Wednesday, January 2, 2019

New Year's at 27,000 Feet

If you're a follower on Facebook, you may know the story of the New Year's Eve had by The Missus Herself and Your Humble Scribe.

We headed to Reagan National, arriving at about 1300 Eastern Standard Time to catch a 1500 flight (AA 5036) to PVD (the airport, not the eye condition).

Long story short, we arrived back at our abode in Little Rhody around 0200, New Year's Day.

A friend of mine described Gate 35X at Reagan National as "America's least favorite gate" and the Bombardier CRJ-200 as "America's least favorite jet." All that really means is that Gate 35X is where all the regional flights start and end out of Reagan. It's the puddle jumper area of the airport, the CRJ-200 is the puddle jumper.

Now I don't feel that way, if you've ever flown out of Fresno, there is a gate there which is somewhat famous for never, ever, having a flight leave on time. It's almost as if it were in California.

Oh wait, it is.

At any rate, there comes a time when a thing which has always worked perfectly in the past has a moment when almost nothing seems to go right.

So it was to be on New Year's Eve of 2018.

Boarding was delayed, eventually we got on a bus to ride out to the aircraft. Yes, a bus. For the magic of Gate 35X is that it is where one catches a bus to get to an aircraft. No jetway, no stroll down a long telescoping corridor to board a plane. Nope, you ride the bus to the jet, then walk across the tarmac to climb a Rube Goldberg looking contraption to get on the aircraft.

Which we did.

We taxied out, sat for an unconscionable length of time, a long enough time period that I suspected aircraft system problems, not waiting for our turn to take off problems.

Bingo. I got bingo...

The pilot described it as a "maintenance issue" which would "not reset." In maintainer terms, a circuit breaker kept popping. Reset it and it would pop again. A sure indication of electrical problems with which one should not take the jet up into the wild blue yonder.

So we did not.

So back to the terminal we went, back to Gate 35X. Yay us.

After a rather breathless wait (about an hour), maintenance said, "We fixed it, you're good to go."

So we repeated the evolution. Guess what?

Yup, circuit breaker did it again. When the pilot came on over the intercom he sounded pissed off. As we disembarked to go back to Gate 35X the pilot was standing in the cockpit entrance. As I passed him, I remarked, "Maybe it's time to break out the wiring diagrams."

He shook his head and said, "Yup, somebody needs to do just that."

Computers have turned aircraft maintainers into box pullers. Swap the box, try again. But sometimes it's the wires between the boxes. Or two boxes contributing to a problem which makes the diagnostic computer scratch its head (metaphorically of course) then tell itself, "Pick one, ya got a fifty-fifty shot."

This time, the computer picked wrong and back to the terminal we went. Hello Gate 35X, my old friend.

Where we waited.

Now this is actually a tale of two flights to Providence: AA 5036, the 1500 flight, and AA 5557, the 1350 flight. AA 5557 actually broke first (not a pilot scheduling problem, not a crew rest problem, something actually broke on the jet) and a lot of people on that flight switched to AA 5036. Which, if you've been paying attention, we boarded and taxied out to the runway upon twice. Yup, twice.

Now the magical American Airlines notification system was keeping me apace of the developments with AA 5036. They kept changing the departure time, but always to something implausible, like ten minutes from now (not possible, the bus ride takes that long) or ten minutes in the past. (Which I also consider not possible as if American Airlines have invented a time machine, they could go into the past and fix the jet before it broke, or something.)

Anyhoo, I do believe that particular notification application needs a little work. The algorithm is, ya know, faulty. As in crap, as in "if anything goes wrong, make something up, anything." (At this point I'll make a snide remark about "self driving cars" and the absolute insanity of thinking that might actually happen anytime soon. Software is hard. DAMHIK)

So where were we? Ah yes, back in the terminal (at Gate 35X). As I'm pondering the mysteries of air travel and posting of our adventures on Facebook, my phone chimes. "Hhmm, a text message..."

"Oh bother," says I. The flight, she is cancelled. AA 5036 is no more, it's an ex-flight to Providence and if American Airlines hadn't nailed it to the perch it would be pushing up the daisies, it would have rung down the curtain and joined the choir invisible, it would...

But I digress.

Up to the counter I went and asked the nice lady, "Now what?"

"I can transfer you to the earlier flight, well, what was supposed to be the earlier flight, flight AA 5557."

