Ever wonder how your overnight package gets there overnight? Chances are, I flew it there. Well, myself and a whole host of people worked to get it there.
Night freight is the less glamorous side of the airlines. Not that the passenger airlines are all that glamorous these days, but the freight world never was. The passenger pilots call us "freight dogs". We wear the name proudly.
Here's a look into how we get that blender you bought off of Amazon.com to your door.
I fly the 757. A big plane by passenger standards. You might fly on one from LA to Honolulu. In the freight world it's considered small. We use it to serve smaller cities in the US and Canada. If your city has "Great", "Grand", "Falls" or "Rapids" in its name, there's a good chance we go there.
You won't normally see us at the passenger terminal. We're usually tucked away in some obscure corner of the airport.
Sometime between 7-9 PM (that's the "overnight" part) a van picks us up at the hotel and brings us to the freight terminal. We show up about an hour before push-back, check the weather, fuel, maintenance logs and then head out to the plane.
It looks just like the passenger version except there's a cargo door on the side and a big empty space in the back. No galley, no coffeemaker, all that's been stripped out to save weight. We get a thermos of coffee and maybe a box lunch if it's a long flight.
While the freight is being loaded we run through our preflight checks.
One of my jobs is to go back and check on all the hazardous materials that aren't allowed to be shipped in the cargo hold of a passenger jet (that should make you happy the next time you fly). I don't take that part lightly - a cargo fire is your worst nightmare. You have maybe 20 minutes to land before the fire burns through something important - like the wings.
Once the freight is loaded we close up the jet and go. Getting there on time is important. We're not in the business of giving people their money back.
We fly to our main hub, possibly making one or even two stops along the way to pick up more freight. Kind of like a pit stop in racing. Get in and out as fast as you can.
Now, every other flight is converging on the main hub around the same time we are so the last 30 minutes can get pretty busy as they try to work everyone in. Throw in some weather and it can get pretty messy.
We arrive at the hub sometime between 11:00 PM and 1:00 AM. Now we have a little time while the freight goes through the "sort". If you're lucky you might find an empty recliner to nap in for a bit.
Around 2:00 AM (hey, this is overnight delivery here) we show for our outbound trip. Same drill as before except now everyone is trying to launch at the same time. This is the tough part. Your body really doesn't want to be awake at 3:00 AM. Statistics show you're at your worst and most likely to have a mishap.
Off we go, if you're headed to the East Coast you can enjoy the sun in your eyes sometime before you get there.
7:00 AM, I'm tired. Fighting to keep my eyes open tired. Flying on bad coffee and muscle-memory tired. The other guy doesn't look so hot either. But we're not done yet. We still have to land. Maybe there are high crosswinds, maybe the visibility is down to 1/4 mile (or less), maybe there's snow, or ice, or rain showers. Doesn't matter. As long as it's legal and we think it's safe we have to do it. That's what we're here for.
Get it on the ground, the ramp crew is already unloading the freight and putting it in the trucks as we go down the crew stairs (no jetways for us). Hopefully the van is waiting to take us to the hotel. In 14 hours or so we'll be doing it again.
Hope you enjoy your blender. I did my best to get it to you when you wanted it.