Flight plan

My flight plan....

This blog is to inspire and motivate those pining for the skies. I will also virtually open the flight deck door and allow a peek behind the scenes.

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Sunday, January 3, 2010

Bumped in Barbados

Here's a borrowed picture of the Concorde hangar located alongside the Barbados airport. I did get to see the inside of the Concorde simulator (Air France's) during my initial training on the Airbus 340 in France 14 years ago. Can you say lots of switches/buttons?


The day started off somewhat normal excluding my son burning his hand on a hot unattended hair iron. Plus during check-out, the hotel wanted to charge me 36 Bajan dollars (18 U.S) for a local call. I used a 1-800 number to call Canada and they claimed it was international and they had no way of cancelling it. Yeah right. It was ‘get the manager’ time. Finally after going back and forth, plus pointing out they would be dissed by fellow airline employees and after the manager read the fine print on my calling card info sheet, they removed the charge.

The first flight showed ten open seats and it looked good for a family of five. They called two other “cons” (he was a “rampie” travelling with his wife having 24 years with the company trumping my 15 years). Okay, we are next. I hear “Morris” called out and I go to get my five boarding cards. “We only have one seat, do you want it?” Needless to say I was taken aback, “What happened to the open seats?” (Someone forewarned me about the agents in Barbados so it was time to challenge). “They were sold to US Airways." I should have known something was up.

We were bumped on flight number one.

Now it’s decision time, do we go for YUL (Montreal) which posted open seats or take our chances on the second YYZ flight leaving 15 minutes after the YUL flight? For a “con” or a commuter, the saying “a bird in the hand, is worth two in the bush” applies. Plus the agent said if the YYZ flight opens up he would move us over to that flight. It seemed to be an honest statement.

Our YUL flight was now showing a 30 minute delay but the plane was on the ramp. Plus, there was also a seemingly more than usual amount of aircraft on the ramp. Hmmm?

Meanwhile I have a contact working Air Canada operations in YYZ watching what was transpiring with the flights. She mentioned via email four “cons” junior than us got on the YYZ flight. I found out later that night, a family of five 'paying' passengers denied their boarding because of a medical emergency.

We finally board the YUL flight 45minutes past sked departure. As a seasoned traveller, one can sense something is awry. The cabin door is not closing and the F/As are serving drinks to business class passengers stalling for time. Finally after 20 minutes, with a full load and with everyone looking around for guidance, the captain makes a P.A. Apparently Trinidad ATC (Piarco Control) didn’t like the way contract negotiations were going and booked off sick en masse. Things in the southern Caribbean were coming to stand still. No one in Barbados could get an IFR clearance. The captain’s announcements were curt and to the point. They were excellent because he told the truth and that’s what the public wants to hear, the truth, and they want to hear it from the captain.

Both the “front end” and “back end” flew in from YUL so their duty day was ticking away. The captain made that clear with another announcement.

I decided to approach a F/A working the aft galley and explain I was a 320 captain and would offer to augment the pilots. With three pilots the duty day could extend from 13 hours to 15 hours plus, but with many restrictions. The F/A looked at me as if I had 'six heads' and I could tell by his blank stare my suggestion was not going to go far. He did visit the flight deck. Sitting next to another “con” (we cons tend to bond during pre-boarding to gather flight load info and talk about plan Bs) I noticed he had a blackberry so I borrowed it to call crew sked in Montreal to offer help. My cell phone was useless in the Caribbean. Crew sked liked that I called but he admitted they were into IROPS (Irregular Operations) and things were busy. Seems like other areas of the system were going off the rails as well.

I finally asked to approach the flight deck. I could tell the pilots were working hard to make the flight work. They found, however, a clause stating Caribbean flights could not be augmented. I only assume because they are deemed overseas.

