“Change happenz” is an advertising slogan for an insurance company’s TV ads. I’ve had quite a bit of this recently myself on this five day stretch of flying.
Two different winter storms and sick calls of other pilots produced a re-route and large delays for me. I’ve been in more hotels than nights I’ve been gone, I’ll explain in a bit. The first night I was re-routed to Nashville instead of Detroit, and was scheduled to catch up to my original Co-Pilot and Flight Attendant the next day in Philadelphia.
Day two: The ‘city of brotherly love’ greeted us with light winds from the east, ragged clouds, and a constant cold and pelting rain. At least it wasn’t moderate to heavy snow they had north of us in PA and NY State, and NYC. The east wind and wet runways guaranteed big delays when flying to Philly, because of the runway configuration and stopping capability on a wet surface.
I then had a scheduled 5.5 hour break until reuniting with my original crew and the last two legs of PHL-BNA-DCA. So the company kindly put me in up in the Holiday Inn PHL Airport hotel. Actually our pilot union contract requires this if we have a break of more than 4.5 hours, a nice feature.
I had planned to call in sick for the last three days of this trip, so I could attend Marissa and Maren’s Church Christmas program. But instead, after the interesting coincidence of running into my Domicile Manager the first two days, I decided that I had to let him know about it, and request to have it dropped instead. I talked to him when I saw him as I was walking out of the airport to go the PHL hotel. My conscience was obviously speaking to me, and he promised to do all he could to influence crew scheduling to drop it for me, short of junior manning other pilots to have it covered. With all the changes and cancellations, the reserve pilots were being used, and the drop wasn’t approved, even after I requested it a second time. My conscience is clear (and that’s a great thing), but I missed my lovely wife and daughters dearly. It was very cold and windy, post-blizzard on Sunday night at home, but they bundled up and Shannon says it was a great show. I’ll see video of it soon, I hope.
Each time our airplane got more delayed, I delayed my hotel van, which ran every 20 minutes. The plane finally arrived at about 7 PM, as I was waiting by the gate, watching the cascade of red ‘cancelled’ notices on the monitor, and harried travelers fret about. I had notified Dispatch and Crew Scheduling of a potentially crippling problem, my legal duty day limit, but they were putting out too many other fires to make a decision. I had started the day in Nashville at 6:50 AM, and I’m limited to 16 hours actually on duty. Even though I went to a hotel, I was still on duty, and I would turn into a pumpkin if we didn’t park the plane in DC by 11:50 PM eastern time. Quick calculations of our standard times to BNA, our turn time, and BNA-DCA time meant we had to push back by 7:30 PM in PHL at the latest to make it work. Dispatch said ‘GO’ however, so we boarded up about 3 hours late and went into a strong headwind, leaving 20 minutes later than we could have to make DCA on time.
Descending into BNA, Dispatch ‘emailed’ us over our ACARS box (a magic box we communicate with operations with, get airport info with, and takeoff and landing data with) that we were done in BNA. We parked the plane at 10:12 PM. With a standard 25 min turn, and an estimated 1:22 total flight with a tailwind, that would put us in at DCA at 11:59 AM, 9 min late. It was a good decision to cancel the flight, actually a no brainer.
Day three: The next morning we re-positioned (ferry flight) at 7:30 BNA time, without passengers back to DCA. I had originally been scheduled to be in PWM (Portland, ME) this third night. We had another day room to wait on the airplane and our schedule to come back to us. We did a MHT (Manchester, NH) turn, on time actually, in light snow, got de-iced, and high tailed it back to DCA to overnight there. We couldn’t overnight in PWM because getting up early in BNA made it too long of a duty day for us; our contract permits us to be scheduled for only 12 hours if we show as early as 6 AM. I had a pretty good sleep debt going by now, and had a good rest in ‘old town’ Alexandria, VA.
Day four: We were supposed to deadhead to NYC where we were informed by the departure monitor that our round trip to ILM (Wilmington, NC) and back was cancelled. After another day room in Chinatown (Flushing, NY, next to Queens) and more delays, finally we took a van back to LGA at 9:30 PM. We pushed back for BWI (Baltimore, MD) left at 10:50 PM, 1:20 late.
Then we went to the wrong hotel! I called them and they picked us up, the number was right on the trip sheet I printed out two days ago. But our company had changed the hotel, and hadn’t changed it on our schedules yet. I guess the desk clerk didn’t know it either, she didn’t call me back! My company sent an email notice on October 29th, but I hadn’t double checked the hotel changes verses my overnights. Fortunately, the new hotel was close and the driver picked us up quickly. My bad on that one. I’m good, but I’m not perfect.
By this time I felt like I was living out the REO Speedwagon song ‘Roll with the changes’. Changes can be difficult to deal with, and these were no exception, but every single day?
As we checked to the new hotel at 12:50 AM (whew), the Crew scheduling gal was kind enough to consider the extra time it took to get to the correct hotel as time on duty. That meant we could still show on time on the fifth morning in BWI, but we received what they call a reduced rest, less than 9 hours. It required that we be completely done the fifth night by 12:50 AM, in order to start ‘comp rest’ (compensatory).
