Real Answers from Real Pilots

Flying the Celtics


#1

Recently I had the opportunity to fly a charter flight for the Boston Celtics. This post is not so much about the Celtics as it is the huge amount of work that went into flying this trip.

The trip started in Newark at 3:15 pm. The plan was to take an empty airplane with ourselves and five flight attendants, fly to Philadelphia, wait several hours for the team to arrive, fly them to Bedford Mass. and then fly back to EWR, getting in around 1 am. That was the plan at least.

It was snowing like crazy in both EWR and PHL, which of course meant a lengthy delay, four hours to be exact. The company needed our gate so they had us taxi down the Continental Express terminal and park on A31. The problem with this was apparent when they controller cleared “Jetlink” 1953 and not “Continental” to the gate. There was no way that our 737-800 was going to fit on this gate. After blocking five express gates for several minutes we finally had all of the equipment moved out of our way and were able to park at the gate. We spend the next three hours waiting for our wheels up time to PHL. As the time neared we began our push back procedures. As it was still snowing heavily we had the airplane de-iced to remove all existing snow, and anti-iced to prevent further snow accumulation. Airplanes are not authorized to take off with any snow adhering to the wings or control surfaces. Due to the snow conditions we had a hold over time of 20 minutes. This meant that we had to be air born within 20 minutes of the start of our anti icing procedure. If that time were to expire we would have to go through the whole process again. We took off within our time and headed for PHL.

It was still snowing heavily in PHL which meant that we had to prepare for a Category 3 ILS approach. This is an approach flown by the auto pilot, my aircraft will even land itself. All of this might sound easy, but it is actually a lot of work for us. We landed safely in PHL and slowly taxied to Atlantic Aviation, a place that normally only corporate jets go to. Here the airplane was catered with great food for the players and our fuel was topped off. We waited about 90 minutes for the team to arrive. During this time period we completely prepped the airplane for departure and familiarized ourselves with the deicing procedures for PHL, as it was still snowing.

The team arrived and very shortly we were ready to go. The weather was still horrible with the visibility greatly restricted due to the snow. We soon learned that it was snowing so hard that the airport had been shut down to allow crews to plow the runways. We knew that we were deep in the line for deicing, but did not realize how deep until I heard my father on the radio saying that he was number 28 in line. I counted airplanes and figured that we were five behind him, making us number 33. Needless to say it took three hours to deice and due to departure delays we almost exceed our hold over time. Right before departure I had to c all the manager of Bedford Airport and inform him of our ETA so that he could have the runway plowed for us upon our arrival.

The flight to Bedford was uneventful. Landing at BED was interesting due to the short runway, large aircraft, and snow conditions. We employed the seldom used auto brakes “max” setting which did a phenomenal job of stopping a large airplane very quickly on snow. Because the tower was closed we had to manually close our flight plan when we landed, something I have not done for years. We parked at BED on the Signature Aviation ramp, where we were surrounded by small airplanes such as Cessnas and Pipers. It was pretty neat to see our large airplane up next to the little airplanes that I used to fly.

After taking a few quick minutes to eat we jumped back in the cockpit, deiced again and headed for EWR. We arrived at 5:00am, four hours late, tired, and still hungry, but satisfied that we had managed to deal with unusual situations, lengthy deicing times, horrible weather, and small airports. At the end of the night the team got home a few hours late, which was great considering the weather. Most of the players took the time to thank us on their way out. I think that a lot of them realized how much work we had put into delivering them home as safely as possible.
Being a pilot for an airline involves a lot more than simply flying airplanes. We are computer programmers, maintenance coordinators, dispatchers, flight attendant supervisors and more. While the company provides us with the tools necessary to complete the mission it is up to the pilots to make everything come together in as seamless a manner as possible.