Monday, June 12, 2006

Commuters lament

When airline people mention "commuting," it does not mean the same thing that it does to an office worker. Airline employees -- especially pilots and flight attendants -- often live a great distance away from their base, and they "commute" by hopping a ride on a plane.

They can do this because they can fly for little or no cost, and because they often can arrange their schedules so that they have enough time off between trips to travel these long distances.

Why they do it varies, but most often it seems that they do it so as not to uproot their partners and families when transferred to a different base. Or, the cost of living near their base is very high, so they choose to live somewhere less expensive.

If you are a commuter -- or thinking about becoming a commuter -- there's an article about this topic in the Seattle Times (reprinted from the New York Times) that you might like to have a look at. It talks about a growing problem for airline commuters: fewer flights, and fuller flights.

Read the article, and see if any of this sounds familiar: Increasingly full planes hit airline crews close to home - Seattle Times

Friday, June 09, 2006

How long is your duty day?

The Toronto Star has published on its website,, an interesting story about how aircrew duty hours sometimes get stretched, and stretched and stretched....

The story relates a succession of exchanges between the crew of an Air Canada flight, and the company. The flight, an A340 carrying 261 souls, was on a scheduled run between Delhi and Toronto, and was late pushing back from the gate.

Here is an excerpt of what transpired:
While waiting on the ground for instructions to leave the gate, the pilots informed Air Canada dispatch that they might have to land before reaching Toronto.

Instead of a 16-hour scheduled flight, the ground delay meant pilots were looking at a duty day of more than 20 hours --— a breach of regulations. "We may be landing short due to crew duty day requirements," the crew wrote in a text communication to airline dispatch in Canada, obtained by the Star. "Or (would you) like us to stay here (in Delhi)?"

Word came back two minutes later: "Press on." Later, while still waiting to take off, the crew messaged dispatch that the plane's flight attendants "will only go 18 hour duty day."

Instructions came back that if flight service attendants agreed to return to Toronto, they would get bonus pay. After takeoff, the pilots responded: "Flight service is not going to (Toronto). (Canadian air regulations) do not, I say not, in any case allow us to go (to Toronto)."

It was too late to make that decision, the pilots were informed by their managers.

"The flight attendants are legal to go to (Toronto) and that is the bottom line. We interpret their contract and they pushed off from gate. That's it. They are coming to (Toronto). ... We will deal with them when they arrive in (Toronto)."

At one point, the clearly frustrated captain sent a message saying he was "weary" of playing labour negotiator with managers. "We are going to (Halifax). I will not deal with (flight) service crew (schedule) any more. ... This ass---- in (crew scheduling) just told me (flight attendants) do not control the airplane, I do. (Please) instruct Mr. (flight crew scheduling manager) to not contact this aircraft again. We are entering Afghan (airspace). Very busy."

There were financial pressures at work, a follow-up message from Canada said. Dispatch pointed out that regional flights "will have to be cancelled in order to get a crew to (Halifax)" if the pilots choose to land there.

The flight crew asked dispatch to contact Air Canada's on-duty pilot for a ruling to ensure Canadian duty time regulations were not being broken.

Dispatch responded with that confirmation, stating the crew's duty day is scheduled for 18 hours and 33 minutes "which is within (air regulations)."

Not so, the pilots responded. "Simple arithmetic shows (that calculation) to be in error." But, with firm instructions coming from managers, the captain agreed to push on.
After the flight, one of the pilots filed a complaint with the airline, citing violation of duty day regulations.

Read the whole article here: Heated exchanges with ground reveal cockpit frustrations -