Looking first one way, and then the other, I asked, "Seriously? You still have hopes for that one?"

"Well, yes. It's broken but maintenance says they can fix it. Not fast, but today."

"Well, I'm game, let's do it."

So I did. And we waited...

And waited...

People were leaving, going to go get a hotel room (on New Year's Eve mind you), or making other arrangements. One lady tried to talk a few people into catching the train to Providence at about $240 per ticket. No takers, but she left, to do just that, catch a train.

Eventually we were down to fifteen people. Fifteen diehards who were determined to get to Providence by air that very night. It was us versus the airline. They were hoping we'd all leave, we were calling their bluff. "Maintenance says they can fix it, we believe them."

And we waited.

One of my fellow passengers remarked to me, "I talked to a gate agent, he said that there is only a 20% chance of the flight going out tonight."

To which I replied, "A gate agent. Not an aircraft maintainer. And what is this alleged 'expert' basing this on? Their talent in making garbled announcements over the PA system."

The fellow chuckled and nodded, seeing my point.

Eventually though, the maintainers came through (which swelled this old maintainer's heart with pride) and we boarded the bus. To the jet we went and we taxied.

We stopped. All awaited with bated breath for the aircraft to continue with no discouraging announcements from the pilot. I do believe that we willed that aircraft to move and to then lift into the air once upon the runway. Which it did.

We flew through a cloud-shrouded, rainy, blustery night. We lost sight of the ground soon after take off and didn't regain sight of old Mother Earth until we broke out of a very low ceiling on the approach to Providence. A sigh of relief was heard as the jet touched down and we taxied into PVD (the airport, not the eye condition).

So The Missus Herself and Your Humble Scribe greeted the year 2019 at 27,000 feet, somewhere over New Jersey I think.

Now I could take that as a bad omen, or I could take it as a prime example of "Shit happens." I tend to go with the latter. At any rate, I wish you all a most prosperous, and happy, New Year.

Totally off topic (hey, I let you do it, so I can do it too) here's a song I heard on the radio whilst vacationing down in Maryland. Yes, Maryland, only one day in Virginia, which surprised me, that wasn't in the plan. But no plan survives contact with real life. You can take that to the bank. The only reason to have a plan is so you don't appear clueless, or unprepared. But yes, I digress. I really like this tune, hadn't heard it in a very long time.

Hey, it was the '80s. I loved the '80s.


  1. Did they fix the problem, or just tell it to get off the wing?

    1. They fixed it, and they had to eventually sedate Bill Shatner. Out of control he was.

  2. Geeez.... an aerial version of a three hour tour, a three hour tour.......not everybody sees the New Year at 27,000 feet, at leat you're back on terra firma. Happy New Year Sarge and kin.

    1. Thanks Nylon12!

      Happy New Year to you and yours as well.

  3. I was thinking of the standard 20 minutes the maître d’ will say at a restaurant when you ask how long. I’ll bet you are fit to be tied by the time it actually left

    1. I actually remained rather patient throughout the ordeal.

      One of my fellow passengers was an 85-year old guy, very patient he was. As he told us, having a son become a quadriplegic due to an auto accident and persevere to remake his life, the guy said it really put things in perspective.

      It certainly does. I was in the continental United States, still on vacation until the 7th and no one was shooting at me.

      So yes, I remained relatively stoic throughout. A George Harrison song kept running through my mind. Which also helped.

  4. Glad you made it back without walking. THAT would suck. I really don't like being stuck in an airport terminal.

    I went to San Diego on SWA back in '91 for training. We stopped, they rolled up stairs!! Walked the length of the terminal to get to the shuttle (at least it felt like it). I thought that was a bit strange... Went to San Diego for work in 2002, SWA, same gate, same stairs, same walk.... It was like a time warp. The terminal hadn't changed, and still smelled the same.

    Flying to FMN (Farmington, NM) via DEN you walk to the end of the terminal, then when they call your flight, you walk out the door, across the tarmac, into the waiting (3 seats across) prop plane. Think first grade, lining up to go to the library. They even had minders to keep us from wandering into..... nothing. THAT was a cold trip, especially in the plane.

    Merry New Year!!

    1. Most of the airport here in Sandog has been transformed, but remnants of that 60's era architecture remains. Terminal 1 will take you back in time.

    2. STxAR - Your description of the aeroporto in Sandy Eggo didn't jive with my memories of the place, admittedly those were only over the last five years.

