Saturday, February 23, 2008

Settling In & Moving Out

As of today, I have 161 hours in the JungleBus. While I'm a long ways from "experienced" in the airplane, I've moved beyond the beginner stage where you have to think about everything you do to the level of familiarity where at least routine procedures become second nature. It's a comforting feeling for a pilot: an airplane that once seemed foreign, clumsy, even intimidating becomes as familiar as one's own home. Just as you can find your way to the bathroom or refrigerator in pitch black darkness, or know exactly where your floor will creak, a pilot develops instinctive motor memory for a machine he's been flying for a while. I'm at the point where merely thinking "altitude" sends my hand stretching for the altitude selector, while the mention of speed guides it to the speed selector knob two inches to the left. Now, any familiar airplane can become unfamiliar again in a hurry by doing something you've never seen it do or being put in a situation it wasn't designed for. But at least having a firm grasp on normal operations better equips you to recognize and deal with those abnormal situations.

After six weeks of nothing but Saskatoon hi-speeds, the MSP-YXE-MSP route was getting a little too familiar to me! Thankfully, I was able to trade away the last two weeks of February for a four day trip plus a few Vancouver turn daytrips. That four day trip was interesting. It was mostly east coast flying out of Detroit, so I went to a lot of airports I've never been to before (DTW, CLT, PIT, BNA, ORF, OKC). It's nice to see we do have a system outside of Minnesota & Saskatchewan! The airports are pretty easy to get used to (standard signage and good airport diagram charts go a long way) but all the unfamiliar VOR names had me referencing enroute charts rather frequently. I also got a refresher lesson in U.S. geography since I haven't spent much time on the east coast. Winter weather with widespread cloud cover cut down on scenery watching, but I did enjoy a nice low-level tour of Chesapeake Bay on the way into Norfolk, VA the other day. It was my first time to Virginia. Norfolk seemed much nicer than its gritty reputation, from the air at least.

We're settling into our apartment pretty well now. Aggressive craigslisting has furnished our apartment with some cool stuff on the cheap. I joke to Dawn that our place could be the craigslist equivalent of an IKEA showroom. I'm getting familiar with the watering holes and coffee shops within walking distance, and have a pretty good system for getting myself to and from work via public transit. I'm pretty sure we're going to sell my Blazer and get by on one car. I may get a motorcycle come summer. Although I complain constantly about the Minnesota weather, and I do miss the Pacific Northwest, in a certain way it's been exciting to go about building a new life for ourselves in Minneapolis.

At the moment, Dawn and I are back at our townhouse in Vancouver, WA. For the last two days we've packed up the remainder of our belongings and loaded them onto a U-Haul truck; tomorrow we'll be driving to Minnesota. Yes, the townhouse finally sold. Last week on Wednesday we got a full price offer with no contingencies. In today's real estate environment, we consider ourselves very f0rtunate to be selling our house for quite a bit more than we bought it for in 2005. The house passed inspection and the buyer's financing appears to be on track so we decided to take advantage of a 5 day gap in my schedule to move everything back to Minneapolis. Our place is utterly empty right now; it already feels like someone else's house. I have a lot of good memories in this place so it's hard to leave, but I remind myself that very little of that life remains here, so lingering is useless.

A few readers seem to have misinterpreted a comment I made in a previous post about my impending captainhood. No, I'm still a First Officer. However, an award for 24 new captains is coming out in a few days, and as I'm 15 from the top of the FO list I assume I'll be on it. Unless something changes, it's looking like I'll be a Captain at NewCo sometime in March.


Big Country said...

Congrats on selling your house and on your PENDING captaincy.

My wife grew up in Norfolk and lived there until she married me and moved to SAN (her mistake). I also lived there off and on for the better part of 10 years. The "gritty reputation" dates back to WWII and some post-Vietnam periods when it was less than savory, but it has seen a great revitalization in the past 10-15 years and is now a fantastic place to live.
Again, best congrats on your soon-to-be upgrade.


Fred said...

Heya Sam.
Good news all 'round, excellent!
Keep it up.


Dave said...


That's great news - congratulations on both selling the house and your upcoming promotion.


Denver said...

If you're going through Coeur d'Alene on your way back east, stop by Moontime. Off I-90, take the Sherman exit, then your first right. It'll be on your left about a 1/4 mile down the street. Great food and brew! Need directions or a tour of Cd'A, give me a call: 208-699-7897

Anonymous said...

