|Written by Doug Taylor|
Since this trip is a "PM" trip, I can sleep in a bit until around 9:00 AM and take my time getting ready. This is good, since I am going to be away for 5 days, I take a bit more time to get things together and pack so that all the clothes and items I will need for an entire week will fit in my TravelPro rollaboard.
Preparing for my trip started the day before. I did laundry (on New Years Day no less), started checking out the Weather Channel and other weather web sites to find out how the day would go tomorrow, which predicted rain across the Midwest, and got any bills or similar time-sensitive items ready to be mailed in the morning.
I normally leave for the airport about an hour and a half before my scheduled show time, even though I only live 20 minutes away. Depending on traffic, the trip can take up to 40 minutes, plus I need to make some last minute stops at Starbucks and an ATM. Today, it only takes me 25 minutes to get to the employee lot, and a quick 20 minutes to get through security and to the crew lounge. So I have plenty of time to spare.
When starting a trip, I'll usually first hit up the crew lounge computers to check in via a crew scheduling program. However, since the computers were taken by other crewmembers, and I have about 45 minutes before my actual show time, I head to the locker and mailboxes first. I check my box to find a memo on sick call issues and collect my pay stub. Luckily no Jeppesen revisions, although it would be a great time for an update to kill the time! Off to the locker to retrieve my flight kit, which contains my headset, Jepp charts, company manuals, required forms for flight (jumpseat forms, weight and balance sheets, takeoff and landing data cards, etc.), flashlight, and other assorted items required by the company.
Now that everyone is off the crew lounge computers, I log into the program to check in. Before we can get our schedule, required e-memos from company management personnel pop up which must be read before moving on in the program. This is why it's a good reason to arrive earlier than the actual show time, just in case there are a lot of messages to wade through. Only one, something about travel benefits. A few more clicks, and now I'm checked in. I also pull up my January schedule details and print out a hard copy with the details of my "pairing", which is the trip I am starting. This way I know what our departure and arrival times are, as well as flight numbers, overnights, and hotel phone numbers.
After a little sitting around and chatting with fellow crewmembers, I meet up with my captain for the trip. We talk a bit about what we know so far about the plane we are picking up, which today is aircraft number 315. Supposedly it is a bit late inbound due to weather. Due to a warm front passing through the Midwest, bringing with it warmer temperatures and rain. This means low visibility. Sure enough, MDW is down to about a mile, and our destination of South Bend is at minimums.
Once we find our plane, we start the process of "aircraft acceptance." This means I'm out doing my preflight on the exterior of the aircraft, while the captain prepares the cockpit and the flight attendant prepares the cabin. After doing a walkaround outside, I get inside, get my self situated, and start on the flight paperwork. As a first officer, I complete all the weight and balance and performance calculations with an on-board dispatch (OBD) computer, and put the information on a W&B form and a TOLD card. These forms provide us our CG, takeoff weight, landing weight, weight restrictions, ATIS, clearance, V speeds, and power settings.
I gather the information to put in the OBD from ATIS (here at MDW gotten through ACARS) and our flight release. The release tells us our route of flight, altitude, winds aloft, fuel required, alternates, crew, tail number, flight number, weather, etc. etc. It contains not only METARs and TAFs, but also SIGMETS, AIRMETS, Convective SIGMETS, NOTAMS, FDC NOTAMS, and so on. Quite a packet of information.
Finally, after all the preflight checks are completed, the people arrive and we get started up. Since space at MDW is limited, we are stationed at the "South Ramp", and have passengers take busses to the aircraft. Once boarding is complete, we get a final count of the passengers and bags and load those numbers into the OBD. Finally, we have our performance data. We're ready for pushback, and away we go to South Bend, IN! I'm flying this leg, since we agreed I'd start day one with "outs." Each day, we swap, one of us flying into MDW all day, the other person flying to the outstations.
Landing at SBN is rather uneventful considering the weather was right at minimums. We do a "quick turn" in 17 minutes at the outstation, and head off to return to MDW in an attempt to gain time to get back on time. A gain of 13 minutes, considering ground time at outstations is scheduled at 30 minutes.
On the return flight, we request the Dayton, OH weather, since it is our next destination. It doesn't look good, since the weather is currently below minimums. Looks like a decent passenger load as well, so we can't load up a large amount on fuel. The weather lifts high enough by the time we turn and arrive at Dayton to shoot the approach and land, however it is again down to minimums, this time at night.
Although not on schedule, we manage to get through our day and finish in Madison, WI. It's late, about 11:30 PM, and I'm getting a little worried about our F/A since she seems to be pretty sick. Luckily though, the weather isn't too bad, with a temperature around 50. Also, I seem to luck out and get a top floor two-room suite at our hotel, overlooking the state capitol building. Can't complain!
I roll out of bed about two hours before we have to meet up downstairs for the ride out to the airport. Head to a local coffee shop near the U of WI campus with my paper, and soon leave after I remember it's winter break so the college coeds are all out of town. So back to the hotel, get ready, and the start of another day. It's much colder today, but the weather has improved in regards to clouds and visibility. Only problem though is it's a bit windy and fairly turbulent. I'm doing "ins" today, so I start off the day with a circle from runway 31C to 22L at MDW. By far my favorite approach in the entire route network.
