NOCAL and how!

Well it has been a few months since I have been in North America, and this upcoming San Francisco trip had me excited. I have only flown the Pacific route once here at Cathay, so the change in scenery and Northern California scenery at the other end had me really looking forward to a 48 hour layover.

First things first, head to the airport for a refreshing 12:55 PM check in as opposed to the usual midnight European check ins. After a quick look at the usual pre flight package (weather, NOTAMS, and the flight plan) it looks like an easy crossing of the Pacific today. Our route took us south of Taiwan and south of yet another Tropical Storm in the region, crossing the Pacific at no further north then 50 degrees North Latitude. My rest schedule for the flight meant for the first 6 hours I would be free from any cockpit duties. I chose to use our business class seat to watch a movie or maybe read. But after our In Flight Service manager needed to switch a passengers seat, I found myself in our first class. After the flight I would learn that I was sitting behind Emma Stone and Andrew Garfield of the latest Spiderman movie. They must have been on a promotional tour in Hong Kong, but I didn’t have the chance to ask them, found myself taking a 4 hour nap before I knew it.

Anyways, back to the interesting stuff. I jumped in the seat around the international date line. Crossing the Pacific these days entails very little work as far as a pilot is concerned. ADS-B surveillance, and CPDLC auto reporting more or less means we only had to make one radio call on HF at 150 degrees west. Then of course re-establishing VHF communications once in line of sight from the west coast of the USA. The weather for my half of the flight was as close to perfect as you could get, a nice 50 knot tail wind, and the only clouds were several thousand feet below us. Nothing but clear sailing all the way into SFO.

The first thing I had in mind for this layover was walking across the street from our Hilton hotel at Union Square to one of my favorite restaurant chains in the US, Chipotle. My brother in law spent a year playing hockey in Phoenix and got hooked on this food. My wife and I tried it a few years ago in Palm Springs, and really enjoyed the mexican food they have to offer. So needless to say, after dropping off my bags, and getting out of the uniform I spent the last 18 hours in, I made for Chipotle. I had been battling a bit of a cold for the last few days, so after a post lunch nap, I found myself feeling pretty bad. I had to bail on dinner and drinks with the two pilots on the layover with me and decided to get some more sleep.

Day 2 in SFO, I woke up at 530am. Relaxing in the room, with the current USA today, I went for a Starbucks start to the day. Next on my SFO to do list, head to Safeway for some North American food we just can’t find in Hong Kong. Kraft Dinner (10 boxes) Rotelle Tomatoes (13 cans) and Lipton soup mix (7 boxes) and some other odds and ends. After lugging the groceries back to the room, I realize its 8am, and breakfast time. A tradition I hope to continue is visiting a Triple D’s restaurant. Chef Guy Fieri has a show called Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives (Triple D’s) featuring family run, home cooking, feel good food. After visiting “Schooner or Later” in Long Beach a few years ago, it was time to hit up “Dottie’s True Blue Cafe” just a short walk from the hotel. A basic scrambled egg breakfast comes with the house specialty, a spicy cheddar corn bread. Delicious I must say, and well worth the 45 minute wait to get in. Next, shopping for board games. Shawna and I love having board games around the house, just for us, or when guests are over, but unfortunately finding them in English has proven to be a bit of a challenge. I grabbed Rolling Stones Monopoly, and Apples to Apples on this trip. Starting to run out of room in my suitcase. Good thing I brought the big one. Of course I had to grab a San Francisco 49ers, and LA Dodgers hat while in California. So that was it for shopping. Back to the hotel about noon to drop off the bags, and hike over the hill to fishermans wharf. Plenty of things to see and do here, but I decided to spend 15 dollars on a boat tour of the bay area, around Alcatraz, and under the Golden Gate bridge. Well worth it. After wandering around the wharf for a few hours and grabbing a bite at In and Out Burger (another American favorite of mine) I decided to hike back over the hill to the hotel for an early night. Or so I thought.

When bored in a hotel, I often find myself wasting several minutes on facebook. However tonight it wasn’t a waste. I saw that my cousin, and Airbus Captain with Air Canada had just checked in to the Hyatt at fisherman’s wharf. I called him immediately and put off an early sleep to catch up with Dean. He lived a block away from my parents, and we played on the same hockey team for years, so he was definitely one of my closer cousins. Such a small world that we run into each other thousands of miles from our homes. And thanks to facebook, as I would have had no idea Dean was 10 blocks away. And and even bigger coincidence that his flight to Montreal was parked next to my flight to Hong Kong the next day!

Dean was flying with a First Officer I also played a lot of hockey with. So Dean, Warren and I met for a few beers, and a late dinner (clam chowder at fishermans wharf, in a bread bowl of course). There was lots to catch up on as we hadn’t seen each other since last October, one of the last times I played hockey back in Winnipeg. We sure did have fun though. Dean wanted to hear all about Cathay and Hong Kong, and I wanted the latest on his family, and Air Canada. I returned back to the hotel around 11PM exhausted from a long day, but very satisfied with everything I accomplished. North American shopping, sight seeing, catching up with family, and of course, good food.

Our flight the next day didn’t leave until 2PM so I had a great rest and spent most of the morning relaxing in the hotel, and trying to cram all my things back into my now full suitcase. Im pretty sure if I was a paying passenger I would have been paying for over weight charges on this one. One last thing to buy was some Ghirardelli chocolates for Shawna.

Back to the fun stuff. Again Pacific Ocean weather was near perfect, and crossing around 39 degrees north, we had a rather unusual tail wind on our west bound flight for most of the 13 hours. I worked first, and again had very little to do other then hourly fuel checks, and chatting with the American captain. One HF radio call once again, and we were set up to cross the great big blue ocean that covers most of the globe. It really is something crossing an ocean that large. Our diversion airports that we plan in case of depressurization, or multiple engine failures were spread all over the map. Portland Oregon and Comox BC on the west coast. Honolulu, Midway, and Guam in the Pacific, Anchorage, Cold Bay, and Shemya in Alaska, and finally Osaka Japan. Depressurization is the most critical of failures, as we need to descend to a low enough altitude that every one on board can breathe. At lower altitudes, jet airliners burn more gas, in some cases, much more gas, per nautical mile flown. Quite often going across the Pacific we can have much more gas on board then is needed to fly from say San Francisco to Hong Kong, the extra gas being for diversions at low altitudes for what could be 3-5 hours. Of course the biggest concern when the nearest airport is 1000 miles away is a cargo/cabin fire. Stats show that if a fire inside the aircraft cannot be controlled, hull loss takes place in an average of 15 minutes. Un-nerving to think about ditching and floating in the Ocean for hours until a rescue can take place. But the likelihood of such an event is so low that I chose to dismiss the grim thoughts, and just enjoy the view over the Pacific.

Again around the international date line we switch crews, and I’m off to the bunk for a 5 hour nap before getting home for dinner with Shawna. I must say I enjoy the US every time I get to fly there. I am already looking forward to my next visit. In the meantime, some 747-8 training later this month, and a 53 hour Paris layover. More posts to follow on both.

Fly Safe.