Sam-- aren't stick-and-rudder skills the same no matter what airplane you fly? Why does it take so long for pilots to get comfortable in a new airplane?

Tracy Salas said...

Sam, thought this article might interest you! I'm interested in your opinion!

delta 767 said...

"it's looking like I'll be a Captain at NewCo sometime in March"

If the merger goes I would think that highly unlikely. Highly.

Sam said...

Well, aren't you Mr. Sunshine!

Unless you know something I don't, it's going to take a while after any merger is announced before any integration or any big changes take place, ie parking the DC9s. Furthermore, the CEOs have "promised" the politicians there will be no job cuts so they'll hold off on furloughs until it's so late in the process that no politician can grandstand for his constituents by gumming up the works. Meanwhile I don't see a combined NW/DAL telling Embraer "Oh, nevermind about those JungleBusses" - and we'll have 36 on property by 4Q (15 right now). Mind you, I'm rather pessimistic about my long-term future at NewCo if a merger goes through...I just think it'll take some time for the other shoe to drop.

But hey, if you're more privvy to the situation over there at DAL than we are here, I'm all ears.

Sam said...

Tracy- Although it's tempting to use this as an opportunity to bash Mesa - and they always do deserve it - something like that could have happened at many regionals. The schedules often pay little homage to the demands of the human body - little time to eat, reduced rest, circadian swaps, etc. And then there are the ever-growing delays that can really string a day out beyond all reason. Few pilots put their feet down and say "no!" since calling in fatigued cuts into already meager regional airline pay. So nothing changes...not after an incident like this, not even after an accident like AA's Little Rock crash or the Corporate Airlines jetstream crash a few years ago.

lots of senority said...

Well after 26 years at DAL nothing would surprise me but my guess is that my colleague above is both right and wrong.

If the merger goes something has to give and RedCo is not in a good position. My best guess is you guys get screwed. DAL's various CEO's over the years have proved they will say one thing and do another at the drop of a hat.

So congrats on making Captain this spring but do not be surprised if you are furloughed by the fall/winter 2008. Sorry.

Sam said...

Lots of seniority-- I'm kinda operating under the assumption that if the merger goes through, I have 6-12 months before finding myself on the street. I've been keeping an eye on overseas E170/190 flying contracts. Most want around 500 hrs in the airplane, which I should (hopefully) have before anything drastic happens.

Everyone I know outside aviation is flabbergasted that I left a stable job at Horizon for NewCo. To me, a seven year upgrade was even more undesirable than the possibility of furlough at NewCo. Kinda like choosing between a turd sandwich and vomit soup I guess.

lots of senority said...

The merger may go or not, I tend to think so but who really knows.

Seven year upgrades used to be normal, I was a FO for six years and accumulated some thousands of hours before becoming a captain. It seems the CRJ industry is different. I have more hours taxiing at KATL in 2007 than you have in type. Times change.

Good luck,

Sam said...


I'm not entirely sure what you're saying. Are you saying you spent six years as an FO at a regional before upgrading and then getting the captain time to get hired on at Delta? Or that you spent six years as a Delta FO before upgrading? If you're senior at DL I'm kinda assuming the latter to be true, and you should know they are two very, very different propositions. The majors - even at today's depressed payrates - pay their FOs a livable wage. The regionals do not. If I came across as a little impatient at the prospect of a seven year upgrade, you should know it would've meant that my first ten years as a professional pilot would've been spent at a salary of less than $50k/year, even at one of the "better" regionals. Even with your concessionary contract, Delta pilots make that their first year. Now, I know everyone has to pay their dues, and I know a lot of pilots before me did a lot more dues-paying than I did. However, time spent in the right seat at a major airline hardly qualifies one to waggle his finger at the whippersnappers and tell them to suck it up because he had to. Especially if you were on property at the majors in the 90s when the pilots negotiated away scope and started the whole CRJ mess to begin with.

Then again, perhaps I misunderstood and you were a regional FO for six years - in which case, respect, and sorry for the above rant.

lots of senority said...


Point well taken, they are two very different propositions and I did not take that into account. My knowledge of the CRJ business is minimal and under the financial circumstances you laid out waiting 7 years would be a looooong time. No finger wagging was intended. Times change.

Saskatoon sounds tempting but I think I will stick with ATL-DXB for a while. Summer is coming and ATL is great for honing my taxi skills.