Aug 25, 2018 – First Contract Trip: Getting Started

So here I am – 60 years old and still getting excited about life in general. I’m working for a solid firm instructing pilots that fly corporate jets, and now I’m heading out to gain the practical experience that will bolster my credibility and keep it all fresh and real. I’m loving the challenge!

Accepting contract flights in jets appears to be a very nice fit into my personal life and my career at FlightSafety. Executing this trip will test that theory, and help me to figure out if the fun of it all will outweigh the pain experienced in getting there and back. The only way to know for sure is to go do it, so here I go.

I left at noon on Saturday the 25th of August, bound for Indiana via Charlotte. I arrived at the airport more than 2 hours early for my flight, as usual. I always say I’ll cut it more closely when this becomes routine, and never quite want to take the chance of missing a flight. The owner planned my flights with a stop-over in Charlotte, on to where I’d meet the Captain of the flight in Indiana, we’ll call him George. I’d get there just after noon, with enough time to look over the airplane and get to know the Captain.

Philly Terminal: I sat in the terminal with five aviation magazines, a novel, and my iPad. Plenty to keep my brain busy for the inevitable waiting of commercial aviation. The magazines were from the pile in my living room that had been left unread. I avoid those magazines and since they are a reminder that my airplane was still languishing in Matt’s hangar. In years past, I couldn’t get enough of these various subscriptions and was energized enough to read them all. The adventures others were living; the developing technologies; and a deeper understanding of aviation all pulled me in.

Since my airplane wasn’t flying, however, they just served as a reminder that I’d made sub-optimal choices in how to maintain my machine. Only now that the return of N833DF is getting closer – as it appears – am I able to pick up those magazines and starting reading again.

Waiting among the building crowds, I finished all of the magazines and began reading the novel I’d planned to read on the flight to Charlotte. After the first two chapters, they finally called zone 88 and I boarded with no drama. The trip was off to a good start, and I was actually excited. Looking forward to getting my hands on the jet.

Our on-time arrival allowed for a relaxed stroll to my connecting flight gate. I smiled inwardly as I found myself walking along in the very same terminal I flew Dash-8s out of this terminal with Piedmont. I have been so truly blessed to have lived that experience, and I know it. Here it was that an average college student of engineering could experience a successful primary career with the utilities; retire from that to fly for an airline full time; and then begin a third full time career instructing in types of corporate jets I’d never seen nor flown before. Life is never all smooth and pretty, but I am feeling pretty good about how it all played out so far.

Charlotte Terminal: The Dash-8s are all gone now. My Piedmont friends are off flying big jets for American. I live vicariously through them, and today I’m seeking a small taste of what they do everyday. I no longer covet opportunities that might take me away from home for too long, and continue to re-invent myself accordingly. More play time with my best friend, Beverly, enjoying every minute of what we’ve worked so hard for.

Walking a bit taller now, I might have even have been strutting a little as I walked through the terminal. Most likely I looked like a total dork, or any one of a dozen other simpletons wondering lost about the terminal, but I didn’t care. This is a moment of reflection I I deserved. Ohhhh….   there’s Starbucks! Squirrel!!

Delays, Delays, Delays: I have now learned that the airplane meant to take me to Indiana is sitting broken in Asheville, NC. Five successive flight delays were announced, one every 45 minutes, as I progressed further and further into my book. I am not anxious nor worried – the owner of the jet made the arrangements and my obligations were being met whether or not this flight ever happened. I woke up this morning resigned to a long day of waiting, and this was no surprise.

As the sixth flight delay was announced, however, I thought I’d better let George know that I was having concerns about ever making it to Indiana today. I was interested to see how the owner and George would respond to this scenario, and was playing my part in this little play. With the Captain thusly informed, he went on to confer with the owner, promising to get back to me with ideas and potential next steps.

I’d been in the terminal for more than 3 hours at this point, and I’d gotten fairly hungry. I’d been on a successful low carb diet for some time now, and it’s working very well. I could afford wings and an iced tea this afternoon, so lunch at the Whiskey River restaurant would be appropriate. It would also help to kill some of the time before the next flight delay.

Waiting in airports is a serious downside of this job. In order to be successful at this, I’ll have to learn how to bob and weave myself onto alternative flights that get me where I want to be. I’ve never flown commercial regularly enough to want to be good at it, so we’ll see how that goes.

Lunch was a salad and dry-rub wings that were very good. Food tastes better when you are eating less (dieting), and the flavors really came out of those wings. I can taste them as I write this, and my stomach is growling.

I finished up, paid my check, and began walking back to my gate to continue reading my novel. I’d better make a pit stop on the way, I thought,  joining the line of men walking into the restroom at the base of the terminal. Seconds later, my phone rang at the most inconvenient time. I aborted my attempt at relief,  stepping back out into the rush of bodies in  the terminal. It was the owner, Donald, calling. He was motivated and had a plan.