      Once flew from Naha, Okinawa, via Tokyo and Boston, to board a puddle jumper (four seats, twin engine little bird) to fly to Keene, NH. As I was in my blue uniform, the pilot kindly asked me to sit up front with him. "It's because I know to not touch anything, right?"

      "You're the perfect copilot." he said with a smile.

      Great flight, at night, autopilot set to clear the highest terrain en route by at least 500 feet. It was awesome.

    3. Tuna - So avoid Terminal 1?


    4. Well, you won't arrive late!

  5. And I’ll bet they didn’t offer free champagne with which to celebrate the New Year.

    1. Actually they did offer free drinks. But as they were originally scheduled to be on the ground well before midnight (insert sardonic chuckle here), there was no champagne on board. The Missus Herself actually asked.


  6. Personally, I am willing to wait very patiently to get on a plane that was broken before it takes off. I certainly don't want it breaking at 27,000 feet over Jersey!!! Give the maintainer dudes time to read the wiring diagrams! But man, getting home at 0200 is a drag! Even if you are eagerly awaiting getting home...
    Here is hoping you were able to sleep in today and didn't have to leap outta bed, and run off to work.
    Happy New Year to you and The Missus!!

    PS: PVD also stands for peripheral vascular disease. It's a circulation thing, seen frequently in lower legs with lousy blood flow. Hmmm, wonder if that was the airplane's electrons circulating to the important extremity from the pump...

    1. Ah, PVD, the acronym which keeps on giving... (Any relation to DVT?)

      Having "been there, done that" with important types breathing down my neck, I felt for the maintenance guys. Given the right tools and parts, they can fix anything. I have a great deal of respect for the guys and gals who "keep 'em flying." It's a tough job and most of them do it very well.

  7. Your description of Gate 35x reminds me flying SFO to Redding, which, currently, is the only way to fly to Redding unless you’ve your own aircraft.
    The situation has improved in recent years.
    It is still not great. Many folks opt to drive to Sacramento, Reno, or Medford, OR because flights are regularly delayed, causing misse connections.

    1. It's why LUSH and her family drive to San Francisco the night before and fly out of SFO. Fresno is a pretty airport, but it's also pretty small. Best guarantee of getting anywhere is SFO for them.

  8. Not the best way to ring in your feliz año nuevo, but I'm sure the cats are glad you're home. I thought it was an interesting coincidence in that the song I posted a video to yesterday is "The Arrival of the Birds" which was published about the same time as you were landing! I don't travel often, maybe 4 or 5 times a year and most of those are to places that use little CRJs or Embraers- oft cancelled, delayed, broken, etc. You're not alone. Wonder if they just aren't given the same maintenance reviews. Scary to think if I'm right. Weather is probably more often the cause of delays though.

    1. Yup, WX is the worst enemy of travel plans. Been delayed, rerouted, and outright cancelled many times by that. Been cancelled once by maintenance (C-130 from Kadena to Kunsan when I PCSed to Korea, made it out the next day) and delayed once by maintenance, Monday last.

      Very apropos on that tune BTW.

    2. So here's my WX adventure. Some of the names and places may have been changed--not that I give a rip about the innocent--I just don't remember.

      This took place sometime back in the late 90's. Without doing some digging, I'm not sure which year. I was invited to go deer hunting with my Uncle and cousin on our ancestral stomping grounds in west Texas. At that time we lived in Chico, CA and had line of sight from our house to the airport. United Express served the airport then with these--

      Being a bit more flush than usual, I decided to pay the extra to depart and return to Chico by air. The outbound trip went fine. United Express to Reno, stopping in Sacramento, then linked up with my Uncle and cousin for jet travel to DFW, then turbo prop to Midland-Odessa. Hunting was great. The return trip, not so much.

      I got to Reno OK. I don't remember if United Express was delayed, but I do remember there were fog/low cloud issues in the Central Valley, and at that time, Sacramento was clear, but not Chico. So I called my wife before we took off and told her the good news that she would have to drive to Sacramento a pick me up (90 mile drive one way). So, she loaded up the kids and headed down the road. It is now about 8:00 pm. We depart Reno.

      It is my understanding that the Jetstream 31 does not play well with WX. Others here are far more knowledgeable on this topic than I am, so feel free to jump in here.