Day five: We were scheduled to show the next day at 9:30 AM and be done by 8:45 PM, no problem, right? Wrong. Delays at BWI, first for the airplane to come late from LGA (New York), then an ATC delay to go back to LGA. Cold gusty winds on a partially frozen ramp the poor passengers had to walk across slowed down the ramp agents as well. We turned the plane in 50 minutes. The next stop was RDU (Raleigh-Durham, NC), where the FA (a cool black guy named Phil) and I enjoyed Popeye’s spicy fired chicken together and pondered whether CS (Crew Scheduling) would drop the last two flights (DCA-Providence-DCA). You see, at RDU we were scheduled to swap aircraft, only the ‘swap’ was in Indianapolis, and had to go through DCA before heading down to RDU. We were delayed again, predicted to leave RDU at 6 PM, 1:10 late.
This time when I called CS about our predicament, she seemed concerned. I was to call them back once we got to DC. If we left RDU anytime after 8 PM, there was a real chance we couldn’t do the PVD (Providence) round trip back to DCA, finishing by the required 12:50 AM time. The plane, a –APU model (APU didn’t work – it’s a extra engine in the tail which provides electricity, starting power, and air conditioning), finally arrived at about 7:30 PM. I had already called CS back, and we were released once we arrived at DC. My FO (First Officer) and I only, that is. FA’s don’t have the same duty and rest rules that pilots do, unfortunately. Phil had to gut it out two more legs, I apologized to him for it, although there wasn’t much I could do. I pleaded his case to CS, to no avail.
The trip was finally over for us in DC, two other reserve pilots were scheduled to do the PVD turn for us. My error in BWI with the hotel got me out of some work, which I didn’t mind at all. We were all pretty tired. I can’t remember a trip in which I had so many changes, delays, and cancellations, on virtually every day. I was off to the crashpad, walking while my cheeks got rosy, thinking about all the changes we endured.
This time of year we remember and honor the birth of Jesus Christ, if you celebrate the true meaning of Christmas, that is. Mary and Joseph, central to the story of Jesus’ birth, endured and tolerated many changes as well.
Angels came to them in person and in dreams, and told them things would occur which drastically changed their plans for the future. It seems Mary and Joseph, engaged to be married, planned on having a normal life together, raising a family. Change happened for them, in a way completely unanticipated. In response, they believed God, and were obedient to his commands. The scriptures make it all seem easy, but if you put yourself in either’s position, it definitely and entirely wasn’t.
Not to diminish Mary’s role, but let’s talk about Joseph. From Matthew 1:18-25: First, Mary, a wonderful woman he is engaged to, turns up pregnant. He could’ve divorced Mary, could’ve had her stoned if he wanted to. The locals no doubt explained it all away by saying that they obviously slept together, or at least Mary had slept with someone. But Joseph was an honorable man, ‘a good man’ with an established Jewish legacy. He was a descendant of David. Why did he pay the price of humiliation and a tarnished reputation for the rest of his life, no doubt? It had to be because he believed the dream he had of a visit from the Angel of the Lord. It must’ve been a vivid dream! Joseph followed the Angel’s instruction, and took Mary as his wife.
These words repeat in my head today, from Third Day’s song ‘Born in Bethlehem’: “Hallelujah, the King is here, given for all men, for today the Holy Son of God is born in Bethlehem”.
You see, Micah had prophesied in his book Micah (ho ho ho), chapter 5, then recounted in Matthew 2, that the Messiah was to be born in Bethlehem, ‘The Town of David’. But Joseph and Mary lived in Nazareth. God made historical circumstance work in conjunction with his sovereign plan. In Luke 2, the Roman Emperor Augustus decreed that a census should be taken throughout the empire. Rome needed more tax revenue to pay for all their empire building. It sounds odd in modern times, but everyone had to travel to their own ancestral town to register for the census. Being a descendant of King David, Joseph had to travel to Bethlehem, David’s ancient home. As a man and leader of his household, he didn’t have to take Mary with him, but he did. Why?
Well, she was not only pregnant, but with a child of questionable and scandalous origin. If he had left her alone in Bethlehem, she would be unprotected from the accusation and condemnation from their community. They were in this together. From Nazareth to Bethlehem it is 70 miles, a long journey. The recent film ‘The Nativity’ (definitely worth seeing) depicts it as a very arduous one. But Joseph and Mary were undaunted. In the words of the ‘Blues Brothers’, they were “on a mission from God”. Do you think they had the prophecy in mind when they set out to Bethlehem? Scripture doesn’t say, but I tend to think they didn’t. They probably didn’t know this one of many, many prophecies concerning the Messiah.
If the Angel hadn’t visited Joseph, there is just no way he would’ve believed Mary’s story. If Mary had wedded Joseph before becoming pregnant, perhaps Joseph wouldn’t have taken her to Bethlehem; he probably could’ve made the journey there and back in time for the baby’s birth. Finally, if Augustus hadn’t made a decree for the census, Joseph wouldn’t have gone to Bethlehem in the first place. It is truly amazing how God works, isn’t it?
The biggest change ever arrived on the first Christmas. Jesus, who always co-existed with God and the Holy Spirit from the beginning, now came to our world as a helpless baby, as one of us. He changed history and the human race forever.
Happy Birthday Jesus! Merry Christmas everyone!