An Airline Adventure

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Chapter Four: Boston

Boston Logan Airport is consistently rated by pilots as one of the ten worst U.S. airports in terms of being difficult to use. Flying into Logan, single pilot, scheduled airline, is like sticking your head down a garbage disposal, except that sticking your head down a garbage disposal is more fun. To say it is “busy” or “difficult” is like saying a colonoscopy is “unpleasant.”

The airline had provided no training for flying into and out of Logan, apparently believing that such training was unnecessary. For me it was instant immersion flying revenue flights with a cranky Klingon for a check pilot. “KaPlah!” That the check pilot did not help, but rather, ragged on you the entire time was simply a bonus. I had flown in the Navy for 17 of my 21 years there and was a qualified combat aircraft mission commander. I had flown two tours in Vietnam. In the Navy, you work as a team or you are screwed. I had come to expect teamwork in any professional flying environment. Being hurled into Boston with no prep except for having looked at approach plates and no input from your check pilot except for snarls was not what I had expected nor anything that was likely to help. Been there, done that. When I was a 22-year-old ensign it was bearable because I was a nugget trying to fly with the best in the world. Now, it was just plain stupid.

So, into Logan we went. The procedure was to fly final at 170 MPH – about 75 MPH above the manufacturer’s recommended final approach speed -- to provide separation from the jets breathing down your neck – and wail along the length of the runway 10 feet above the pavement. Then, about half of the length down the runway, chop the power and “encourage” the plane down onto the concrete. After impact we were to make a high-speed, badass turn off the runway onto a specific taxiway while everything in the cabin swing toward the other side and the passengers gripped their armrests. Then, now off the runway, we had to make a high-speed taxi toward our gate at velocities just below flying speed through a forest of moving huge landing gear assemblies as we dodged all the large airliners coming for every direction while ground control yelled at us. Once at the gate we did a “forceful” 180 degree turn and shut-down. Then we had perhaps five minutes to disembark the passengers, board the new passengers for the next leg, run – and I mean run – into ops, grab the weather sheet, the manifest, the weight and balance calculations, the flight plan, and the other paperwork, run – and I mean run – back to the plane, climb in, do your flows, start both engines, and call clearance delivery for your clearance and start taxiing back out. I was not comfortable with the pace required but again grit my teeth and off we went, my check pilot making constant nasty remarks about first, my engine starts, then my lousy taxiing, and then, my lousy flying while explaining how badly I was doing.

The departure was as hairy as the arrival and we were on our way on our 25 minute flight to our next destination. This comedy was repeated all day until we finally finished. As we shut-down back on the airline ramp, my check pilot debriefed me by relating how badly I had done and wondering aloud if I could fly. I held my tongue instead of telling him how lousy the airline’s training in general and his Cockpit Resource Management in particular were. After I got back to the motel I had – more than one beer -- and cheered myself up in preparation for the next day.

On Wednesday I flew with Pilot C and repeated many of the flights of the previous day. Pilot C was not a screamer. His technique was to keep a running harassment in a low voice over the ICS interjected with insults and contempt directed towards me. More Fun With Boston. On this day we also had another pilot flying deadhead in the cabin for part of the day. Pilot C and Pilot Deadhead tag-teamed me with how badly they thought I was doing. After one landing in Boston, a passenger came forward, looked fearfully at my check pilot, then me, and asked, “Are you going to fire him? (meaning me). Pilot C just gave a tight smile and remained silent. And so the day went. I finished Wednesday exhausted and not in a good mood as Pilot C disembarked without another word and walked away, leaving me to set the airplane for night by myself.

Another word on teamwork. The FAA requires it officially on any aircraft with more than one crewmember. The Navy lets you know that without it you will probably die and take your crew with you into the smoking hole that will be the final resting place for your now paste-like body. This was the atmosphere in which I had flown for 25 years. At Wings Airlines, the atmosphere I experienced was one of several hundred individuals, each wanting the rest to know what great Lone Wolves they were. I had come across this occasionally in the Navy. One crew with which I flew early in my Navy career was headed by a plane commander who was an abusive jerk who had somehow escaped the safeguards the Navy has in place to filter-out such individuals. He belittled the crew on missions, called us demeaning names, and was a lousy pilot whose failings were always the fault of someone else. As a new guy I put up with it for as long as I could until my Steam Overpressure Lamp finally illuminated. Screwing-up my courage I went to see the CO. To my dismay, he said, “Well, I know (he’s) marginal and I should pull his plane commander papers, but we’re here in Vietnam and we’re short of flight crew so I’m going to let him continue to fly.” I was aghast, but that was that. However, this bum soon, and suddenly, left the Navy early, and the CO was replaced at a scheduled change of command by a CO who knew what he was doing, so that problem was resolved before anyone was hurt. And as I say, that sort of thing happens in the Navy only once in a blue moon. At Wings, this bad situation was starting to look like the rule. Is this any way to run a business?