Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Safety First

I got the call, as usual, with my chief pilot telling me which city to fly to. I bought the ticket online but didn't check in online. I just went to the airport and checked in at a kiosk, receiving a paper boarding pass. My destination was a Fed Ex hub in the prairies, and the airport code on the printed bag tag matched my intended destination. Bonus.

Additional bonus: somehow despite checking in at the airport close to the minimum time before the flight, I have been assigned an exit row seat for one leg, the kind with so much space in front of you that you can't reach your bag under the seat ahead with your seatbelt on. And the emergency exit is a thing to behold. The aircraft is an A321, and looking at the R3 exit door I suspect that the door alone has a manual as thick as the one for my entire airplane. It has straps and levers and handles and lots of placards in English and French, plus a window with a pressure warning light. There's a little placard down by my ankle showing temperature versus pressure, but I'm not sure whether this are expected or maximum, nor do I know what use it might be here. I would dearly love to see the manual for this door, but the best I can find is in Korean, merely increasing its mystery.

I pick up the briefing card and look through it to determine which of the many controls on the door I am supposed to operate in an emergency, and which way the door is to be pushed, pulled or slid. The man next to me gestures at the card and says superciliously, "I knew there must be someone who read those things."

Some people think they are too cool for safety.

The flight attendant comes by and briefs us on the door operation. I point out the presence of a red Remove Before Flight tag on the door. She assures me that removing that tag is a part of her pre-takeoff checklist, as she arms the door. When she does it, she moves the tag over a bit into another socket. So I'm still staring at this stupid tag. I consider hiding it for the duration of the flight, but the risk of getting in trouble over it is greater than my no red tag neurosis.

I spend part of the flight reviewing my own normal and emergency checklists. I think that Mr. Too Cool To Read The Briefing Card doesn't believe I'm a pilot, but I really don't care. I then switch over to translating the dialogue from a really bad movie into an obscure language I'm trying to learn , a process which Mr. TCTRTBC observes and proclaims tedious. Not really. It's an action movie with really lame dialogue, so there aren't a lot of words to translate. It's fun. But different people have different concepts of fun. I don't ask Mr. TCTRTBC what he does for fun.

Computer put away for landing and we're down. At least fifteen knots, about 30 degrees off the runway. Another happy afternoon in the prairies.

The other crew has already left for their time off. My shift coworker has been here for a few hours already, so she knows the plan. The original plan was for us to get a vehicle, drive out to the airplane and fly to Medicine Hat. But airplanes only like original plans to the extent that they think they're being original when they thwart them, necessitating a new plan.

The airplane is sitting on a 2700' strip in the next town over, waiting for a new part. The cylinder head temperature indication for the right engine had been flickering up into the red. There was no indication of a reason for excessive CHT, and the oscillating behaviour of the needle pointed to a gauge problem. I guess on a car you'd probably just drive until something more serious happened, but with an airplane, you make it right. The replacement gauge is expected at this airport tomorrow, so rather than waiting for Fed Ex to deliver it to the airplane, we will pick it up ourselves and drive it out there. The mechanics will install it, test it out, and we'll fly away.

Oh and it's hoax week on Aviatrix's blog, as a drunk calls a suicide hotline and tells them he's an airline pilot planning to bring down his next flight.


Anonymous said...

I know what you mean about too cool to pay attention to the safety briefing.
Not only do I pay attention, I count the seats to my nearest exit and alternates, practice unbuckling my seat belt, read the safety card, and leave my shoes and jacket on until airborne.

Paying attention to the safety briefing not only can save your life but also serve to respect the flight attendants which is why they are there in the first place.

Take that Mr. I've been flying for so long I don't need to pay attention.

BTW wife is a flight attendant.

Anonymous said...

The emergency exit door in Boeing 737 is much simpler then: rip off the plastic cover and pull down the handle.

Aviatrix said...

"rip off the plastic cover and pull down the handle"

That's how mine works, remove cover, pull down handle, throw exit outside.

Depending on which B737 you're looking at, the instruction card may depict the door thrown though the opening, placed inside on the seats, or if it's a new one, the door swings up out of the way.

Man, I could happily spend weeks posting on nothing but emergency exit doors. I love 'em.

Anonymous said...

There was a show on Discovery a few years back of testing that some British airline did (BA?) of emergency evacuation.

I can't remember now if this was for initial certification, or an academic study, or what, but it was fascinating.

The people conducting the study offered money as an incentive to simulate the need to get off the airplane quickly, and boy did they! Everyone wore bright vests with their seat number on them.

What was most striking to me was the possible need to get to the emergency exit without touching the aircraft floor--yes, by climbing over seatbacks and your fellow passengers. And bulkheads between your seat and the emergency exit can be deadly.

I'm sure the video's out there somewhere; to me, it's more instructive that what the well-meaning FAs have to say.


Mario in PY said...

Man, I could happily spend weeks posting on nothing but emergency exit doors. I love 'em.

I would be more than happy to read - and be enlightened - about the different types of emergency exits.

dpierce said...

I've always wondered about laying the door in the row of seats. So many cabin rules have to do with keeping the way clear for expedient evacuation (seats up, trays up, nothing in the floor); it seems like trying to set the door inside the cabin would be a huge obstacle.

Unless you put the armrests in the seats up beforehand, the door is going to slide down into the floor. Plus, the people backed up behind you to get out probably won't make it easy to maneuver the door inside the cabin. (Mayhaps I'm missing something.)

Dave Earl said...

I can't wait to see how the part retrieval goes - I tried to intercept some paperwork at the hub once... talk about thwarted!

Unknown said...

I took a look at the door manual in korean, but I was amazed to find in the equipment list a bomb shield and a bulletproof vest, among other things ... I wonder how effective they are ..

Anonymous said...

Perhaps the remove before flight streamer should be renamed the MOVE BFORE FLIGHT streamer.

That is if it was used across the viewing window to indicate to outside personel that the door was still armed.


Aviatrix said...

Nope, it wasn't visible from outside. It was just a little pennant, the length of my hand stuck to a pin the size of a pen. But I'd still have liked "move before flight."