We sat another 45 minutes on the ramp. A Virgin Airways B747, two BA 777s, US Air 737, Air Canada’s 767, plus numerous other jets all sat in silence. Finally, the dreaded announcement came, “Ladies and Gentleman, the flight is now cancelled.” What really hurt was watching our B767 push back bound for YYZ. They were one of the lucky ones to get an IFR clearance. We should have been on that flight!

Now it’s time to take orders from the Air Canada agents for baggage pick up, accommodation and transportation. I was not sure how Air Canada handled their “cons” during cancellations so we inquired whether we were on the list for hotels. “You people are staff, you are all on your own.”

After a confrontation with the agent who did not put us on the YYZ flight, he helped us find accommodation. Or so I thought. We took a short cab ride to a 13 room hotel he recommended which claimed they had rooms. Turns out they didn’t and we just spent 65 Barbados dollars (33 U.S) to find that out. They were apologetic and reimbursed us. They found us rooms at the Casa Grande. Another 65 dollar ride. The place was huge (200 rooms) and somewhat new, but it was abandoned. It felt like being a cruise liner but everyone jumped ship.

Hotel California, Bates hotel and visions of Jack Nicholas wielding an axe were brought up in conversation. The kids wanted to stay another night in Barbados and they got their wish. The hotel restaurant was desolate, but after waiting at the airport all day everyone was famished. The two beers also went down well.

This morning our flight was further delayed 45 minutes for catering. I’m presently over Bermuda with another 2.5 hours to go. The flights to YYZ are showing full so it should be another interesting day in the “life of cons.”


fche said...

There's no way for you to depart VFR?

whywhyzed said...

Good question. Probably against AC rules, but what's wrong with departing VFR and then getting an IFR clearance en-route. I guess the risk of it not being approved is too high?
PS I used to fly IFR all the time, but it was "I Follow Roads" ;-)

From the Flight Deck said...

Fche (whywhyzed). Good point/question. I was thinking the same thing because I've done it before, but not with Air Canada. I'd have to check our rule book. Having said all that (and as whywhyzed pointed out) what happens if you get airborne and they are still reluctant to give a clearance? As well the routing goes over Bermuda requiring Oceanic procedures. I know I would feel uncomfortable.

The captain did mention they were thinking of going as far as Bermuda or the United States in reference to their duty day, but after conversing with the duty pilot in Toronto, it was deemed not doable because of the new security measures.

You're at the mercy of ATC and they know it.

Capt. Doug

whywhyzed said...

What's a duty pilot?

From the Flight Deck said...


A "duty pilot" is a management type that puts out the fires in the day to day operations. If a pilot has to contact the duty pilot it is usually because of an incident or a situation.

Capt. Doug

BimJim said...

As a former Barbados Air Traffic Controller and Airline Pilot with over 13,000 hours in the Caribbean, I can verify that airline operations in the Caribbean are _required_ to have a clearance to leave (including the regional airline LIAT).

So departing VFR is not an option a Captain cab exercise, especially for medium to long haul flights.

Departing Barbados, the aircraft is under Barbados ATC up to about Flight Level 200 (20,000 feet), above that in Piarco airspace.

BUT, before the aircraft can leave the ground the clearance must come in from San Juan ATC through Piarco ATC to Barbados ATC and be delivered to the aircraft ON THE GROUND.

San Juan coordinates the onward clearance for northbound flights with New York ARTCC.

Further, Barbados ATC does not permit VFR above 6,500 feet in their airspace - it's a very stupid rule brought in by a very stupid ATC management person in Barbados ATC (who has since retired - but the rule is till there).

And jet engines suck up fuel at enormous rates at low altitudes - even if it were permitted, simply taking off VFR and hanging around at lower altitudes hoping for a clearance that may never come is just asking for trouble, especially if the flight still has to go some 2,500 miles or more.

Some airlines flip crews in Barbados - AA, for instance, on the medium hauls such as New York to Barbados. If Air Canada wants to stretch every dollar to its breaking limit, then it has to accept that any time something goes wrong and a flight is delayed an hour they will have to deal with the dirty business end of the stick - hotel and salary costs for all passengers AND crews, overnighting costs for the aircraft, dumping of all meals and disposables, etc., etc.

