations supervisor) to the time I spent in Chicago in flight dispatch. As I mentioned before, the pay was never going to be there and in fact by the time I punched out of United for greener pastures my pay had decreased 35%, with only 3% given back in my final year.

Thankfully BART has been an excellent experience as I approach my second full year with the light rain system. Training was long and very stressful, but I feel I have been rewarded for the effort and hard work I put forth in order to learn the company, the system, the nature of operations and my position as a Train Controller in the Operations Control Center.

While the pay is something that would NEVER have come at the airlines, the benefits are something that are really good, especially with a wife and son, who seems to make monthly emergency room visits. The retirement plan does not include paying into Social Security, but there are two plans I have enrolled in, one in which the company uses in lieu of Social Security.

The position is unique unto itself and while I cannot compare it to any other light rail system I am still impressed every time I walk into work or a tour comes through and they see what we do from our office, which allows us to run an entire light rain system (90+ miles of track) through out the Bay Area. The job requires you grow in order to become a good or even outstanding controller. I am challenged every day I sit down for my two hour rotation and attempt to better myself. Granted I am still learning and will be for the next 4 years from what everyone says.

It’s funny to hear some bitch and complain about the company or their job (not necessarily in my department), especially those who have never worked at another company. A prime example, there is now a time clock and all employees are required to swipe in and out at work. Prior to this there was much “leniency” when it came to punching in and especially punching out. So I can understand the reasoning behind the system, but many were upset with the implementation of the time/pay system.

Thankfully I will get to put in a solid 25-30 years of work at BART and get the satisfaction of doing a good job each day, while having excellent benefits and great pay structure, as well as free rides for my commute. Can’t beat that with the way fuel prices continue to rise.

Standing Room Only

In my days at United Airlines, I would post blog updates under the Aviation inSecurity heading. Well, since I no longer give a rat’s ass about the nation’s airlines or their security, I have taken on a new rage, in the newly created Standing Room Only.

News or shall I say opinions under this heading will deal with your typical asshat who rides public transportation, but treats it like their own car. I have made it known in the past I am now employed at BART in the Oakland/S.F. area, as of October. But I have rode the system for more than 2 years prior to hiring on. So I have seen and experienced quite a bit, being he first time I have used public transportation on a regular basis. With gas at $3.00+ per gallon (yeah, I know Euros pay more per liter) and a “free ride” on the train, I think the choice is a simple one.

From behind my sunglasses I would people watch. That always makes the trip interesting. So these columns will focus on those sorts of events that transpire. Now this is nowhere as critical about BART as BART Rage, some of those “people” are just downright obnoxious. I would consider Standing Room Only more along the lines of BART Musings, which is described as, “People watching, eavesdropping, and more on the Bay Area Rapid Transit.”

Today we start off with the mid-30s Mexican fella who was sitting across from the seat I normally take on a daily basis. Well, as the doors slide open, the smell of a taqueria hits you. I walk in, sit down and start surfing on my Blackberry. I notice his 10-speed bike leaning against two unoccupied seats and he is occupy two more, with his feet up he takes two more for a total of six seats!

This Mexican (I don’t have to be politically correct either.) must think he is at home, as he is shoving fork loads of food into his mouth, with little regard to the red and black sign over his head that reads, ‘No food or drink.’

As the train departs the station he continues eating. Prior to the next station he finishes his meal, wraps up the Styrofoam packaging in a white, plastic bags and toss it on the floor of the car. I watch him through this entire process. He then gets on his cell phone and starts talking away. About 5 minutes later, he concludes his call and falls asleep, still occupying six seats.

I was not able to follow this through to the end, as I transferred prior to his stop. Eating on the train, while not “legal” pe say, is a very common occurrence. I don’t think BART Police will arrest anyone for it, or even blink an eye. I’ll admit, prior to coming to work for BART, I too would munch on something, out of a bag, like chips or beef jerky. But not a god damn full blown meal.

What’s worse, the fact that one of the biggest complaints about BART is how dirty the cars/seats are. Well no shit, when riders think they can leave their empty containers and papers in the car when they leave. You aren’t at home and you are not in your car, take your damn trash and throw it away. This is not the first, nor will it be the last time I see this on a train, but it is one of those things that really is offensive.