‘Is This the Right Aircraft to….?’

Boarding

Boarding

I have recently started work at a certain airport in southern England. It’s an eye opener as the characters of staff and passengers you have working or passing through.

Everyday is a fashion show with the clothes worn by passengers as they traipse down the gates for their flights to somewhere exotic or home, or business. Whatever it may be. Hen and stag do’s are the wackiest although there are a couple of lone travellers who would not look out of pace on a stag or hen do with what has been seen

I digress from what I was going to write about.

It seems to me, dress code apart, passengers its seems, lose their confidence and brains when they enter an airport.

As soon as they enter the terminal building, they are like jelly, putty or miserable and it has been known aggressive. My piece here will deal with a jelly like brain and lack of confidence. It is not intended in any way to be a piss taker, but some stories I will recite are very funny – ridiculous in fact but true. I hope this makes people think and ensure they arrive on time at their gate

A certain low-cost airline as do others at the airport in question, operate a WIWO policy – Walk in – Walk Out of the aircraft. The aim is to speed the disembarking and boarding of an aircraft when required – returning from a flight and going out on one namely!

When the passengers check in and make their way to the boarding gate, this is where the big problems show. Each flight has a limited time for passengers to board before actual push back of the aircraft. It is around 20 minutes before aircraft is pushed back that the gate closes, not allowing more passengers to board. With this passengers have an attitude.

GatesOh I have paid for my ticket so they won’t unload me!!’ – Oh really! Why should the airline hold up the hundred plus passengers who are already on board and who made it on time? Just because you have not bothered to make the gate on time or spent too long in Duty Free or even the bar! What a selfish attitude. Priorities go out the window for many passengers. Duty Free or my flight? Oh what a quandary!!

With the WIWO loading, there is cut off between front and back loading passengers. Generally it is around rows/seats 1-14 at the front and 15 onwards are to the rear. This of course can include going out side where the front loading passengers generally going through an enclosed jetty. Understandable reticence if the weather is not conducive for the passengers to not ‘own up’ to being in the rear half of the aircraft.

There is however an issue with basic numeracy, even A level maths students are prone to not knowing what numbers are after 15!! So when they are told – ‘Seats 15 and above at the back’, one is asked ‘does that include 22?’ etc? Errr yes, of course it does!!!

If it is outside, other questions come to the fore. The favourite seems to be ‘Which set of steps are for…Alicante?’ When viewing the aircraft from outside, there are 2 sets of steps on a remote stand but with a jetty stand there is one – at the back. The Jetty has steps coming from it so people seem to get confused. However the steps and jetty are attached to the same aircraft depending on the stands themselves. The aircraft is not like a train and so will not separate in half. The back will go to the same place as the front and at the same time.

Another question is, ‘Is this the plane to…Bodrum?’ A worthy question, but when you consider what the passenger has been through, Check-in, security, boarding gate, one would as with the previous issue think they should by now know they have come to the correct gate and aircraft. Admittedly a small number slip through.

The particular airline in question operates a policy of one piece of hand luggage per passenger, unless you have paid extra for  speedy boarding. This allows another piece of hand luggage and priority boarding, as long as you turn up early enough at the gate. The one piece of hand luggage is one bag (small wheelie or rucksack etc). Handbags etc are classed as another piece. Your boarding pass (certainly if printed out from the website) does state this but again passengers fail to read it. They are then shocked when asked to combine the hand luggage into one.

If the bags cannot be combined, they are put in the aircraft hold at a cost to the passenger. Ignorance is not an excuse. However, depending on the aircraft used, there is a limit on overhead locker space. This is worked out using the ICAO bag dimensions. Not all bags will match exactly so its on average. It would take too long to measure every bag on every flight. So on average an Airbus A319 allows 55 bags before more are sent to the hold. In an Airbus A320 its 65 before hold bags are taken. This is free to passengers. There is no charge.