      On the way over the Sierra, the pilot announces that conditions have deteriorated at Sacramento, and we have been diverted to San Francisco. We land in SF, and as we taxi, I can see the main terminal waaay over there. We come to a stop and deplane at what looks like an over sized bus stop. In the dark, I think I hear waves gently lapping the shore, but maybe that was my imagination.

      I go inside and pick up the courtesy phone, and have the airline page my wife to a white courtesy phone is Sacratomato. It works! She being the quicker mind of the two of us, has already checked the arrival board and knows where I am. I inform her that I am stuck pending further WX developments. We both decide to sit tight. An hour or so goes by, then we get word that Chico has cleared, and we will depart soon. I call my wife again and give her the news. She loads up a heads back up the road to Chico.

      The flight to Chico is uneventful. Myself and one other get off the plane. Baggage claim is pretty simple. I seem to be missing a bag, so I flag down an attendant. She politely asks what it looks like. I reply that it's the long green hard case with the rifle in it. That gets her attention. She hustles out to the plane, pops the baggage compartment, and digs it out.

      Fifteen minutes later, my family pulls in. It is now about 1:00 am.

    3. Truly an epic tale.

      Well told!

  9. Hello Gate 35X. Think every airport has one. In the past often flew from Bemidji, MN to Denver via Minneapolis. The commuter gate is at the NE side of the terminal. The real airline gate is at the SW corner. Just to make it sporting, you got 30 minutes to make it from one gate to the other. But, compared to Atlanta, a easy stroll in the park.

    1. Oh yes, love the one end of the terminal to the other sprints. Always fun...

  10. Happy to read that you are home safely. May the rest of the year go better that the first day of this year.

    Thanks for the post.
    Paul L. Quandt

  11. Just showed my wife the opening photo to this post. She said " It looks like D.C.". Then I scrolled down and let her see the beginning of the post and gave her a summery of it, i.e.: you got on an aircraft, you got off the aircraft, ygonaa, ygota, repeat, repeat. She replied: " Been there, done that, got the t-shirt, and wore it out. "

    Why yes, she is a frequent flyer, and will be off on another transcontinental flight this Sunday.

    Which will leave me unsupervised for several weeks; so who knows what mischief I shall get up to.


  12. Here's a similar story from a different perspective. All anyone wants to do is fly somewhere and land safe - simple.
    Glad you're home safe and sound. The New Year has begun, work rears its ugly head or retirement demands understanding.

    1. As I read that, I had a sense of déjà vu. Not really a "been there, done that" kind of thing, which I had sort of (lost an engine on a lightly loaded C-130 Kadena to Kunsan, the bird didn't even notice, though the amount of emergency equipment along the runway when we landed was kind of impressive).

      No, the déjà vu was that I'd read that post before, I even commented on it! Still and all, what tale of aviation doesn't get better with each re-telling? A great story Dave!

  13. Glad you made it home safe and sound. Been cancelled a lot by maintenance especially my first operational assignment during the last year of the second worst President ever. No money, no parts, no flying time. Airlines have to walk a fine line, no fares. Taking a broken airplane and disaster, no airline. So generally, they're going to handle it exactly like that. Keeping people in place for when the jet actually gets fixed. Sounds like you handled it better than I would have.
    As I said, glad you're home from the trip. May your New Year continue to improve.

    1. As I get older I have become more patient.

      Besides which, The Missus Herself gave me "the look" when we started back to the terminal (the first time) and I commented, "This sucks." Which it did, but she didn't want to hear it.

      Yes, more patient. That's me.

    2. Yes...The wives are excellent at keeping the male emotions under check...aren't they?

      (That is not a complaint, merely an appreciation.)

  14. Sounds as if y'all need some Southerners fixing aircraft up there. It's like nobody ever heard of duct-taping the damned breaker down.
    No, as a matter of fact, I don't work in avionics anymore. Why do you ask?
    --Tennessee Budd

    1. Hahaha!

      One of the passengers actually got a look from a pilot when she asked aloud, "What? Is American Airlines out of duct tape?"

      Not a nice look I might add. Me? I laughed, hard.

  15. you just spent one day...of my life of 20yrs. re-setting CB's anything, not to go back to the gate.... no a "puddle jumper" is a turbo prop
    nowadays a DHC8 or ATR....good Ol PVD miss that place....also did some very sketch Charters into Marthas Vineyard Middle of May getting into there was no finding a carrier in a puddle jumper...

    1. 20 years of that? At the very least, I hope the pay was good!


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