Mid-day, we end up having our F/A go home sick, and start picking up reserves to cover the remaining flights for the remainder of the trip.
We manage to stay on time all day, although we did have an incident on one of our inbound flights. It seems a young child sitting in the second row got sick on approach, due to the turbulence. Not only got sick, but got sick all over Mom and the aisle. Well, because of this, Mom got sick as well, also in the aisle, on the wall, and on the seat in front of her. This was unknown to us, until pulling in the gate we get a cabin call regarding the problem. I call our Operations, and they have no idea what to do. Because the "stuff" is in the aisle near the door, it means every passenger in the third row back must walk across it to get off the plane. So a quick thinking first officer tells the F/A to sacrific some on-board blankets to cover the "stuff", so that passengers can deplane. Everyone is off, and we quickly leave so cleaners can take care of it.
We make it into Lexington, KY, to find temps in the high 50's! Again, a very nice hotel, and very nice weather to accompany it. Jacuzzi in the room!
I make it a point to get out and find something to do, just to say I spent the morning outside in short sleeves. Little did I know that Chicago was getting bombarded by a massive snowstorm that would cause major traffic issues for the remainder of the day. We get to the airport to find we are delayed, no doubt. The hour delay turns into two, which turns into four. We finally get out of LEX 4 1/2 hours after scheduled, in the dark, headed for the snowstorm. I land in the mess at MDW, wishing I had just gone back to the LEX hotel. We find out though that 4 of our flights are cancelled, so we will have two hours on the ground before our terminating flight in Moline, IL. Nice!
After some time snacking, watching college football, and chatting with crewmembers, we figure it's time to start gathering up our F/A from the beginning of the trip who is back after being sick. Supposedly she had been on airport ready reserve since 4:00 PM, and it is now nearly 9:00 PM, but she is nowhere to be found. We call dispatch, and they have no idea, so they ask us to call her on her cell phone since they are so swamped. We do, and lo and behold... she is still home sick. Somehow, there was a scheduling snafu, and we are without a F/A. Delay. We get out nearly two hours late after the issue is resolved, and I crash into MLI on an empty stomach since the town is shut down with a combination of snow and it being 12:30 AM.
I crawl out of bed in a daze, and it takes me a second to figure out where I am. I woke up and for some reason the window was on the wrong side of the room! I had stayed at the MLI hotel in the same room the last three times, and now it was a different room that was reversed. I got confused, and had no idea where I was for a minute. Not the first time it has happened on a trip!
Make my way to Bennigans attached to the hotel. One of the great things about MLI!
We start our day, which shouldn't be too bad. It's just mighty cold out, with a temperature of -13 C at MLI. Not much better around the rest of the system. The only benefit of cold weather is amazing aircraft performance. Coming out of SPI, I climb at Vclean + 5, which is our best climb gradient speed, and get from wheels up to 13,000 feet in less than 6 minutes. Amazing in a Saab 340.
We end up having an aircraft swap for the last flight, which makes us moody since that means a preflight in the sub-zero temperatures. We had to swap since we would end in SBN for the night, which is our maintenance base. We could bring the aircraft to have MELed items fixed, rather than keep the airplane in MDW.
I crawl into bed at the SBN hotel happy to have a nice hotel with a very comfy bed, knowing tomorrow I'll be home.
It's freezing cold again on this last day, but the weather is absolutely clear, so hopefully things will go much smoother than the rest of the trip. It's windy though at all our destinations for the day, so that means turbulence. Sure enough, it's pretty turbulent all day, and we never get above 7000 feet all day with short hops to Milwaukee and South Bend.
Also, due to the freezing temps, everyone on the ramp is seeming to move a lot slower than normal. Our smooth day goes out the window at MDW when we can't seem to get anything done smoothly. No GPU. Can't get a push cart. Waiting on bags. Fuel truck broken, down to only one. Frozen lav carts.
On our flight to MKE, it takes 1 hr 30 min to get up there, a normally 45 min flight. Due to ground delays, traffic, and the like, we get seriously stiff returning to MDW after doing a single-engine turn at MKE, not leaving the cockpit once.
On the MKE-MDW leg, we get sent out over the lake at 4000 feet per normal routing, and find ourselves face to face with clouds right at altitude. Seeing as we find moderate turbulence in the clouds, we request lower, just in time... a severe slap of turbulence jerks the plane so hard that most of the Mountain Dew left in my can ends up on my lap, my phone falls off the glareshield onto the floor, and my Jepps move back into the little compartment next to my seat. I'm PNF, so I say "She needs to sit down" and immediately make a PA for our F/A to be seated. I call back, and she was seated, everyone is ok... luckily, since I expected the jolt would definitely have floated her off the floor and caused injury.
After a bumpy but uneventful SBN turn, our trip is over. The crew shares pleasantries, and I'm off to find my 5-day cold-soaked car in the employee lot and off to home. Happy to be back in PJs in front of the computer!