Another thing passengers forget to consider is if they require assistance. This is invariably a wheelchair. They tend to forget this on their flight to airport. Wen you meet the aircraft, and the door opens, the cabin manager tells you where they have arrived from, how many passengers and ‘specials’ on board. There is a delay as those who have booked special assistance are off loaded. This can include a high loader that rises up to the opposite door. Especially if the passengers particular trouble walking and would not be able to walk up the jetty or down the stairs. Those who haven’t booked will tend to have to wait longer as the assistance is generally elsewhere as no one knew about the particular passenger in question.Some people seem to think they should be given priority even if no one is aware of them. This request can be sent on down the line from the outbound flight ops.

Have a good flight next time you go flying with an airline. Be on time to the gate and read the luggage requirements to minimise the delay of your flight. Book special assistance if required.

The Rain in Spain was Never on the Plane

Almost  year after my trip back through Africa, another customer phoned up asking about permissions etc for a flight to Azerbaijan. This was a flight in a few weeks so nothing major to worry about. It was also on a lovely large aircraft,a Falcon 900.

I asked the pilot what they were doing in the meantime? He replied he had a flight to Madrid in a couple of days time. He did have an issue, despite flying a single pilot rated Cessna CitationJet, the passengers would like to see 2 people up front. He therefore had no one to ‘right seat’ down to Madrid. I subtly dropped into the conversation about my FAA licence. The aircraft was registered with a country that accepted US licences.

‘Really!’ replied the pilot, ‘do you think you’d be able to come?’

‘Let me ask my boss, I can’t see a problem but will call you back in 10minutes’.I said

Sure enough, asking my boss, a fabulous chap with an encyclopedic memory on most things aviation related I got the go ahead. He jokingly asked ‘Where we going then?’

I kept my promise and phoned back the pilot and made arrangement on where he wanted to meet. I had to be at the airport by 7:30am.

The day came for me to have my first front seat ride in a private jet, let alone a private corporate aircraft. I was introduced to the pilot and shown the aircraft. I put my flight bag in the baggage compartment in the nose. I then helped get the coffee and tea facilities filled up, including a flask of hot water. The aircraft is smaller in cabin size compared to the King Air I came back from Africa in. It seats 4 persons and like the King Air has  an ’emergency use’  toilet/potty at the back of the cabin.

Cockpit

Me in Cockpit

In truth it is like many small corporate aircraft. Orne has to be quite nimble and supple to get into the crew seat. It was a marvelous feeling. I couldn’t wait to get going. I was told to sit in the seat and wait for the passengers we were taking down to Spain. You see a corporate pilot, especially on small aircraft is a jack of all trades and master of none. They have to be baggage handler and flight attendant (in some cases).

Cabin

CitationJet

We departed south, climbed to cruise level of around Fl370 (37000feet), and I listened and took in the actions of the pilot. I learned a lot on this trip. Two and a half hours later we landed at the secondary airport in Madrid – Torrejon. A part military/civil airport, dedicated to corporate aircraft on the civilian side. taxiing along we trundled over arrester wires stretched across the runway. Proof of military use.

Water bombers

When we were parked on the apron, the handling agent, turned up in a minibus to take the passengers to the terminal. It then returned to us as we were locking up the aircraft and ensuring it was safe. We got taken to the agents building, and was then taken to a shopping centre for lunch. We were not overnighting so it was a brief trip! After lunch we were taken back to the airport, sat around for a couple of hours and then heard our passengers were on their way.

As crew we made our way out to the aircraft and unlocked it, ensured the cabin was tidied and I sat in my seat whilst the Captain waited the arrival of the passengers. This time we had 2 passengers, 1 less than the trip out.

So it was not a reverse route on the taxiway, and departure to the north-east. A different perspective of the world at FL360 (36000ft). Fabulous. Two and half hours later we were back in England. I had taken my passport but had never actually been asked for it at all. Afer landing, we unloaded the aircraft and assisted the passenger ‘s chauffeur to pack the bags into the car. Oh how the other half live.

Over flying Spain

That is possibly the only drawback to being a corporate pilot – being baggage handler et al. A little pride sacrificed for an otherwise fabulous skill to have – controlling a fast-moving aluminium tube through the sky at height!

Well I have 5 hours jet time. Not to be sniffed at but if only it was more!!

Thank you to all concerned:

My boss for being so understanding, the pilot, for putting up with me, the handlers in Madrid (who were people I had spoken to over my time in flight operations. It was good to faces to names).

Thank you for a fabulous experience!