Sunday, June 12, 2005

Sam vs. Oakland Center

Today we were filed from Boise to San Jose via a somewhat indirect routing: BOI.J7.REO.MXW.PYE1. Translated, that's Jet Route 7 (a kind of highway in the sky) from Boise to Rome, then direct to Maxwell VOR for the Maxwell transition to the Point Reyes One arrival into San Jose. That arrival takes you well northwest of San Jose before sending you southbound down the whole length of the San Francisco Bay - a rather extensive detour if you're coming from the northeast, as we were.

The captain and I hit upon a brilliant idea. Once airborne, we'd convince ATC to reroute us via the Capitol Three Arrival. We'd have a fairly straight shot to Sacramento, then turn south over Stockton and a turn towards San Jose near Modesto. To our pleasant surprise, Salt Lake Center was quite obliging and recleared us as requested. Hooray for us, we're saving time and fuel! Heh heh heh...Oakland Center had other plans in mind.

"ABC 521, cross twenty miles northeast of Sacramento at and maintain 12,000."

We were still over the Sierras when we got this clearance. The captain and I looked at each other incredulously. We'd usually reach 12,000 feet around 40 miles from our destination. This time it'd be about 120 miles.

"Uhhh, Oakland Center, ABC 521 down to 12,000, twenty miles this side of Sacramento...any chance you could keep us high and slam dunk us over San Jose?" I wasn't ready to go down without a fight.
"Negative, ABC 521, we need you low for departures out of the Bay area," came the reply. So I started down. Yet the worst was yet to come, when we checked in with Norcal Approach near Sacramento:
"ABC 521, Norcal Approach, you are cleared to San Jose via direct Manteca, Manteca 183 radial to Modesto 216 radial direct LICKE intersection. Maintain 9000."

I scrambled to jot down the new clearance and read it back. This reroute was aggrevating for a few reasons: The routing (ETC R-183 -> MOD R-216) appeared to be completely arbitrary, since I couldn't find it published on any charts; as an unpublished route, I'd have to monkey with the FMS or just fly it "blue needles" (old school); it was longer than our previous routing; and the 100 miles to go would all be flown at 250 kts or less, since we'd be below 10,000 feet.

Mind you, this kind of thing is rather commonplace on the east coast, not to mention the Bay area itself, but I get spoiled by the uncongested airspace I usually fly in. I'm used to getting what I want.

We arrived in San Jose only slightly late and no worse for the wear save 100 miles worth of low-level bugs spattered across the plane's nose. We had one Boise roundtrip left, and agreed that on our return to San Jose we should just take our lumps with the Point Reyes arrival.

Several hours later, upon checking in with Oakland Center: "ABC, I have a reroute for you: Direct Mustang Direct Sacramento, Capitol Three Arrival to San Jose." Ha! Hahaha! I won't be lured down that primrose path again!

"Oakland, any chance ABC 523 can stay on our original routing? We got the Capitol Three last time and didn't like staying in the weeds for so long." There was a slight delay before the controller agreed to our previous routing. After Point Reyes, we were cleared direct San Francisco VOR and then direct San Jose. This gave us a very nice view of the Golden Gate and Bay Bridges as well as downtown San Francisco and the Bay itself.

We stayed high and made a nice, steep, efficient descent with the power levers at flight idle from top of descent until about 1000 feet. ATC was thoroughly cooperative, we had no traffic hassles; it was a thing of beauty. We were patting each other on the back for persuading ATC to let us stay on the Point Reyes One when we looked at our watches: The first flight was quicker by 8 minutes, despite the reroutes and early descent!

The moral of the story: When you try to beat the system, the system beats you.