Flying for a major airline is quite different from flying for one of the Regionals, especially when it comes to international flying. The following is an example of a typical international trip in the Boeing 757.
As with most international trips, our flight from Newark, NJ (EWR) to Amsterdam, Netherlands (AMS) started in the evening around six pm. As it was a trans-oceanic trip, we met in the weather room two hours prior to departure time. We had an additional pilot on the trip because the flight time from EWR to AMS exceeded eight hours. Our preflight planning consisted of drawing out our route on the oceanic charts, checking the weather reports en route, at our destination and alternate. We also checked our domestic and ICAO flight plans, and our fuel requirements. One hour and thirty minutes prior to the flight, we left the weather room and
headed for the airplane.
Our additional pilot, known as the International Relief Officer (IRO) headed outside to perform an exterior inspection of the aircraft. While he was doing that, the captain and I worked on readying the airplane for our flight. We loaded all of our information in the Flight Management Computer (FMC) and checked it against the printed flight plan. One of the most important things that we do is to verify that our clearance from Air Traffic Control matches exactly with what we have programmed into the FMC. It generally takes less time to prepare the cockpit than it does for passengers to board, so we were able to take a breather for a few minutes before we blocked out (departed).
When we taxied out, all three of us were in the cockpit. After takeoff, the IRO worked out our time estimates for various point along our route and split up the flight time so that we all got a break of equal length. At the top of the climb to our cruising altitude the IRO headed into the back of the aircraft to begin his break. While he was sleeping, we flew up the east coast of Canada. Ninety minutes before reaching oceanic airspace, we requested oceanic clearance from Gander Center. It generally takes several minutes for them to process the request and return clearance via our FMC. When the clearance arrived, it came in the form of a formal text message from Gander Center. We reviewed the clearance and then sent a response back to Gander accepting it.
Just prior to entering Oceanic airspace, ATC terminated radar control and we reverted to reporting our position via our FMC or High Frequency (HF) radios. HF radios are similar to AM radios in that their range is quite long. They are also similar to AM in that the quality of the reception can be poor: it takes a well tuned ear to be able to discern and understand the controllers some nights.
For the next several hours we were basically on our own out over the Atlantic. We made position reports every ten degrees of longitude, roughly every sixty minutes. After a two hour break, the IRO came back to the cockpit and I headed out for my break. We generally have a seat in first class but sometimes it is a row of seats in coach. This was my time to relax, watch a movie, eat, or sleep, which is what I chose to do that night. After a nice two hour nap, I returned to the front and the captain was able to take his break.
Two hours prior to landing, we “coasted” over the Irish coast and resumed radar contact and direct control with Shannon (Ireland) Center. It seems as though the sun always rises just as we approach Ireland. There is something about the sun coming up over the green hills of the Irish country side that makes me stop and look every time. The last forty five minutes of the flight consisted of preparing for the approach, executing it and landing.
As in most cities in Europe, the ride to the hotel took about thirty minutes. It was a nice hotel, downtown, and in a good area. I went to bed and slept for the next five hours. I woke at noon local time and enjoyed the rest of the day walking around the city, checking out the parks and eating dinner with the captain. By Ten pm I was back in bed for a full night’s sleep. In the morning we woke early and started the process all over again for the flight home.
We started our trip at 6:00 pm on Monday and ended at 11:45 am on Wednesday. The trip was worth sixteen hours of flight time yet I was only away from home for two nights. The specifics of our trip to Amsterdam are typical of all of our flights to Europe. International flying is challenging, but also very fun and rewarding.