Monday, March 03, 2008

An Ode to Crew Sked

I have my cell phone set up so that a call from Crew Scheduling brings up the caller ID "Satan," and the accompanying ringtone plays "I Hate Everything About You" by Three Days Grace. The animosity is mostly feigned; I know they're generally just trying to do their jobs, and most of the contact I have with them is positive or neutral.

Crew schedulers are generally least liked when they're trying to "junior man" you (make you work on a day off). To junior man you, though, they must contact you, and this is easy to avoid - especially when any call from them displays the caller ID "Satan." You're not required to answer the phone on days off. You can let it go to voicemail and then listen to what they have. If it pays well and you're willing to work on your day off, call them back; if not, ignore it.

Getting extended is harder to avoid. In this case, you're already at work and are required to be contactable by crew scheduling, so they can sink their claws into you by calling you, sending a text message on ACARS, or even paging you over the airport PA system. Your best bet is to delay calling them back as long as contractually permissible in hopes that they get impatient and come up with a different plan. Once you call, your only hope is to beg your way out of it, and most crew schedulers are indifferent to pilots' pleadings; they've heard it all before. Getting extended at the end of a long four or five day trip is very dispiriting and is a primary source of pilots' animosity toward crew schedulers.

Trip trades are another wellspring of ill feeling. Unless you're among the top ten percent or so of pilots in your position, it's unlikely that your awarded schedule is entirely satisfactory. Fortunately, there are often plenty of trips in open time - due to vacation, training, bid transition conflicts, etc - that you can drop your current trips to pick up, and thus adjust your schedule to better fit your needs. The problem is that crew scheduling is the gatekeeper. At Horizon, the pilot contract stipulated that trip drops and trades only need be approved if staffing was "adequate" - which was left for crew scheduling to define. They set the bar so high that even when the airline was well-staffed, trip drops and trades were approved only rarely. Of all the requests I submitted while at Horizon, only one or two were approved without going a step or two above crew scheduling (the chief pilot's office).

Fortunately, this is one of the few areas in which NewCo's pilot contract is markedly better than Horizon's. It allows the company to deny trip trade requests only if the trip to be dropped falls on a weekend and would cause the company to use more than 30% of available reserves.

With this in mind, I tried to trade the last three weeks of my February schedule away. I was sick of Saskatoon and there were some excellent trips in open time. None of the CDOs to be traded away fell on a weekend; nevertheless, crew scheduling denied the first week's trade due to staffing. I told a crew sked supervisor that the contact didn't allow them to deny the trade and even read the applicable section to her word for word. She responded "Well, that's not the way we do things around here. We don't want to create more work for ourselves." I was almost speechless at that. I sputtered something about not being able to disregard the contract, that I would be fired if I didn't show up for work because I "didn't want to create more work for myself." She curtly suggested I bring it up with a chief pilot and then added that it didn't matter because one of the trips I wanted to pick up was gone now anyways. Pheww, there went the grievance that I was already writing in my head. At least the last two weeks were approved. I stewed the extra week I was freezing in Saskatoon, though.

When I bid my March schedule, I did so under the assumption that the last half of the month would be dropped for Captain IOE. Bad assumption: it looks like it'll be April now. I was left with a rather undesirable March schedule, especially for the purposes of going somewhere on Dawn's spring break. I figured I didn't have a fighting chance at getting any trip trades approved since all the trips I'd be dropping fell on weekends. No matter - I decided to go for broke, requesting a drop of all my trips in March, building a completely new schedule out of trips in open time. It filled up the complete trip trade request sheet. For kicks and grins, I even filled out a second sheet with an alternative schedule if the trips I was trying to pick up were no longer in open time, and faxed them both in to crew sked. I called a day later to ask about their disposition. "Oh, that huge trip trade? Yeahh, we're still working on that one...."

After my sister's wedding last Friday, I checked my phone and noted a missed call from Satan. I listened to the voicemail and was shocked to hear that my "gigantic trade request" had all been approved. A warm wave of affection swept over me; the past was forgotten. If they weren't in Virginia, I would've brought them cookies and given them all hugs. Heck, I may still. Instead of 12 days off and a bunch of 4-5 day trips, I have 16 days off with four daytrips and two five day trips. I have weekends off, and the last few days of the month that start Dawn's spring break. Hopefully I can bid for (or trade into) the first six days of April off. In that case maybe we'll go somewhere. After the Minnesota winter, somewhere warm would be nice. We're thinking maybe Singapore and Malaysia. I'll have to send crew sked a postcard.


Anonymous said...

if you go to Malaysia, send greetings to my second home... it's a fantastic country... If you want any info, I'll be more than happy to share my experiences with you :)

Cheers from could Vienna, Austria


Anonymous said...

I don't understand your comment that you are "sick of Saskatoon." If you are stuck with flying out of MSP for a regional airline you are going to be sick where ever you fly, get a new attitude!

Anonymous said...

Either Malaysia or Singapore would be great. Lived in Malaysia for 6 months a couple of years ago on Penang. Great food. Go to Lankawi or the east coast for some great beaches.
Read your blog for several years (actually started reading it in Malaysia). Love it but have no desire to fly commercially, would love to own an FBO though. Maybe I am living out my flying dreams (or nightmares) through your blog!!


Sam said...


You didn't read back very far, I'm guessing. My line for six weeks (Jan and first two weeks of feb) was nothing BUT Saskatoon CDOs. That's the only reason I needed a break. Well, that and the cold. Otherwise it's a lovely city.


Nicole Bullock said...

Taylor's cell phone plays "The Imperial March" when crew sched calls, and their name on the contact list is "Go to Hell."

Windsor said...

Must be nice to have Screw...excuse me, Crew schedulers that actually approve something. Since Dec. I've been about 0-30 in trying to swap and drop high speeds for 4 day trips. Everything is "Denied due to staffing". I wouldnt get too overly excited though. Those warm fuzzys you are feeling can quickly be replaced by one acars or phone call.

Windsor said...

side note.....wasnt " I hate everything about you" an Ugly Kid Joe song as well?

Aviatrix said...

Careful that a postcard from an exotic warm place doesn't come off as gloating.

When I worked up north (well, well north of Saskatoon: I would have killed for a Saskatoon trip) we used to bring the dispatchers food from the camps. A styrofoam box of roast beef, mashed potatoes and mixed veg would be gratefully received.

Dave said...

Malaysia is nice Sam! I have a friend who emigrated there recently, the cost of living is so low he can afford a maid and everything now. Lucky guy.

I hope you don't mind me asking but how did you get that BlogRoll to show? I've been trying for ages and have an account with them but I can't for the life of me get it onto my blog!

Another great post.


Tim Perkins said...

Sam: Just discovered your blog tonight and have enjoyed starting way back there and working my way up to the present. I really look forward to your future entries.

Tim Perkins
Rockwall, TX

Xaqman said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ryan said...


I have a question of the E-190 now that I have 25 hours in it. It pertains to the managed descents. There are so many ways to do it and was wondering what is used most on the line? VNAV, FPA, VS, FLCH? Please email me.



Traytable said...

How cool. I used to have the Death March (i think that's the name, the one the Addams Fmily have as a doorbell) and it would come up with "Weekend Ruiners" when Crewing called... heh...

antimatter33 said...

How does a self-respecting pilot stoop to using customized ringtones? That stuff is for the kind of girls I wouldn't date. In fact having a cellphone period is a demerit.