Donald had gotten American Express moving to help me get onto an alternate flight. He asserts that I should drop everything and run right now to another gate. I tell him I understand, hang up, and go right back into the restroom to finish what I’d started. In years past I’d have sucked it up and done the OJ thing through the airport to be the best employee ever – but I’m more realistic now. Retired Frank hangs up and stops in the rest room, and only when that’s done do I fast-walk to the new gate.

An alternate flight opportunity: Ok – so I’m not as relaxed as I portrayed a few words ago. Old habits die hard. I hustled more than I realize to meet the owner’s expectations, and was out of breath arriving at the gate. Boarding was well underway by then, but I still needed to collect myself. I regroup and wait for the agent to pause between boarding announcements.

She turns her attention to me and I explain what the owner has told me. AmEx has guaranteed me a seat on this particular flight, so please look for my name and I’ll be on my way. She is not impressed. Instead, she politely explains that she doesn’t see any of that happening for me, and my name isn’t anywhere to be found. Standby passengers crowd closely around me to ensure I don’t bully my way ahead of them, and I understand their concerns.  I get it.

I am diplomatic but insistent, explaining what I’d been told to expect. The agent continues boarding and the standbys crowd in more closely to hear the exchange. The agent summoned her manager, and the woman sees my Piedmont hat. She smiles a warm smile at me, assumes I still work for her company, and asks if I’m non-revving. ‘No Ma’am. I no longer work for the company. I’m just trying to get re-positioned to move a private jet.’. I repeated what the owner told me, and by this time have him on the phone as well. Donald is communicating with Amex, and this is exactly what I hate about commercial air travel. He who knows the tricks can manipulate himself to the front of the line.

The gate manager is knowledgable, personable, and very attractive to boot. She understands that I am not a current employee, and even though the standbys are burning holes in her forehead with their eyes, she decides she likes me anyway. For the next 15 minutes she has Donald and AmEx do different things to try and get me on, but the sand runs out of the hour glass before we get it done for me. The young lady did all she could do for this flight, then went a step further and guaranteed me on a back-up flight leaving in an hour. That meant that if my original flight never got here – I wouldn’t have to do all this again.

The gate manager is a rock star to me, and made me feel personally special. That was a very nice thing for her to do for me. I am still getting energy out of that encounter.

Back to Plan A: I finally get out on the original flight – only 4 or 5 hours after I should have gone. It’s already been a long day, but one I was well prepared for. By the time I get on the airplane for the last leg, I’ve had lunch and have finished the novel I’d started. The coffee at the terminal was good, I’d had a wonderful experience with the gate manager, and I was heading out to fly my first contract jet trip.

The two hour flight arrived in Indiana and I called George to let him know I’d arrived. He was apparently waiting nearby, and told me to head upstairs to arrivals where it was easier for him to find me. I appreciate not having to deal with rental cars and travel arrangements on this end of the journey, and head out to meet him.

Picking up wayward crew was apparently one of the Captain’s many duties. Part of what I wanted to learn was those details involved with being the pilot in command of a corporate jet. Some of what you have to do is not so pleasant, but we’ll get into that later.

We had planned to spend time pre-flighting the jet when I arrived. I need experience, in my opinion, learning how to do an effective and efficient actual preflight. It’s too late now since we have an early morning start.  I do get my first look at the machine while I drop off my flight gear, and then do an expedient walk-around. We button up and head for a late Texas Roadhouse dinner after a very long travel day. I eat a not-so-terrific steak and potato dinner as the fatigue of the day sets in.

The hotel was conveniently located adjacent to where the airplane was kept. There was certainly nothing impressive about it, and the view, as you can see, was of the roof top air conditioning units and the airport perimeter fencing. I brushed my teeth and fell asleep in short order.

Sunday, August 26th: I grabbed a nasty hotel breakfast while waiting for the George to come down. Once I see him, I learn that he’d already arranged to have the jet pulled out on the ramp and fueled. Once he squared up in the FBO, he just got in while I walked around and did my own cursory exterior pre-flight. I had expected to follow him around while he pre-flighted, but his process was a little different.

The Westwind I’m flying today is shown at left. Tail number removed to maintain privacy for the owner. Two initial pax arrived, and it was time for me to insert myself and help load their luggage. Part of what I had to figure out was what George expected me to do in terms of passenger interaction, versus what he wanted to do himself. I held back for a few minutes, but finally just jumped in there and loaded the bags while he got them organized and into the airplane. I was the last one in and had to close the door. I knew how to do it from the videos and training I’d been giving others, but insisted that he double check my work since I’d never actually done that before. It was all good and now I was ‘checked out’.

To be continued…..

Fly Safe