People frequently ask me "where do you fly out of?". The answer is "It's complicated".
Like most airline pilots, I commute to and from work. Which explains how I find myself sitting in the passenger terminal of the Richmond VA airport at 8:00 AM after putting in a full night of flying.
I'm trying to get home.
Don't feel sorry for me. My discomfort is self-inflicted. I'm trying to get home.
I don't have to be here right now. I could be sleeping in a hotel room instead. But I'm trying to get home.
Most people, for obvious reasons, live near where they work or at least within driving distance. Depending on your housing market, you may have a rather long commute. As the realtors say, keep driving until you can afford it.
My commute covers a bit more distance, sometimes thousands of miles. Those of you who are "road warriors" can relate. One great thing about an airline job is that I can live wherever I want. The company doesn't care just as long as I show up for my trip. I had better show up, however.
So how does this all work? It gets complicated. I have a pilot base that I'm assigned to. If I moved there, my life would be immensely simpler. One problem, it's in a deep red southern state that I have no interest in moving to. My wife took one look and said "no effing way". I am in complete agreement with her. Having made the decision to commute, I now have to constantly think about how to get myself to work and how to get home.
I'm trying to get home.
Most of our trips begin and end "in domicile", meaning the airport I'm based at. I have two main ways of getting to and from there: hitch a ride on one of our jets or on some other airline's jet. Given a choice I'll take our jet. I can park for free at the cargo airport (Rickenbacker) and I have priority for a jump-seat on our plane. It's as close to a sure thing as I can get. I'm with the freight and the freight's going to get there.
Delta or American, on the other hand, would gladly give me a free ride but they have to have a seat open and their own commuting pilots get priority. I've used other carriers to get home, but I'm not brave enough to rely on them to get me to work.
So on a normal week I get onto one of our Airbus 300s or MD-11s and ride to work with the chickens. The Airbus is the family station wagon of jump-seats. We can get two in the cockpit and six more back with the freight. Those seats face backwards, which feels odd at first, but you have all the leg room in the world. I'm asleep at gear-up and normally wake up somewhere on the descent. Never pass up an opportunity to sleep. You don't know when you'll get another chance.
Roughly half of our trips actually begin or end at some other airport. This last week my trip started and ended in Richmond. We call this kind of trip a "deadhead", no relation to Jerry Garcia. A deadhead just means the company will buy me an airline ticket to where my trip begins. Just like any other corporate traveler.
The cool thing is I can "deviate" from the plan and trade that ticket in on one from my hometown. That way I don't have to ride the jump-seat to the main base just to jump on an airliner to Richmond. I can go directly from Columbus instead. I have to pay any difference in ticket cost, mind you. If it comes out in my favor the excess goes into a "bank". The way the rules are written, I may save the company $1000 one month but if I go $10 over the next month I owe them ten bucks. I guess that's just the cost of doing business.
There's one other big catch. If I deviate (I guess that makes me a deviant) and something goes wrong, it's on me to fix it. I have taken the responsibility to get myself there. As Woody Allen said: eighty percent of life is just showing up.
Not being one to cut it close, I give myself plenty of time to get to Richmond. It's a two-hop through Charlotte on a certain US AIRline. One of their feeders actually. Good luck getting on "real" jet these days. At least it's an Embraer 175. I hate the Embraer 145 with a passion after being stuffed into one all the way from Miami to Columbus.
I wear my uniform which lets me breeze right through security. There are a few perks to this job. The one drawback to this is I have to be "Mr. Information" to anyone who's lost in the airport.
I get to Richmond on time. My checked bag is nowhere to found. Crap! And this was going so smoothly up until now. Turns out it didn't make it onto the plane in Charlotte. I give them the address of my hotel and press on. I have a change of clothes in my backpack so I'm good for a day. My bag makes it to the hotel six hours later. My laptop has been damaged, which of course their disclaimer says they're not responsible for. I'm not happy but at least my luggage and I are both where we need to be.
