So if America is flying, A Reader's Respite is working. But if you travel often enough, you'll know that air travel in our country is not exactly a well-oiled machine. Things go bump. And not just in the night. And if you think your air travel plans tend to go awry, step into the shoes of a crewmember if you really want to experience a donkey ride to hell.
Take our last trip, for example. Things started off so promising. It was a rare, nice-weather day in Chicago and we were all set to take a plane load of corn-fed Iowans back to Des Moines. The airplane was on time and nothing on it required immediate maintenance attention, so things were looking good. Our flight attendants were in a marginally good mood and we managed to fill up every seat without any your-bag-is-too-big-to-fit-in-a-bin incidents. But fifteen minutes prior to our scheduled departure time, the proverbial other shoe dropped......we had no co-pilot.
This necessitated a phone call on my part to that most dreaded group of airline employees: the crew scheduling department. These paroled psychopaths live in a dark and heavily-guarded concrete bunker deep in the bowels of the airline headquarters building (wherever that might be....they don't tell us for obvious security reasons). Crew scheduling's one and only job is to make sure that every plane has a crew. They have invented about a billion devious and mean-spirited ways to accomplish that, which means that crewmembers spend the vast majority of our time inventing new and creative ways to avoid those people.
Crew Scheduling, how may I assist you?
After dialing their super-secret phone number, negotiating a phone-tree that makes AT&T look simple by comparison ("dial 1 for English"....WTF? All crewmembers are required by law to read, speak, and understand the English language. Is the phone tree some kind of test?), and then waiting on hold for 20 minutes, we finally reached a crew scheduler.
"Hey, I'm missing my first officer. Know where he's at?"
Sound of fingers flying across a keyboard. Then silence.
"Uhhhhhhhhh......hmmmmmm.....looks like we missed that. We'll call one from home and he'll be there in five minutes."
Yeah. Sure. That sounds realistic.
So we wait. And wait some more. To make this a book-related post, we'll tell you that A Reader's Respite passed the time with a copy of Nelson DeMille's The Lion's Game. Good book, by the way. Now we'd like to go on official record at this point noting that in an attempt to convey our empathy to all those passengers in back, we made a tremendous effort to keep them all in the loop with frequent announcements. We didn't even lie about anything, which goes to show you how much we care. We kept the air conditioning on full-blast and even kept the main cabin door open so that anyone could go on up into the airport and pass the time there if they wished. See? We're not heartless.
Suffice it to say that it took 2 hours before a co-pilot showed up. Poor guy. He was sitting at home on his day off, minding his own business and his only mistake was picking up the phone when crew scheduling called (although it's our considered opinion that if he was dumb enough to pick up the phone, he gets what he deserves...but we digress). Once those little bastards have you on the phone, it's game over. But 2 hours is 2 hours and by this time, the natives in back were getting more than a little restless and when this poor, unsuspecting co-pilot showed up on the plane and was stowing his flight bag, the
Bad. Bad. Idea.
He might have gotten away with this little tirade had the cockpit door not been open and had his words not reached A Reader's Respite's ears. We put down our book (which was just getting to a really good part, by the way), extracted ourselves from the captain's seat and made our way back into the cabin. Dum-da-dum-dum.
Now some of you might know (hopefully not from personal experience) that when the Captain comes into the cabin due to a customer, nothing good is going to come of it. A smart passenger realizes this and chooses to apologize or at least stop talking. This was not a smart passenger. He didn't shut up. Worse yet, he made the very big mistake of confusing A Reader's Respite for a flight attendant. Flight attendants are much more patient than A Reader's Respite.
Suffice it to say that Mr. 2B received a very painful lesson in what is known in commercial aviation as "Captain's Authority" by unexpectedly having to exit the aircraft. We hope he spent the remainder of the day wisely, contemplating the fact that a $49 ticket to Des Moines does not, in fact, give him the right to verbally surmise that his Captain suffers from PMS.
Again: Bad. Bad. Idea.
We eventually made it to Des Moines, by the way. One leg down, four more to go.
Happy Memorial Day, everyone.