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.