For this four day trip, Larry has a sign in time of 11.30 PM on tuesday. It gives him 4 different flights to reach his base on time and work the 12 hour duty period that makes his first day, taking him all the way across three time zones, to Los Angeles.
Here are three scenarios of how an simple commute can turn out to be much more complicated.
Scenario 1 :
Larry wakes up at 5.30 AM and after spending an hour getting ready, he jumps in his car and drives to the airport. The weather is nice and the traffic is fluid. Quickly Larry makes it to the departure level and while the 6 AM flight is already gone, Larry has a plan. The night before he diligently prepared his trip and monitored the capacity status of each flight. He already knows that the 8 AM flight is wide open and hopes to jumpseat on it. Lucky for him, the gate agent hands him his ticket with a confirm first class seat. The plane is on time and soon the wheels are retracted in the under carriage, heading toward Larry's office at 25000 feet and he settles down for a 40 minute nap. He makes it there with a few hours to spare before officially starting his day. By the end of it, he will have been up and working for about 20 hours.
Scenario 2 :
In this case, Larry who is known to be proactive, checks the status of flights before going to bed. He realizes that the 6 AM and 8 AM flights are already cancelled. Now only the 10 AM departure can guarantee him to arrive on time, at Chicago. He knows that with theses two cancellations, the remaining seats on the third flight are gonna be given to stand by passengers. He also knows that because this flight is operated by a competitor, he might not get the cockpit jumpseat because another pilot from that company has priority. As a last resort, Larry decides to use a freight airplane as his ride. He calls the airline and lists his self. Finally he goes to bed for a very short night and tries not to worry about it. By 3.30 AM, Larry wakes up and quickly gets ready. Outside the weather is pretty decent and fortunately he makes it to the cargo ramp on time to board the airliner as the last boxes are being loaded in the cargo hold. But his luck runs out. The plane is experiencing a four hour delay due to a mechanical problem. In the cold morning, sitting in a breakroom, he starts looking at other options thanks to the help of his smart phone. He starts getting nervous and frantically checks his watch every so often hoping to avoid an unpleasant phone call to scheduling. Finally, Larry ends up in a replacement airplanes and soon he is airborne. He lands with about half an hour left to the clock. Just enough time to get a ride from the cargo area to the main terminal. He rushes through security and make his sign in with minutes to spares. By the end of his day, he will have been up and working for about 22 hours.
Scenario 3 :
Sometime the crap really hits the fan and poor First Officer Larry Totalymadup is about to discover it first hand. As he tries to wake up with a fresh cup of joe, he can see through the window that the night brought in a major snow storm and it has already dumped about six inches of fresh white powder. He rushes to the door, knowing that his day will start by shoveling his car out. he finally makes his way slowly to the airport but unfortunately its too late to make it on the 6 AM flight. He patiently waits for the next departure but he knows that it is not going to be easy. Soon he realizes that the plane he is hoping to be on at 8 AM, diverted due to the storm. Very quickly things start going south. All his options are being cancelled and he fears being stranded and miss his assignment. Larry becomes anxious because he is a fairly new hire and therefore on probation and does not benefit from the commuting clause. Not showing up for his trip could prove to be disastrous for his job. Thanks to the time zone difference, Larry has about 5 hours left to make it on time. With that much time he decides to hop back in his car and make the drive, hoping the highways are in a decent condition. During the entire slippery ride heading north, his stress is palpable but his determination shall be rewarded and while he arrives late for his sign in, he still manages to get on his airplane on time for departure. By the end of his day, he will have been up and working for about 21 hours.
In theses three scenarios, our fellow pilot made it on time to his cockpit but at what price ? Sometime commuting comes with a lot of frustration and its fair share of stress. The most visible secondary effect is usually fatigue. In this example, I have used a pretty easy setting. I know so because it is the one that I do. Short distance to commute, lots of flights between the two cities and it is also drive-able if needed. The truth is about two third of the pilots commute. Some of them from the other end of the country with limited flights and often have to make one stop. The less fortunate ones are known to commute the day before and have to pay a hotel every time the night before their trip starts. Commuting is not necessarily forced upon a pilot and sometime it is a choice of lifestyle. I, for one, have learn to deal with it. Some days are easier than others but so far it has been good to me. I certainly spend a lot of time figuring out my options on the day prior to my trip but knowing what I can expect helps me put my mind at ease and avoiding unnecessary stress is the first step to mastering the art of commuting.