From the Flight Deck said...

BimJim. What a great post! It's armed with the facts. You're absolutely correct in saying the guzzle rate would be huge on a jet aircraft trapped at low VFR altitudes. Something flight dispatch would want to avoid.

Plus there's tons of VFR flights island hopping in the Caribbean and I for one wouldn't feel comfortable in that airspace with no ATC coverage.

And yes, doing a BGI turn from either YUL or YYZ is stretching the limit. Most of our operations to BGI entails a full stop in BGI but the YUL flight only operates on the weekend hence a turn.
That's another reason why the B767 that day could hold out longer on the ramp. The crew started in BGI. I have yet to do a BGI layover (I've done two BGI turns), but I heard the layover hotel is great.
We tried to stay there, but the rates they wanted were down right highway robbery.

Again, thanks for the post!

Capt. Doug

arf said...

Nice blog entry, and nice blog.
One comment I couldn't quite decipher: " I found out later that night, a family of five 'paying' passengers denied their boarding because of a medical emergency." Not clear to me who was denied what.

Keep on writing! Cheers, arf

From the Flight Deck said...

Arf. Good point. I asked the Barbados agent how the open seats came about because the B767 YYZ flight was deemed full. So much so, another Barbados agent convinced us there was not a hope of getting on the YYZ flight. "But," she said, "if seats do open we'll switch you from the YUL flight to the YYZ flight."

Apparently, a family of five revenue passengers had to deny boarding on the YYZ flight because one of them took sick or had a medical situation.
This opened up seats at the last moment. A case in point to the rule, "never give up until the plane pushes back."

One has to remember during the stress of getting everyone on board and making a scheduled push back time agents tend to panic a little or get flustered. I can see how this happens so
sometimes the rules for boarding cons are skewed. I saw this numerous times when I commuted. Just another reason why commuting for me was for the birds.

In a nut shell five seats opened up and "cons" junior to us got the seats because the agents weren't swift enough to transfer us from the YUL to the YYZ flight.

Thanks for reading my blog.


arf said...

Thanks for that nice explanation. As I fly in and out of YQR quite a bit, and often on the 50-seat CRJ, I occasionally encounter non-rev passengers who have been waiting around for a long time to get a seat. For some reason AC/Jazz seems to run these flights pretty much at capacity where possibly an extra daily would help open up extra space for irops or non-rev passengers. I once sat next to a young woman who had been on stand-by for two days as she tried to get home to visit her parents in YQR (her father works for Jazz). I wouldn't want to be commuting to a Western base out of Regina!

Cheers, arf

From the Flight Deck said...

Arf. The YQR-YYZ sector used to be flown with an Airbus 320. I've flown it and we were full all the time. Not sure why they downsized it to an RJ. We have a few commuters from YQR so it must be a challenge sometimes especially if it's flown by JAZZ. (The jumpseat may not always be available because of the animosity between mainline and Jazz pilots).

With flights near full capacity, I don't know how the commuters are handling it. Two days on stand-by? My family and I trumped that! It took us five days in YYC (Calgary) to get home to YYZ because JETSGO went "belly up" and put a strain on Air Canada's loads.

Thanks for the post.

Capt. Doug

arf said...

I should clarify: the RJ's are used on YEG/YYC - YQR, so I was thinking of anyone who has to head west; mainline is doing YQR - YYZ again, but only on the E190 (nice aircraft from a passenger perspective by the way). There is a drop in daily seats available and the schedule is not as good as it used to be, unfortunately.


From the Flight Deck said...

Thanks for the post Arf. Passengers do like the Embraer. They were the first ones to come with entertainment screens. Plus they have two by two seating and the windows are large. Unfortunately, they don't have much room in the overhead bins.