I celebrate with a drink at the hotel bar since I don't have to fly until the following night. I get to spend the evening listening to an older gentleman spin tales of being a retired Marine two-star general, cousin to the British royal family, consultant to the President, dealer of billion-dollar deals and upstanding member of Virginia high society. I guess I'm just a good listener. I can't help but notice that his status increases with each vodka martini. He makes a point of telling me that my rather ethnic last name would not be acceptable in Virginia high society. I'm about to tell him what he can do with Virginia high society when my wife calls my cell phone. I'm saved! I tip the bartender and beat a hasty retreat. Spend enough time on the road and you'll run into some weird shit.
I spend the week doing my usual fly-all-night and try to sleep in the day routine. Friday morning I fly the last leg to Richmond and land around 7:00 AM.
Since my trip is over, I'm on my own time. I can go to the hotel and sleep. I can get a flight home tonight or even the next day. But I'm trying to get home.
The Captain happens to live there, so he drops me off at the passenger terminal on his way home. He's managed to find the holy grail of commuting - a trip that starts and ends in your home town. I've only been that lucky on rare occasions.
I have several options for getting home, unfortunately none are a direct flight. That's the nature of the airlines today. Unless there's a major hub on at least one end of your trip, you're going to change planes somewhere.
I'm lucky enough to have several options to choose from. I can connect through: Dulles (maybe), Charlotte (last time wasn't so great), LaGuardia (nuh uh), Newark (no way), Chicago (maybe but I don't like the weather forecast), Atlanta (maybe) or Philadelphia.
I pick Philly because it has the right combination of departure time, price and weather forecast.
There are a couple advantages to taking an early flight. One is, I can get there hopefully before the afternoon thunderstorms start to build. The second is, I have a better chance of getting there on time. As the day goes on, delays will start to snowball through their system.
The first leg is on a DeHavilland Dash 8. Not my aircraft of choice but the weather is good so I know I won't be punching thunderstorms in the knees at 15,000' on my way to Philly. I forget just how small these things are. I think I carried missiles bigger than this thing on my B-52. I get a seat with nobody next to me - bonus! The seats don't recline, but that just means I don't have some selfish jerk putting their head in my lap. I call that a win. I inflate my little camping pillow, put my earplugs in and settle back. Even with earplugs the props are noisy but I manage a short catnap as the mighty Dash 8 makes its way to Philly. A freight dog can sleep anytime anywhere.
I'm getting home.
Philadelphia is not my favorite airport. It's not my least favorite by a long shot, but it could still use some improvement. For one thing, you have to ride a shuttle bus between terminals. Fortunately they have a very assertive gate agent there to herd everybody onto the correct bus.
I have just enough time to grab a quick lunch and catch the next flight. If my wife ever asks me to take her someplace expensive to eat I'll take her to airport and get her a sandwich. A ham sandwich and a bottle of water costs me ten-something even with my discount. I eat half of it (still watching my weight). I finish up just as they call for boarding. Couldn't have timed it better if I'd tried.
At least the leg to Columbus is an EMB 175. They even give me a seat in the first class section. I almost forgive them for the whole laptop episode. I'm asleep at gear-up and wake up halfway to Columbus. Tallying up my various naps I figure maybe 3 hours of sleep in the last 24. Enough to get me home. I hear they use sleep deprivation to torture people. Ha!
Standing by the baggage carousel at Port Columbus, my bag is noticeably absent. Once is a glitch but twice is a trend. Twice in one week is something else. I'm fluent in three languages: English, sarcasm and profanity. Somebody is about to get a taste of at least two. Turns out they had my bag, they'd just sent it to the wrong baggage carousel. At least they hit the right airport this time.
The very nice airline representative tells me that they let most of their experienced baggage handlers go and started using subcontractors. And there you have Corporate America in a nutshell. Can't have people that actually know what they're doing because we'd have to pay them.
I check for damage. There's a nice note from the TSA in there. The jokes on them. I had a weeks worth of dirty laundry in there, right on top. Might as well make 'em work for it. Note that my bag gets searched far more often than a truly random sample would suggest.
At least I'm almost home.
I catch a cab for the 20-minute ride to the house. The driver is a very polite guy from Ethiopia of all places. I check my wallet, two singles and a ten. I tip him the ten. Maybe he can get a sandwich at the airport.
I walk through the front door and the cat gives me the "oh, it's just you" look. I'm home.