Updated: Jun 22, 2020
This post was originally posted on my blog on 11/11/15 when I flew the CRJ.
I know I have talked about aviation as such an amazing career (because it is ) but I would be lying if I said it was 'flowers and bunnies' all of the time, 24/7. Sometimes being an airline pilot and having somebody else telling me what to do can be a challenge.
If you follow me on Facebook or Instagram, you know I got awarded with a lot of Juneau flying this month. Of course I didn't bid for it, but I also didn't bid avoid it either; which every pilot above me must have done since I got 7 Juneau trips (out of my 9 total trips). For the most part, the Juneau trips are actually amazing, as far as trips go. Three of them are one flight to Juneau in the evening, enjoy a 10 hour layover at the hotel, and then fly back to Seattle in the morning and get paid 8:24 hours to do it. That's as good as it gets in my book! I also have two Juneau trips that have one Portland turn after returning to Seattle and two that have TWO portland turns after returning to Seattle (which is A LOT of work in a jet in my opinion). But as a whole, these Juneau trips are pretty good... when the weather is decent there, as shown in the photo below.
This past Friday night I met with the captain before the flight, we looked at the weather, knew it was decent enough to get in that night, and decided to accept the flight to Juneau. We did, however, notice that the weather for the next morning didn't look good enough for us to get out of the airport. We brought this to the attention of the company but they said to try it anyways, even though if we got stuck there we wouldn't be able to complete our two Portland turns the next day.
The flight up there was uneventful. Juneau is a tricky airport to fly into, but the captain and I had studied the briefing guide and then discussed our plan of action together. The weather held up and we were able to see the airport and all the required lighting just past the Final Approach Fix (FAF). When it does work out, Juneau is actually quite fun to fly into; it's just all the 'what-ifs' that make airline pilots nervous to fly there in a CRJ. We made it in just fine and were on our way to the hotel.
The wind blew so fiercely that night it woke me up many times. Each time I would grab my phone and check the METAR and TAF hoping the wind was forecast to die down before we were scheduled to leave, but to no avail. When I finally got up at 5am it was still gusty and windy outside. I hoped the company would allow us to stay at the hotel until the winds died down, but they wanted us at the airport. I guess I should admire their hope, but at the time I found it frustrating. The TAF didn't show winds dying down for hours! Now, I know weather forecasts aren't all that accurate, but from what I have seen, Juneau's are usually pretty close.
We met in the hotel lobby at 6am and took a cab to the airport. The flight was already showing delayed by 30 minutes when we arrived, and we didn't even have a flight release from the company yet (because we couldn't legally takeoff with those winds). After 30 minutes the captain called the company who then delayed our flight for another 30 minutes, and then another 30 minutes, and then an hour, and another hour, etc. This went on for nearly 8 hours. I didn't really mind the first few hours, though. I made some friends with some of the passengers; which, by the way, Juneau passengers are awesome- they had the mentality of 'we'll get there eventually so it's no big deal.' They were all so nice and friendly. I also had some time to get some personal things done and some reading in. It was all quite relaxing and enjoyable... until it started creeping up on 5 hours and then 6 hours.
Thankfully the company was able to rebook all our passengers so they weren't waiting there with us, but I so desperately wanted to just go back to the hotel and wait there. It would have been so much more comfortable. But the company would not release us and wanted us to wait patiently at the airport. Finally, after 7 hours of waiting (that felt like a lifetime and half), the winds decreased to 10 knots, the maximum tailwind component for us. As a crew, we got on that plane and completed our responsibilities as quickly as we could before those winds could change their minds. We had the door closed and were off the ground in the next 30 minutes. We were exhausted from sitting all day- for some reason it is more tiring to sit all day than to work all day- but we knew we could all safely make it back to Seattle.
Because the double Portland turns (which were originally on the trip) were removed from our schedule, we ended up getting done only 30 minutes later than scheduled, which was pretty great. So though I did get a bit grumpy having to sit in an airport all day, all in all, it really did turn out pretty well. Was sitting in a freezing cold airport with only gross airport food all day my favorite thing to do? Absolutely NOT! But was getting done only 30 minutes late pretty amazing? Yes! So you have to realize that there is some good and bad with everything. I have had some amazing trips up to Juneau, this one just didn't turn out that way.
I'd still say that being a pilot for the airlines is still a great career choice, just realize that not every trip will go as planned, and sometimes you will have a lot of 'airport appreciation time.' It's part of the job. On the other hand, you will have trips that go just as planned, you will fly with some amazing crews, and you will be able to travel to amazing destinations and get paid to do it! It doesn't get better than that.